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Cooks' Exchange: Recipes passed down from mom make for some of the best memories

Cooks' Exchange: Recipes passed down from mom make for some of the best memories

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There’s a certain degree of pleasure, surprise and heartwarming reward from keeping a daily diary as a child, especially when Mother’s Day approaches.

You’ll be rewarded with memories of her thoughtfulness and seemingly endless ways she made life so special, especially in the kitchen when she made your breakfast, favorite birthday cake, best ever cookies, chili when the temperatures dropped, or having a shoulder to cry on if something didn’t go as well as expected. Above all, some experiences should be recorded to appreciate sometime in the future.

My Mother, Mary Anna Kovacs, was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1908. The family settled first in Chicago, then arrived in Madison where they all remained for the rest of their lives. Grandpa Kovacs spent his life as a groundskeeper at Tenney Park, while Grandma raised their children in a new East Side house on Moulton Court where my mother learned how to cook old-fashioned recipes in a new country.

Years later, she created her own handwritten cookbook that disappeared following her death in 2003. A few weeks ago, I found some of her favorite recipes beautifully handwritten on old index cards to share with you while celebrating Mother’s Day 2021.

Garlic Dip

This was a must during cocktail hours.

8 ounces cream cheese

¼ grated onion

½ grated clove of garlic

2 bouillon cubes in 3 tablespoons of hot water

Beat all ingredients together thoroughly. If too stiff, add a little water

Walnut Crescents

A prize tested “melt-in-your-mouth“ recipe — the dainty kind you like to serve to company” from Better Homes and Gardens magazine, December 1952.

½ cup butter

½ cup shortening

⅓ cup sugar

2 teaspoons water

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 cups enriched flour

½ cup chopped black walnuts

Confectioners’ sugar

Cream butter to soften; then thoroughly cream butter, shortening, and sugar. Mix in water and vanilla, then flour and nuts; chill for 3 or 4 hours. Form dough in long rolls, ½ inch across; cut in 3-inch lengths and shape in crescents. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet in slow (325 degrees) oven 15 minutes. (Do not brown cookies.) Remove from sheet, cool slightly, and dip in confectioners’ sugar.

Yield: About 4 dozen

Mincemeat Diamonds

Mincemeat fans will make these their favorite, from the same issue of Better Homes and Gardens.

1½ cups enriched flour

1 cup brown sugar

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup shortening

1¾ cups quick-cooking oats

2 cups mincemeat

Combine flour, brown sugar and salt. Cut in shortening until mixture is crumbly; mix in oats. Place half of mixture in bottom of 9x9x2-inch pan and pat down. Spread with mince meat; sprinkle remaining mixture over. Bake in moderate (350 degree) oven 30 minutes. Cut in diamonds.

Yield: About 16.

Caramel Baked Apples

A spicy crumb-nut mixture goes on top. Submitted to Better Homes & Garden by Mrs. Sam Johnson of Madison.

6 to 8 medium apples

½ cup seedless raisins

3 tablespoons enriched flour

⅓ cup sugar

½ teaspoon cinnamon

3 tablespoons butter

¼ cup chopped California walnuts

½ cup water

½ cup orange juice

Wash apples and core. Pare about one strip around top. Place in deep baking dish. Fill centers with raisins. Combine flour, sugar, and cinnamon. Cut in butter with pastry blender or fork. Add walnuts. Sprinkle crumb mixture over apples. Pour over water and orange juice. Bake uncovered in moderate oven (350 degrees) 1 hour, basting occasionally. Serve with cream.


Always a special treat when the weather got cold.

3 slices of bacon, cut into small pieces

½ onion, chopped

1 pound of hamburger

1 garlic clove, minced

½ teaspoon chili powder

2 8-ounce cans of tomato sauce

16-ounce can of tomatoes, sieved or chopped, added with juice

10-ounce can of red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

¼ package Lipton’s dried onion soup

Salt to taste

Chop bacon in ½ inch pieces and fry with onion. When getting brown, add hamburger and garlic and continue sautéing. When done, remove grease, otherwise, if there is only a small amount, leave in (full of flavor) and add chili powder, tomato sauce, tomatoes and juice, kidney beans and dried onion soup.

Simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes. Salt can be added if necessary. Simmer for about 10 more minutes. Serve or store in refrigerator as the next day it will taste even better.

Halloween Goulash

Mother used to make this for our supper before trick-or-treating in our neighborhood and many years later, I’d do the same for my boys, Mike, Bill and Bob.

3-4 bacon slices, cubed

1 onion, minced

1 pound of hamburger

½ box of macaroni

1 can tomato soup

Fry bacon and onion until “brown.” Boil macaroni 5 minutes and drain before adding soup. Mix together and cook for a few minutes before serving.

Brats in Beer Sauce

From “The Edgewood Cookbook.”

8 brats

1 medium onion, chopped

1 tablespoon butter

12-ounce can of beer

Cook brats. In saucepan, sauté onions in butter. Add beer and bring to a boil. Simmer cooked brats in beer sauce for 30 minutes. Brats can be refrigerated, then simmered in beer sauce before serving.

Sauerkraut and Wieners

2 slices bacon, cubed

1 small garlic clove, chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

16-ounce can sauerkraut, drained

½ bay leaf

1 heaping tablespoon brown sugar

⅓ cup ketchup

½ cup water or apple juice

Cooked peeled potatoes (red skins work well)

Wieners or Kielbasa

Fry bacon slowly. Add garlic and onion and slowly sauté. Add drained sauerkraut, bay leaf, sugar, ketchup and water. Cover and cook slowly ¾ an hour. Add meat. When done, if liquid is thin, thicken with cornstarch and cold water. Serve with potatoes that have achieved color from the fry pan. Using apple juice makes a difference.

Danish Apple Stuffing

Sweet and spicy apple stuffing — excellent for roast duck.

2 cups pared, chopped apples

4 cups fine, soft bread crumbs

½ cup seedless raisins

2 tablespoons melted butter

⅓ cup sugar

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon grated lemon peel

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon salt

¼ cup stock or hot water to moisten

Combine apples, bread crumbs and raisins. Add remaining ingredients. Mix lightly. (Mixture should be rather dry since apples add moisture as it bakes.) Stuffing for 4- to 5-pound duck.

Hawaiian Sweet Potatoes

“Fluffy sweet potatoes, crunchy nuts and pineapple,” from Better Homes and Gardens, March 1947

3 medium-sized sweet potatoes

¾ cup top milk or light cream

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon sugar

½ cup chopped California walnut meats

6 canned pineapple slices, drained and halved

Pare sweet potatoes. Cook in boiling, salted water until tender. Mash. Add cream, butter, and sugar. Beat until fluffy. Add nut meats. Mix well. Fill well-greased individual ramekins or custard cups. Top each with pineapple slices. Brush with melted butter. Broil until light brown.

Serves: 6


late Angel Pie

We always had desserts and this one, from Better Homes and Gardens, May 1951, is described as being “one of those extra-special, glamorous party pies.”

½ pound marshmallows (30-32)

1 cup milk

⅛ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup heavy cream, whipped

2 1-ounce squares unsweetened chocolate, grated

½ cup chopped California walnuts

9-inch baked pie shell

¼ cup shredded coconut

Add marshmallows to milk. Heat over boiling water until marshmallows are melted. Cool. Stir in salt and vanilla. Fold in whipped cream, chocolate and nuts. Pour into cooled, baked pie shell. Sprinkle with coconut. Chill. Top with whipped cream and shaved chocolate

Cherry Dessert

Shared by a friend who prefers using “Thank You” brand cherries as they seemed to set better.

11 graham crackers, crushed

¼ cup melted butter

¼ cup sugar

Blend together and press firmly in 8x11-inch greased baking pan.

2 eggs

8-ounce package of cream cheese, softened

½ cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Beat the eggs, add sugar, cream cheese and vanilla and beat until well mixed. Spread on crust and bake 20 minutes at 300 degrees. Cool thoroughly. Then spread 1 can of cherry pie filling over the crumb mixture and chill for 24 hours.

Contact the Cooks’ Exchange in care of the Wisconsin State Journal, P.O. Box 8058, Madison, WI, 53708 or by email at

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