Family sampler

I was thumbing through a pile of recipes over the weekend that had been stashed in a box for a good number of years. Some are hand-written, some are clipped from a magazine or book and a few are scrawled on a crumpled napkin or bit of paper. They have one thing in common however. They are all family recipes. Likely not secret recipes, but directions for a dish that someone considered tasty and thought to keep.

I was pretty young when they moved my great-grandmother to the nursing home. I inherited a few boxes of haphazard items as did my sister and two cousins. My mom stashed the boxes away in our attic. Years later my grandmother was moved to apartment living and, again, we stashed a few more boxes of random items she’d specifically packed for each of us girls. I hadn’t really been interested in digging through these goodies until I was well into adulthood. I’m glad I waited because I can now truly appreciate the value of the stuff I likely would have considered as junk in my younger years.

Perhaps my Gran was clairvoyant because my boxes were jam-packed full of recipes, photos of celebratory cake ideas, special notes on food preparation and a couple of aprons. The boxes from Great-Grandma Anna also contained a mammoth stack of clipped articles and recipes and hand-written notes from her days in the kitchen.

I catch myself wondering what each of these special ladies were thinking as they carefully snipped the recipe from the page. Did they imagine what it would taste like or if their families would enjoy it? Did they make the dish described in the article? Notes were scribbled on some of the recipes with ingredient changes and “very good” in the corner if they liked it.

Nowadays we search the internet for recipe ideas and simply hit the print button. In just a few seconds you can scroll through reader-submitted photographs of the dish to see if your palate is tempted. Don’t get me wrong, I love this quick and immediate resource. But there’s just something about pouring over the physical pages of a recipe book and the feel of the paper in your hands.

So I call the contents of these inherited boxes “family recipes.” Sure, they are not original formulas for concoctions created in Anna’s 1920-equipped farm-house kitchen, although I’m sure times demanded creativity in those days. I consider them family recipes because they were important enough to be saved and handed down to the next generation.

My kids have each started a recipe collection as part of their 4-H cooking project. They only add a recipe if we’ve prepared it and they like it. This will give them a base to begin from when they are out on their own. Some families have gotten a bit more formal by printing a recipe collection in a book that can be distributed to each person. This is a fantastic idea! My mother-in-law Debbie Sutton gave me a copy of her family’s book entitled, “The Swisher Family Sampler.” I cherish this book because my husband’s grandma Helen added notes throughout the book.

Family cookbooks have a personal touch that you can’t find in mass-printed varieties. Old photographs of the matriarch and patriarch of the family on the original homestead adorn the covers. The inside pages also contain fun material like a silly poem or recipe for cold water. At a recent family reunion prizes were given out to the person who submitted the most recipes, the best recipe, the youngest chef and the silliest contribution.

No matter the preservation format, these recipes are to be cherished. As parents we should instill in our children the value of “kitchen time.” With all of the demands placed on our kids in this generation the one place they can always go to feel good is in the kitchen with family. Enjoy!

Recipes (a poem)

Source: The Swisher Family Sampler (original author unknown)

I didn’t have potatoes, so I substituted rice.

I didn’t have paprika, I used another spice.

I didn’t have tomato sauce, so I used tomato paste.

Not a half can, a whole one, I don’t believe in waste.

A friend gave me the recipe, 

She said you couldn’t beat it.

There must be something wrong with her,

I couldn’t even eat it!

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Elephant Stew

Source: The Swisher Family Sampler (original author unknown)

1 medium-sized elephant

2 rabbits (optional)

Salt and pepper

Cut elephant into bite-sized pieces. Add enough brown gravy to cover. Cook over kerosene fire for 4 weeks at 465 degrees. Serves 3,800 people, but if more are expected, 2 rabbits may be added. Do this only in emergency, as most people do not like hare in their stew.

Pork and Bean Bread

Source: Dorothy Wullschleger Fenstermacher (my Gran)

1 c. raisins

1 c. water

3 eggs

1 c. oil

2 c. sugar

1 can (15 oz.) pork and beans

3 c. flour

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. vanilla

1 c. chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 325 F. Generously grease 3 loaf pans. Bring water to boil and stir in raisins. Set aside for 15 minutes. Beat eggs, oil, sugar and pork and beans until beans are broken. Add flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix well. Stir in vanilla and nuts. Drain raisins and add to mixture. Stir well. Pour batter into prepared pans and bake 50 to 60 minutes.

Ham Loaf

Source: Dorothy Wullschleger Fenstermacher (my Gran)

1 1/2 lbs. ground ham

1 1/2 lbs. ground beef

5 c. corn flakes

3 eggs

1 tsp. dry mustard

2 1/2 c. milk

1 can crushed pineapple

1 1/2 c. brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix meat, mustard, eggs, corn flakes and milk (use hands). Shape into loaves and put into a 10-15 inch pan. Mix pineapple (with juice) and brown sugar together and spread over meat mixture. Bake 1 1/4 hours.

Notes: I recommend 97/3 ground beef. The butcher ground my ham for me. I lined my pan with parchment paper for easier clean up. I made two loaves.

Waldorf Astoria Red Cake and Frosting

Source: Virginia (Mrs. Kenneth) Swisher, The Swisher Family Sampler (my husband’s aunt)

1/2 c. shortening

1 1/2 c. sugar

1/4 c. red food coloring

2 Tbsp. cocoa (heaping)

1 c. buttermilk

2 1/4 c. cake flour

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. soda

1 tsp. vanilla

1 Tbsp. vinegar

2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 F. Cream shortening, sugar and eggs. Make a paste of the food coloring and cocoa. Add this to the creamed mixture. Add buttermilk alternately with sifted flour and salt. Add vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine soda and vinegar and hold them over the mixing bowl as the two foam. Then blend the soda mixture to the cake mixture. Pour into a 9- by 12-inch loaf pan and bake for 25 minutes. Cool completely on rack and frost.


Should be consistency of whipped cream.

3 Tbsp. flour

1 c. butter, divided

1 tsp. vanilla<

1 c. sugar, divided

1 c. milk

Cook flour, 3 Tbsp. butter, milk and 1 Tbsp. sugar until the consistency of white sauce. Set aside to cool. Cream remaining sugar and butter until very fluffy. Add vanilla and creamed mixture to cooled mixture and blend well.

Anna’s Bean Salad

Source: Anna Wullschleger (my great-gran). Anna’s original recipe had ingredients listed based on what she used from the garden. When I made it, I used canned beans.

1 can waxed beans (drained)

1 can green beans (drained)

1 can kidney beans (rinsed & drained)

1/2 c. chopped onion

1/2 c. chopped green pepper

1/2 c. oil

1/2 c. vinegar

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. pepper

1/2 tsp. celery seed

1/4 c. sugar

Mix all ingredients. Refrigerate overnight. Stir well.

Swisher Family Scalloped Corn

Source: Helen Swisher (Jeff’s grandma)

3 eggs, beaten

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. pepper

1 1/2 c. milk

2 Tbsp. butter

1 can creamed corn

2 cans sweet corn, drained

1 sleeve saltines, finely crushed

Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix all ingredients well. Dump into a casserole dish or 9- by 13-inch glass pan. Spread a few crushed crackers on top. Bake for 60 minutes.