Apples on the Menu
Her mom's Pennsylvania Dutch dinner is full of fruit, flavor and memories.
By Shirley Joan Helfenbein, Lapeer, Michigan
When I think about my mother's cooking, I remember how different it was back then to put food on the table. Her meals were fruits of love, prepared from scratch. Nearly everything was homegrown. Apples from the orchard, nuts from the woods, vegetables from the garden, flour from the mill and meat from the local butcher made up her storehouse of ingredients.
My mom, Elsie Hart (shown at in photo with me and granddaughter Rachel), was born in Ohio, in 1915. She and my dad, Verlin, raised six children, plus two daughters from my dad's first marriage. We all helped out, from baking bread to picking apples. I still remember my mom saying, "Many hands make lighter work."
Mom shared her memories with us as we helped her make the treasured Pennsylvania Dutch meals from her childhood. I especially enjoyed her Apple-Raisin Pork Chops, Buttered Poppy Seed Noodles, Dutch Apple Salad and Spice Cake served with Hard Sauce.
The kitchen was a hubbub of activity when we helped Mom prepare this meal. While she browned the pork chops, we took turns peeling and slicing the apples. (Apples showed up in many of our entrees, salads and desserts.) We brought her the spices she needed, and Mom shook in what seemed right. The result was always delicious!
Mom had been making Buttered Poppy Seed Noodles since she was a child, but she started with homemade noodles instead of packaged. She'd roll out the dough on the table, then let us cut the long noodles and hang them to dry. This dish turns out crunchy and comforting.
Crisp apple chunks, celery and grapes give Dutch Apple Salad its refreshing flavor. Our family would sit around the table in the evening and crack nuts for Mom to use in cakes, cookies and this salad.
Mom also loved to make date-nut pudding, and her pumpkin and mincemeat-apple pies were wonderful additions to our holiday and Sunday meals. My dad most enjoyed her molasses cookies and sugar cookies with a dab of jelly in the middle. When he walked home from his job at the gas station, Dad would sniff the air to tell what she had baked that day.
Once some of us were older, Mom went to work as a nurse. By that time, I was on my own. After working my way through school, I volunteered at a Navajo Indian mission in New Mexico. I met my husband, Roy, in New Mexico, where he worked in the oil fields and construction. We're now retired, with three grown children and five grandchildren.
Because I taught school, I relied on simple dishes to feed our family. But for special days, I'd make meals like Mom used to cook. Some of those Pennsylvania Dutch recipes creep into our menus now, and I still love them. I hope you will, too!