Skip to content


Amish Pecan Sticky Buns (And How I Almost Ruined Them)


I got to test three recipes for the forthcoming revised and updated Gather Round the Amish Table due out next summer from Herald Press. The first was Ruth’s Chocolate Cake, results shared here. Today I share my second tested recipe.

Traditional yeast-raised sweet rolls with frosting on top (as opposed to sticky buns, which have the gooey on the bottom and you turn them out of their baking pan upside down letting the goodness drizzle downward) were among the first things I became something of an expert baking way back in high school.

I do not usually call myself an expert on anything in cooking but I baked so many sweet rolls for bake sales, for company coming, and eventually for a restaurant where I worked as a waitress one summer, that my mother even continued making them for the restaurant for awhile after I left. I used a modified recipe my home ec. teacher gave us from a magazine.

Anyway, I had sweet rolls down pat, but I had never made sticky buns.

So it is not too surprising that when I tested this recipe for my employer, I almost made a huge goof.

Making the dough was no sweat. Forming little buns was no sweat. I put the brown sugar, cinnamon and nuts in the bottom of the pan with the little buns. But in my diligence and (cockiness?) I FORGOT TO PUT THE BUTTER in the sticky stuff on the bottom of the pan.

Pecan sticky buns

Right before I was ready to pop the buns in the oven, I opened microwave door for some reason (maybe to reheat my coffee?) and found the melted butter that was supposed to be mixed with the brown sugar, cinnamon and pecan mixture.

Dare I just pour the melted butter down between the rolls and around the edges of the pan?

I dared and they seemed to turn out just fine anyway, at least my four recipe taste testers all pronounced them delicious!

So here you go, but maybe you’ll want to mix the brown sugar etc. with the butter before putting the buns on top.

And I LOVE LOVE the story which the Amish woman who originally submitted this recipe for the Countryside Chatting and Cooking book added:

“We had these pecan rolls at a skating party at my uncle’s place last winter … we were probably all extra hungry from all that exercise in the frosty cold air, which made them taste better. That night we played crack the whip and prisoner’s base, for the ice was super smooth … It was a full moon, too, … and that evening a boy asked my eighteen year old cousin for a date, so the evening was extra special for her, too. They were skating together for awhile, and got teased and whistled at. Those pecan rolls, along with mugs of Ovaltine, sure tasted good when we got back to the warm kitchen.”


Here’s the recipe, with the name changed to “buns” instead of “rolls” since there is no rolling these up, and with the directions altered to the way I normally put together yeast bread pastries.

Amish Pecan Sticky Buns (adapted)

3 ¾ cups flour, approximately
2 packages yeast
¾ cup milk
½ cup water
¼ cup butter or margarine
¼ cup sugar
½ – 1 teaspoon salt (adjust to your taste)
1 egg

Warm milk to lukewarm on medium heat, watching carefully to avoid scorching. Add butter and sugar, stir until melted. Allow to cool until a drop just feels warm on the inside of your wrist.

In measuring cup, measure ½ cup warm water and dissolve both packages of yeast in water. Leave alone until yeast begins its action in the water.

Put 1 cup flour in bowl; add egg and beat with fork; add milk, butter and sugar mixture. Stir. Add yeast and water mixture. Mix together. Add rest of flour gradually, until dough is soft and not sticky but not dry, and forms a round lump of dough.


Let rise in a greased, covered bowl until double in size. (I always lightly grease the top of the dough bowl to keep it from drying out.)

Prepare sticky mixture:

¾ cup butter or margarine, melted
1 Tablespoon dark Karo syrup
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 Tablespoon water
1/ 2 cup chopped pecans.

Spread mixture in bottom of greased 9 x 13” baking pan. Taking dough ball, pinch off round balls the size of an egg, and place in pan on top of sticky mixture. Let rise again until dough is about double in size. Bake at 350 degrees for 22-25 minutes. Upon removing from oven, flip onto long 9 x 13” plate or cookie sheet so that pecan/sugar/butter mixture is on top and drizzles down over buns. Makes about 18 buns.

pecanstickybuns4(Sticky buns right after I flipped them over on a cookie sheet. Then I moved them into a Tupperware 9 x 13 container for freezing.)

Serve warm. Can be frozen and reheated. If desired, make thin white frosting glaze for on top (these really don’t need that, but just saying).

pecanstickybuns6(This is about 9 of the sticky buns on a serving plate, in case you were wondering.)


Is your family a sweet roll or sticky bun family? Or do you take the easy way out, like my easy canned biscuit sweet rolls here.


And watch the Mennobytes blog for word of when the new Gather Round the Amish Table come out next summer, with gorgeous food photography. You can sign up for that blog here so you don’t miss anything. It’s THE place to get the juicy low-down and backstories from MennoMedia and Herald Press, quicker and more chatty than the news releases and marketing blurbs announcing various new books and projects.

How Do You Keep Family Dinner?

Do you have dinner plans for this coming Monday? September 22 is Family Day in the U.S. (Family Day is the third Monday in February in most of Canada).

Family Day in the U.S. started with CASA, the Columbia University initiative to promote family dinners, because of their research on the importance of family connections in combating early use of drugs by teens. I based my Whatever Happened to Dinner book on the CASA research. At first CASA organizers called it “Family Dinner Day” but now it has been widened to simply celebrate families, and what this ancient cultural grouping of family means for our lives and society.

Here’s a link to the series of 4 guest blogs post I ran last year on eating together, and what mealtime can offer for families and other groups with whom you experience community or neighborliness.

This year, I’m delighted to announce two things related to my book focusing on keeping family mealtime, Whatever Happened to Dinner?

1. The book was selected for the 2015 United Methodist Women’s Reading Program and is featured on their website and program materials under a wonderful tab that is right up this book’s alley, “Nurturing for Community.” I’m very excited.




First a word about this reading program. It is awesome. It nudges, nay, almost requires women who are active in their women’s programs to read at least five recommended books in the course of a year, over a variety of genres. Or, they can sign up to read 10, 15 or 20. The United Methodists are a huge denomination, around 80,000 congregations, the second largest Protestant denomination after Southern Baptists. (I remember when I lived in northern Florida, there were two main churches in town, and everyone was either Methodist or Baptist. Yes?) It’s one way that particular denomination works at Christian education or faith formation. You can request their brochure or catalog about the reading program to see how it works. When my very first book, On Troublesome Creek, was picked for the reading program back in the early 80s, it sent the book into a reprint and the editor declared “We love United Methodist women.” Me too.

2. An updated cover. To fulfill the order this time around, the publisher (Herald Press, which I now work for, but I did not  when it was first published) had to print more copies too. So the cover designer, Reuben Graham, took the opportunity to freshen up the cover. Can you spot the changes? Which do you like better??


It took a few years to be chosen for the program (jumping through hoops) but I’m thrilled that the movement and emphasis on the importance of eating together as families as often as possible has taken root and grown immensely in these past four years.

Growth of movement. Just this fall Forbes website had an article called “The Most Important Meal of the Day: Family Dinner.” (Don’t despair: if work schedules make evening impossible, they recommend trying breakfast. It works for some.)

An impressive group of researchers, educators, parents, social workers and more out of Harvard began what they call The Family Dinner Project and share the stories and experiences of families who have made a concentrated effort to eat together frequently, and what changes that brought to their family. I like their “Community blog” feature on this topic, too.

Another website called Power of Family Meals has a bunch of resources and links to check out.

My Facebook page Whatever Happened to Dinner shares new links, ideas, videos and pictures on an ongoing basis, and I’d love to share your story or family dinner links there as well.

Since I wrote the book, on one end my family is back to how we started out: just the two of us, but my husband and I sit down and eat a home cooked meal together at our island at least 4-5 nights a week, mostly with the TV on mute.


We then usually enjoy dessert together in the living room. I just can’t imagine our day without that purposeful connection. It is the one time we pray together, and take turns. I often find out what’s really on my husband’s heart as we pray.

And we’re thrilled that our expanded family table has now grown a bit.


On the other hand, I’m mindful of the many folks I know who now constitute a household of one.


That has its good points too when it comes to fixing meals: you can fix what you want, eat when you want, with much less work. For companionship, people like my mother seek out group settings as often as possible, and welcome or extend invitations to eat out with others, potlucks, or do as a large group from my church does:  they keep a once-a-month date on Sundays after church and  head to a local buffet, Dutch treat. I recently joined a local Lions Club with my husband which eats together twice a month for their meetings. These are all ways to keep the connections we all need. To stay healthy, we need not only good food and nutrition, but good people around us.

So what’s on your menu for Monday evening? Who can you share it with–or another meal, sometime soon? If you have older children at home, what’s on the conversational menu? And if you need a reminder of what NOT to talk about at family dinner, here’s the T-shirt reminder.

whatNottotalkabout whatnottotalkabout2


I’d love to speak to your group about this topic or any other on my list. See also special offer for three free books for your group.

Monday Meditation: Going in The Hole



Harrisonburg, Virginia, has one of the worst designed shopping center parking and navigation arrangements ever.

My husband calls this shopping center (above) The Hole because it is kind of low lying (from Interstate 81, you can actually see the roof of part of the complex with stuff like air conditioning equipment, etc.). The problem is there are only three openings in and out of this great mecca, and the traffic to the parking spaces passes directly in front of all the stores. I can imagine some architect somewhere praising this design to developers/planners, citing the beauty of the design as shoppers will go by all these stores on their way to a buying haven. Yes?

Some of us do all we can to avoid The Hole especially on those heavy duty shopping days like the day after Thanksgiving. But on a recent Saturday I made the mistake of turning into The Hole before I realized it was Back to College Saturday. Thousands of students and their parents and their siblings were back in town for “move in weekend” at James Madison University, next door to The Hole. Cars were waiting out the wazoo to enter The Hole. Since I was stuck in traffic anyway, I poked my camera out my window and snapped away.


I find it interesting that outside shopping centers and revitalized boutique shopping in downtown areas are in, while indoor malls are out. Kind of. The Hole has the usual roster for a string of stores: Best Buy, Bed Bath and Beyond, Staples, Michael’s, Barnes & Noble, Home Depot, and Wal–Mart with restaurants like Ruby Tuesday, O’Charley’s, Paneras, Qdoba. In spite of the ridiculous traffic pattern, we go to The Hole 10 times for every visit to the local mall, (but that’s also because of Location! Location! and we no longer have adolescents and teens). There are not a lot of trendy clothing stores in The Hole, the best of which is Ross Dress for Less. I get my bargains there but to go to Aeropostale and Hollister (which I don’t), you gotta go to the mall. The mall has traditional parking areas spread around all sides of the shopping. Smarter.

However, as a metaphor for materialism and consumerism, The Hole wins hands down. Most of us do not do well in fighting materialism, and succumb at every turn, even when we’re careful. Shopping quickly leads to a literal hole—in your bank account and in your outlook, driven by the compulsion to acquire the next cool thing. It can lead to a hole in your morality: while most of us never shoplift or rob, we judge, compare ourselves to others, feel a need to acquire, and maybe even mentally put down others who “have not.”

A friend of mine recently went to Tyson’s Corner near Washington, D.C. on a shopping excursion with her daughters. She came back empty handed (except for one tiny arts and craft purchase), astounded at the prices and excess, as I have been similarly. Purses for $2000, refrigerators for $5000. I didn’t ask but wondered if she had actually been at Tyson’s Galleria which is described as “upscale” shopping, while Tyson’s Corner Center is a little less pricey. No one “needs” a $2000 purse, do they? But, do I need eight pair of slacks? Twenty tops? Ten pairs of shoes? Three winter coats?

We are all sucked into The Hole.

Lord, forgive us our excesses, as we drive round and round, ever seeking to be more satisfied, to fill up the empty places. Isaiah speaks to our parched places, and of a spring of water which never fails:

The Lord will guide you continually,
    and satisfy your needs in parched places,
    and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water,
    whose waters never fail. (Isaiah 58:11)

Today let me seek the things that truly satisfy.


What things tempt you? How do you deal with the urge to acquire more and more?


For more on Living More With Less, check out Third Way website here.

Marching Band: If You Are So Lucky

An Ode to Marching Band Kids and Parents Everywhere

MichelleAndTrumpetsDaughter Michelle, 2nd from left, with Broadway High School Fighting Gobblers Band.

If you are lucky

… you just might live near a local high school and hear the marching band practicing on the football field during these still-long September evenings. Jaunty marching tunes float through the neighborhood, compliments of a hard working bunch of teenagers who get their kicks playing nerdy and difficult band instruments rather than pushing an odd shaped ball into an endzone.

P1060339Broadway High School playing at Gate City, Va., in state football championship game, December, 1997.

… you just might get to the state high school football championship game for the first time in your school’s history and the day is below freezing and the valves freeze on your daughter’s trumpet during her solo and your team plays with all their hearts but loses anyway (nevermind the mud, the refs, the yada yada).

JMUSpiritJames Madison University fans celebrating one of 10 wins the year they went 10-2 and played in the national playoffs.

… you might even get to the national I-AA college football championship game in 2004. Your team plays with all their hearts AND WINS and even though you (and some of the sideline players) are freezing, you are so glad you drove the 400+ miles to see your middle daughter play in the band (but can’t find the pictures now).


… you just might finally finally get to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in New York City (2001) which you have dreamed of all your life.

P1060376Our daughter Tanya is on the right side with JMU marchers in the Macy Parade, middle one turning and smiling at us.

… you might get to see your own child marching into Columbus Circle and Herald Square in that wonderful city, and the kids are allowed to ignore normal marching band etiquette and actually turn their heads and smile, and you are just so happy even though freezing, especially when the post Sept. 11 crowd of strangers around you, barely two months after the terrible trauma, joins in yelling your daughter’s name so she turns and smiles happily and you capture it on camera because the bystanders have left you squeeze up to the front.

P1060364Doreen, Michelle, Mr. David Snively and Tanya, at his retirement party.

… you just might have the good fortune of your kids having dedicated, funny, fun (and sometimes cranky) band directors who give themselves to this crazy, quirky bunch of teenagers going through all the stuff that teenagers go through, such that when he retires from this crazy band life, all your daughters come back home to help fete him.

NashvilleSymphony Nashville Symphony warming up at Schermerhorn Symphony Center.

… you just might end up so happy that this crazy band life has led to a fantastic career for one, working for some great mid-sized city symphonies in an artistic administrator role she totally seems cut out for.

P1060360Tanya while working for Nashville Symphony.

.. you just might feel that all of the 4 a.m. risings and midnight pick ups and bad bus behaviors and $$ for lessons, raising money for uniforms and trips, $$ for gas running 10 miles back and forth to school yada yada seem worth it.

P1060362Tanya comforting Michelle at “last” game at old Broadway high school field

… you just know your children are gonna make it through good times and bad when you snag a rare photo like this of deep sisterly camaraderie when the band plays what everyone thinks will be its final time on the “old” high school field before moving to a new school building the following year, and your very sentimental oldest daughter’s heart is torn right in two even though they’ve just beaten their arch city rival  (and then they end up playing one more game with a half time show on that very field because that is the year they get in the playoffs and on to the finals at the state level, mentioned above). If you are so lucky.


Our family back story on band.

MichelleTrumpetMichelle and her first trumpet in middle school.

Neither my husband nor I had ever been interested in band in school (band?? Huh? No thanks!). When my oldest daughter began middle school, she let us know she wanted to try band. Her instrument of choice was a trumpet so we went to the local band store and rented a trumpet for the first three months, not sure she would stick with it. Even though her sisters took piano lessons, she had never been interested, so, whatever. We weren’t overly-pushy-get-them-in-everything kind of parents. She did like music and had learned to read music through the children’s choir at church. So as she began on the trumpet, we suffered through the pfllts that wouldn’t quite come out, the screeches and off notes while she practiced in her very small bedroom in our 1100-square foot house, doors closed.

But when she got to high school, we soon learned marching band took on a life of its own and would forever impact her choice of friends, her activities, her history—and the lives of her sisters, as they also chose to participate in band.

EdieTanyaGinaFlutesTanya, second from left, with best buds Edie, far left, and Gina, far right, all flute players.

One day waiting with other band moms to pick Michelle up after a day at summer band camp, I so well remember Becky Dean’s mom informally orienting me to the world of band parents: the parades, the trips, feeding the kids before games, how the Stoops family took care of transporting larger equipment to away games in an old open bed truck (yes, really!), and especially emphasizing how this was a good bunch of kids who basically did not get in a lot of trouble (unless on the band bus) and the kids became family to each other. She also clued me in on the band parent meetings, the fundraisers, the annual auctions, the chicken barbecues, the pizza and candy sales.

DoreenInParadeDoreen carrying one of the big ones in a Broadway Homecoming Parade.

So the band world became our world for the next dozen or so years, as all three girls were adopted into the band family including one who went on to play flute for four years in the pretty awesome Marching Royal Dukes (hear them below in YouTube videos) at nearby James Madison University, a huge band of 400-475 participants, depending on the year.

JMUTanyaBandTanya as a Marching Royal Duke member from 2001-2005.

Our youngest daughter even joined the pit band while in high school—the percussion section playing xylophone, cymbals, bass, or wherever needed most, and loving almost every minute of it, except at the end of a very long parade on a hot day as a relatively small girl carrying a good sized drum.

P1060365Doreen in competition at Parade of Champions, JMU.

By the time Doreen participated, Broadway High School band had finally graduated to taking part in marching band competitions, so all of our kids (in one setting or another) got to taste what it was like to stand on the field of a large college stadium while the stands went wild. One of them once said “I felt like I was a rock star!” During the years when their school football teams (high school and college) lost far more games than they won, we went to the games to see the band on the field, not the team.


So each fall when I’m traveling near a school or university and hear strains of a rousing John Phillips Sousa tune, a current movie theme song, or a stirring trumpet screeching out the high notes on “Firedance,” a big lump rises and I squeeze back tears, remembering, and being moved by music that speaks of our daughters, their loves, their friends, their lives–and by extension what they gave to our lives. A new found love of music and being in the band.

In the Bible, from the book of Exodus to Revelation, trumpet or trumpets are mentioned at least 129 times, flute or flutes 16 times, and cymbal or cymbals 16 times. But my favorite is Psalm 150 where the Psalmist seems to go wild throwing out a whole string of wonderful instruments:

Praise him with trumpet sound;
    praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
    praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with clanging cymbals;
    praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Psalm 150.

So go, marching bands everywhere, and follow, you lucky parents. Enjoy this wonderful fall season of music and football!

A 1999 version, my favorite, of the JMU MRD playing Firedance.

A 2006 version, showing the much larger stadium at JMU.



How Making Food Together Can Help Mend Fences


Part 2 of two posts on Dr. Peggy Ann Shifflett’s book, Mom’s Family Pie. Part 1 here.

Eating locally and in season is nothing new. Barbara Kingsolver, the novelist and author of Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, did not invent it; she and many others like her may have rediscovered and made it popular but folks have been eating what was available seasonally from the beginning of time–UNTIL the discovery of electricity and invention of refrigerators, freezers, and plastics for packaging.

Sociology professor and folklorist Peggy Ann Shifflett reminds us of this truth in her book on the food traditions of families in her part of Appalachia, and recalls the era when her family moved from keep foods cool in the “spring house” and with ice, to real refrigerators.

She points out further that “The bounty of each season brought the family and community together to forage for the ingredients and to help prepare the recipes. Seasonal food connected family and community members to each other because at least three generations were usually helping with or watching the work being done.”

She talks about apple butter boiling, butchering, and making sauerkraut as some of the labor intensive activities where a couple generations gather, bring out specialized equipment used only once a year, and pitch in.

This past Labor Day, I thought of how we and my brother-in-law’s family used to load up our kids and all the five-gallon buckets, bushel baskets, milk crates and tubs we owned and drove to their homeplace for potato digging. Someone would run the tractor down the rows with a potato plow, and out would flow Yukon gold. Truly, the kids loved diving on those potatoes as they rolled out as much as they loved hunting Easter eggs. When they were really young, we would pump their enthusiasm by oohing and ahhing loudly at the great fountain of potatoes spinning out. But by the end of the day, everyone was exhausted and cranky from finding and lugging the equivalent of 30 bushels (thousands of potatoes, conservative estimate) out of the garden and into grandpa’s garage and our trucks to haul home.

scenesMay18 010

Funny, but I don’t think I have one photo of digging potatoes at my father-in-law’s. That evening I’d cook fresh French fried potatoes and grill hot dogs and we’d chill out around food.  Digging potatoes together will be our kid’s main memory of working together as a family to harvest food we would use all winter. The potatoes did usually last all winter, until a new crop was ready for early digging the following summer. I am personally happy that the other family tradition of butchering each year around Thanksgiving fell by the wayside (for reasons I wrote briefly about here) a few years after I joined the family.

In Mom’s Family Pie, families did much more massive food harvest/preparation together. Their social life revolved around family getting together, at least weekly for Sunday dinner. But the term “family pie” was a new one for me, and I loved Shifflett’s description of “family pie” as something that brought her family together and oiled spots where friction was causing hurt and pain. Food provided a place and time for healing and bonding. I wondered how that worked.

Christmas2009Indiana 006

Knowing some background on Shifflett’s family from her other book, The Red Flannel Rag, where she speaks of family fights—verbal and some throwing of objects or fists especially when their homemade whiskey was involved—I knew that sometimes her kinfolk didn’t talk for weeks at a time. So “often just the smell of family pie drifting around the house and out the windows and doors might be enough to tempt them all to the table again. Differences were resolved while the meal was consumed.” (p. 20).


A family pie is not round and fancy with curly edges and markings like most of us are accustomed to on a standard pie. Instead, it was thrown together in an oblong pan, a quick crust layer in the bottom, some apples or canned cherries added from the pantry, and then a top crust just kind of lopped over the edges and was quickly pinched together. Hilda, Shifflett’s sister-in-law from an early age, would start making a meal by putting this pie together and letting it bake while she made the rest of the meal. Hilda said the smell of freshly baked family pie coming out her door on an ordinary busy work day was enough to call her husband in for supper.

On the cover of this book, Mom’s Family Pie, there’s a photo of pie making. By luck Shifflett happened on to it one day when she went to her Aunt Ethel’s house. Aunt Ethel was in the middle of a pie baking session with the help of a great granddaughter, and Shifflett knew it was the perfect cover photo for her book. As a book editor who works on a team of folks to come up with book covers and images (a colleague wrote about that just yesterday, here), I can understand how elated Shifflett was to stumble onto that scene.


I have often thought of how a family or community’s particular food customs—that takes a group to prepare—functions as family/community tradition and glue. Here in the Shenandoah Valley we have countless groups preparing barbecue chicken at a church, community, or civic group pit: getting up at 3 or 4 a.m. to start the charcoal fire and then put the chicken on so that it is ready to sell by 8 or 9 a.m. The Lions club we belong to does BBQ chicken and also hosts a Pancake breakfast, lunch and dinner (coming up locally Oct. 17-18 in Broadway, Va.). There’s also a huge Mennonite Relief Sale in the Shenandoah Valley each year (this year Oct.3-4), also held across the U.S. and Canada, raising money for world wide relief and development programs.

Working together provides a way to get to know others so much better than just attending church, club or civic group meetings. Of course even that is not friction-free as too many cooks “in the broth” have differing opinions on how to determine when a piece of chicken is done, how to make the best BBQ sauce, or the pancake is ready to flip.


This second book, Mom’s Family Pie, provides numerous recipes, some which are interesting only for the food history that most cooks are not going to bother with today: pinto beans with rivels, Creasy greens, peach whirligigs, pig feet and hocks. But if you are looking for a particular old-timey recipe or basic procedure for doing apple butter, fried squirrel and gravy, or venison steak that has been lost to your family or tradition over the years, it might be a place to look. But I liked the narrative–the stories and tales–more than the recipes.

I also enjoyed comparing notes between my husband’s family and Shifflett’s traditions, and feeling very happy that my husband—who loves my cooking—never developed a custom which was a “have to” for her father at least once a day, every day: fried ‘taters, as he called them. When I make fried potatoes it is simply an occasional way of using up left over boiled or baked potatoes, for an easy starch with a meal. But for Shifflett’s mother, it meant a pan of fresh potatoes, peeled and fried in a cast iron skillet on a wood stove—all of which took not a little effort. Peggy’s mother would ask her husband what he wanted for supper on Saturday and Sunday nights and he would invariably say “just cook me some fried ‘taters” and her mother’s weariness couldn’t help raising its head as she went to the basement with a loud curse saying “I fry potatoes every day of the week for you. Couldn’t you at least give me a rest from peeling potatoes on Saturday and Sunday?” (p. 247)

Overall Shifflett’s love for both her parents, and fond memories and admiration especially for the hard, unceasing daily work of the women in her family preparing food shines through with only occasional critique. With young girls taking on adult responsibilities as 8 to 10-year-old girls and definitely by the time they were teenagers, these women (her mother and her aunt famous for cooking) usually said they could not remember how they learned to cook something when first pumped for specific recipes. Shifflett says she finally understood their frequent response (and I can just hear one of my husband’s aunts who would have said this very thing): “I ought to know how to cook. I’ve been doin’ it all my life.”

You and your family may not have grown up in Appalachia, but I think each and every family and community has their particular food and family customs that are worth remembering and preserving. Thankfully, some are relearning the art of cooking without so much pre-packaged and prepared foods.


What is a community food preparation event where you enjoy working with others for a common purpose?


Does your family have certain foods or customs that bring the family together–such as around a bowl of popcorn on Sunday evening?


In Whatever Happened to Dinner, I include stories on the value and tradition of community cooking. See more in the Table of Contents or purchase the book here.


Canned Spaghetti Sauce – or Basic Tomato Sauce with Extra Nutrition


Tomatoes. Here in the Shenandoah Valley, most heavy-duty gardeners are still swimming in tomatoes. We’re running out of cans, running out of recipes, almost running out of patience. For something I crave so strongly the rest of the year that I buy pathetic hot house imitations, I am tired of having them every meal. And I’m not really bragging or complaining, just stating facts.

Or maybe it is just me. Some of us are ready to put away the canner.

But not quite yet.

So I hustled up a recipe for canned tomato sauce and made a small batch. One daughter called me last night to say she and her housemate were cooking up a shared dinner of fresh eggplant from her garden, mozzarella, and my canned sauce. That sounded wonderful to me and I’m so glad the kids branch out from my cooking that tends to be more traditional as in meat, starch, vegetable, salad.


My very traditional meal


My daughter’s meal: sautéed eggplant rounds (egg and flour breading), with parmesan, spaghetti sauce, mozzarella, & basil sprinkled on top if desired. Better Homes and Garden’s Cookbook. Yummy even if the “presentation” could be improved. :-)

So here’s the recipe to use any way you can. Mary Beth Lind, co-author of Simply in Season says with the recipe, “I use this for spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, or any time I need a marinara-type sauce. I really like the added nutrition of the carrot.” Mary Beth is a registered dietitian and nutritional consultant, so it is not surprising to find her squeezing in Vitamin A into this Vitamin C-and-antioxidant-rich sauce. (This link has more about the healthy lycopene in tomatoes .)

I doubled Mary Beth’s recipe, to make a batch yielding 6 pints.

Basic Tomato Sauce

2 onions (chopped)
4 cloves garlic (minced)
Sauté until soft in 4 tablespoons olive oil


4 carrots or 1 cup (shredded)
1 green pepper (chopped)
4 bay leaves
½ cup fresh parsley (chopped; I used dried)
4 tablespoons fresh basil (chopped, or 4 teaspoons dried)
2 tablespoons fresh oregano (chopped, or 2 teaspoons dried)
2 tablespoons fresh thyme (chopped, or 1 teaspoon dried)
Add. Stir well.

12 cups fresh plum or Roma tomatoes (peeled or skins slipped off, and chopped)
12 ounces tomato paste (I didn’t have any and subbed in a 12 ounce can of store tomato sauce)
2 tablespoons honey (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste


Add and season to taste. Simmer 15 minutes. Remove bay leaf and serve or freeze. Or, to can, ladle into hot sterilized pint jars to within ½ inch of top; add 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar per pint to assure acidity; seal with sterilized lids and process full jars in boiling water bath for 35 minutes.

From Simply in Season, Herald Press, 2009. Adapted from Mary Beth Lind and Ellen Miller.



Are you tired of tomatoes? Or what’s your newest favorite way to serve them?    

Do you have a copy of Simply in Season?


It has great ideas and recipes for seasonal foods, all year.

Mountain family and food traditions just 3 generations back

Married at ages 11 and 14. Child brides. Where? Some far off place like India? Afghanistan? Sure, but also here in the U.S. not far from where I live, and not that long ago.

Earlier I wrote about Peggy Shifflett’s fascinating book, The Red Flannel Rag: Memories of an Appalachian Childhood sharing the traditions, folk lore and cultural differences among the people of a certain “hollow” near where I live, Hopkins Gap.

I was eager to read her second book focusing on the food traditions and actual recipes from her extended family—filling in the gaps of my own knowledge of southern Appalachian cooking. I’ve picked up varying tidbits from my husband’s family who hail from Bergton, Va., Tuscaloosa Ala., and from a year I spent near Hazard, Kentucky.


Shifflett’s book is called Mom’s Family Pie: Memories of Food Traditions and Family in Appalachia. Peggy is a retired professor of sociology at nearby Radford University. I can’t begin to cover all the recipes and experiences she covers in her 344-page book. In some ways it reminded me of Barbara Kingsolver’s classic, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. We meet the family and the typical Appalachian homestead of the 40s and 50s, the cooks, the tools used (woodstove and wood), the milk cows and various products they provide (homemade butter, clabber—like sour cream), the springhouse where such items were stored before widespread refrigeration, gardening, preserving (making sauerkraut, what a production!), butchering, making apple butter and more. They were almost self sufficient—a goal for those today who are into homesteading or backyard farming. Even making their own spirits, (moonshine), covered more extensively in her other book.


But here cooking with a woodstove was the first major item that captured my attention, having watched and tried to learn from my brother-in-law as he demonstrated how to master this fine art at his mountain cabin.


It is no wonder cooking temperatures are not given in some old recipes which folks have tried to write down. Unless you use a thermostat with your wood stove, you cook according to the area of the stove where you set your pan or skillet, and according to the type of wood you use: some wood is great for quick hot fires, and other is better for the slow and steady heat needed for baking.

According to Shifflett this is a fine skill learned with practice and over time—there is no way to pick it up from a book or blog, but her mother apparently shuffled that pan around with the ease and expertise of a gourmet chef. Shifflett says at one point that her mother stood in front of that stove practically her whole life, as she never worked away from home.

Shifflett says her mother, Myrtle, and her Aunt Ethel were widely regarded as the “two best cooks in Hopkins Gap” and some even extended that to the Shenandoah Valley and added “damned” to the description (two best damned cooks). I’m sure there are plenty of others who wore that title informally, but Shifflett’s love and admiration for her mother’s hard hard work shines through the whole book: Myrtle would start a fire before dawn in the cookstove; head to the barn to milk cows (always her chore); put three hot meals on the table each day; grow, harvest and preserve most of the food her family ate in a year, including the meat; and often stay up to finish up chores and clean the kitchen one final time after the rest of the family had gone to bed (her mother couldn’t stand to wake up to a messy/dirty kitchen). This is the pattern of millions of women the world over who still work this hard to feed families. Especially at this season of the year.


But there was great pride in all this work and food production, and a compliment over the food would likely  bring on more of it. I chuckled about an aunt who fixed Shifflett a sandwich one day of sausage, dill pickle and mustard. Peggy raved over the sandwich. “To this day, every time I go to visit Aunt Ethel, she fixes me a sausage sandwich with mustard and dill pickles. She had been doing this for over 40 years.” (p. 32).

That these women lived as long as they did was no mean feat. A generation earlier, Peggy’s grandmother, and Peggy’s great aunt (mothers of these famous cooks, Myrtle and Ethel) married at age 14 and 11, respectively. Eleven. A child bride, not even a teenager. Of course they began having babies right away. “It was very common for couples to have between 8-12 children. Both of these women died young: 35 and 37, respectively—one several months after giving birth to her 18th child” (from the book, p. 32-33). Again I think of women around the world who still today marry early, have a ton of babies, and die young, working hard the whole while. This was not so unusual here in the U.S. just 3 generations back from me. My grandmother’s mother died when she was just five, leaving her an orphan; again, very common.

P1040556Grandpa and Grandma Miller’s wedding picture, she was just 17.

Peggy Shifflett has provided an admirable, if plainly written, history of those earlier times. I’ll follow up with one more post talking about traditions and origins for some of the recipes and ways of cooking she shares which are familiar to many of our grandparents and parents.

To be continued.


How old was your grandma or great grandma when she got married? What food traditions do you remember her talking about?


Was there a food your grandmother or other relative you loved that they always fixed for you?


Shirley Hershey Showalter

writing and reading memoir

Mennonite Girls Can Cook

A blog looking for harmony, grace and wisdom in many spheres of daily living.

A blog looking for harmony, grace and wisdom in many spheres of daily living.


A blog looking for harmony, grace and wisdom in many spheres of daily living.

Plain and Fancy

Marian Longenecker Beaman: Former Plain Girl Meets Fancy World

Roadkill Crossing, and other tales from Amish Country

Writing generated from the rural life

Where Lemons Blossom

The real Italy, as seen from the heart

Dinner of Herbs

Love for healthier foods.

Parenting And Stuff

Not a "how to be a great parent" blog

Sudesna (Sue) Ghosh

Letting my heart and pen bleed

Practicing Families

Real Faith. Real Life. Real Grace.

Empowering Missional

Empowering the people of God to be missional disciplemakers

Abandoned Water Jars

encouraging women in ministry

Just Desserts

a blog about food, consumption, peace and justice

Rural Church

God is doing big things in small places. And it's all because of His great love.

A blog looking for harmony, grace and wisdom in many spheres of daily living.

Jamie Arpin-Ricci

A blog looking for harmony, grace and wisdom in many spheres of daily living.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 679 other followers