Mondays & Memories of My Mom – Happy Smorgasbord!

Hello, everyone! HAPPY Monday, April Fool’s Day, National Sourdough Bread Day, National Gardening Month and National Humor Month! Yep – that’s a happy smorgasbord!

If you haven’t been here before, my name is Laura Emerich and these blogs are dedicated to and for my mom, Gloria Pitzer, aka the ORIGINAL secret “Recipe Detective”TM. I started this weekly series last year to carry on her legacy – from her life-long love affair with writing to her “Secret Recipes”TM profession to her other personal loves of life, family and faith – through my memories of her; as well as, through the memories others have of her. She was an enormous influence, in so many ways, on so many people; especially on the woman I’ve become. Mom motivated and inspired a whole movement because she was the pioneer that blazed the original trail to imitating fast food, fine dining dishes, junk food and various grocery store products at home!

This week’s blog covers a smorgasbord of subjects. For instance, for all the foodies out there, besides it being April Fool’s Day, today is also National Sourdough Bread Day. In addition, for the gardeners in all of us, April is National Gardening Month! Consequently, April is also National Humor Month – which makes sense, given that the first day is April Fool’s Day – and, where I live in Michigan (as well as other states, I’m sure), Mother Nature seems to like to play continuous jokes on us throughout the month by often exhibiting 3 different seasons, all in one day! Plus, while it’s not a national holiday, the season for birding has also just begun as migrations head north to roost for the spring to fall months.

April is National Gardening Month!

Starting with my memories of Mom and our garden when I was growing up in Algonac – Mom always had a small, raised-bed garden full of strawberries, tomatoes, peppers and other such popular, homegrown garden staples. I also recall picking rhubarb, apples and pears for her pie and cobbler recipes. But then, as her “Secret Recipes”TM business grew in the mid to late 70s, she had less and less time to spend on the care of the garden let alone the harvesting. I enjoyed learning from Mom how to take care of it and I loved picking the fruits and vegetables for her, from which to create all those wonderful dishes. Her strawberry-rhubarb pie was one of my favorites!

After we moved to St. Clair in 1977, she couldn’t devote anymore time to a garden again, but she did continue to, at least, have a couple of tomato plants in patio pots every spring to fall. Mom had a very green thumb with all the plants, in the house and in the garden. She liked to use coffee grounds and grounded egg shells in her patio pots, which helped the tomato plants thrive.

Spring Crocus, Photo by Laura Emerich

Mother Nature’s grand arena is bursting with activity as spring awakens and regenerates life around us. Initially, the National Gardening holiday was a week-long festivity for which President Reagan signed a proclamation to kick off the first annual celebration of it in 1987. Then, in 2000, the National Gardening Association extended the celebration to last for the whole month of April.

To celebrate the event, have a picnic in a garden or go to a nursery and purchase a new plant for your garden. Decorate your garden, even add a seating area in it, where you can enjoy it up close. Another way to celebrate is to give a gardening gift, like seeds or plants, to someone special!

This month is a great time to start planting the bulbs of late-Spring bloomers as well. Other plants that are great to plant in April include fruit trees and berry plants or bushes. I planted a couple of cherry trees on our property about 7 years ago and they’re doing really well. The birds love them immensely! Our property already has a few old pear trees on it, so I’d like to get a couple of apple trees established this year.

2018 Cherry Tree, Photo by Laura Emerich

This is also a great time to plant perennial vegetables like asparagus, chives, rhubarb, horseradish and so many more. I already have the first three in my garden. I plan on adding horseradish this year. It’s also a good time for me to start my “cold crop” annuals like cabbage, spinach and other “greens”; as well as root vegetables like potatoes, onions, carrots and beets. I’m not sure where she got it from, but I think I inherited Mom’s green thumb.

In their off-season, I repurpose my Christmas deer lawn ornaments as trellises in my vegetable garden! They’re great for various vining plants like cucumbers and squash AND I don’t have to worry about storing them.

Another thing Mom taught me, as I mentioned in my blog, “Grow & Make Your Own Groceries”, a couple of weeks ago, growing and sowing your own food can save a lot of money on the grocery bill – if you don’t factor in the value of your time AND if you have the time to maintain it. Except for the perennials, you can’t just drop the seeds and come back in a couple months to pick it all. If only it were that easy! But, on the upside, the hours put into maintaining a garden, with moderate activity, happens to burn about 300-400 calories an hour (depending on your size). Gardening also feeds our bodies a lot of essential Vitamin D since we’re out in the sunshine, which is a natural source for it!

According to the infographic, 6 Surprising Health Benefits of Gardening, on https://www.organiclesson.com/6-wonderful-health-benefits-of-gardening/, gardening strengthens the immune system, relieves stress and elevates happiness, provides a physical workout, stimulates the brain and encourages a healthier diet! It sounds like a win-win-win-win-win-win set of beneficial circumstances to me!

My vegetable & flower garden, 2018!

In addition, this month is usually a good time for me to start pruning the few large patches of wild, black raspberries we have in our backyard’s wooded area – cutting out all the dead canes to make room for the new ones to grow. Thick gloves are highly recommended for this task to help prevent the hands from getting impaled by the thorns!

Backyard Bird Watching

On a related side-subject to spring and April, in general, it’s also a wonderful time for backyard bird watching! Lately, our cats have been going crazy, at the dining room windows, watching all the birds and squirrels in their usual spring, backyard activities – eating at the feeders, playing in the trees, building nests and other such things.

We have some birds that are here all year like cardinals, woodpeckers and blue jays. However, most of the varieties that we see migrate in with the spring season and back out by mid-fall. We get a wide variety of birds in Michigan.  The arrival of the robins, our state bird, is usually one of our first signs of spring, even before the bright, sunny yellow of witch hazel starts to pop on the fading winter landscape. Some robins don’t migrate south in the fall, like others do. Instead, they’ve adapted to our Michigan Winters.

The Robin – Michigan’s State Bird

This weekend, Mackinaw City will be host to the 4th annual “Mackinaw Raptor Fest”, celebrating a unique convergence of migrating birds every spring and fall due to the area’s exceptional location at the rare intersection of two peninsulas and two of the Great Lakes. Mackinaw City (and Mackinac Island) was one of my parents favorite destination areas whenever they had a chance to get away for a long weekend.

Watching birds is said to be very therapeutic. If you feed them, they will come! Growing up, I remember Mom always putting out special treats for the squirrels and birds in our backyard. Watching the birds always seemed to relax Mom and also helped to form the flow of her thoughts for writing her food-for-thought-style articles and editorials. I know it helps me too.

April through June, I usually put out orange halves and small cups of grape jelly for the orioles that migrate to our backyard. I’ve seen the woodpeckers enjoy the spring treats too! The yellow finches will always fight over the perches on the thistle feeder, but when the oriole wants thistle, they all move out of the way.

I heard our resident woodpecker early Friday morning, “rat-a-tat-tat”, on a maple tree outside one of our kitchen windows. The sound seemed to echo in our quiet neighborhood that morning. Then I saw a “Mama” robin perched in another tree, looking into my garden – for good materials to add to her nest, I’m sure. My husband and I really enjoy watching all the flora and fauna activity surrounding our homestead.

April 1st is National Sourdough Bread Day!

Now, out of the garden and backyard and into the kitchen for another food related happening today, as National Sourdough Bread Day is also being observed across the country. Amish Friendship Bread is a really great recipe to make and share with friends. My girlfriends and I used to exchange bags of AFB starter a lot. A super-great article about the process involved in making the starter and how to use it can be found on the “Friendship Bread Kitchen” website at https://www.friendshipbreadkitchen.com/amish-friendship-bread-starter/.

Mom wrote the following interesting explanation on the history of bread [as found on page 144 in her last cookbook, Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press, Jan. 2018)]:

BREAD HISTORY

The bread of primitive man was unleavened and perhaps, as the story goes, the discovery of a leavening agent by a cook of ancient Egypt was purely by chance. However, it came about that the Egyptians baked some of the finest bread in the ancient world in cone-shaped ovens. Flattened, and perhaps coarse to present-day taste, the ancient round or triangular loaves unearthed at Deir el-Bahari were a great improvement over the open-air baking of earlier times. Bread, the symbol of the bounty of the Nile, was cast upon its waters as a tribute to the gods. It was, also, placed in tombs to feed the departed spirits of the deceased. Egyptians literally earned their daily bread as workers, as they were given bread at the end of the day as wages for their labor. The Egyptians, who discovered the principle of baking raised bread, didn’t fool around. They just left some dough around in the hot weather until it went bad, and then they baked it. And – lo – it puffed up in old clay ovens and tasted great! The leavened loaf was launched, with no questions asked. The Egyptians regarded “yeast-ification” as an occult, not subject to the whim of man.

Mom also advised, when making a yeast bread, do not use a metal bowl or spoon in the developing process! Metal and yeast are not compatible and using such utensils or bowls with yeast could keep the yeast from working properly. Mom always preferred using either plastic or Pyrex bowls and only wooden or plastic spoons with which to stir or mix the ingredients.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my smorgasbord of topics today! In closing, I usually end with one of Mom’s recipes that she gave away for free on her product information and ordering sheets in exchange for an SASE. The following recipe wasn’t on any of those sheets, but it was given away for free when my brother, Michael Pitzer, first developed this website years ago for internet exposure to my parents and their “Secret Recipes”TM business. Since it is National Sourdough Bread Day, I’d like to share Mom’s copycat version of Schlotzsky’s sandwich rolls, asking only for proper credit if you care to share it.

Schlotzsky’s-Style Sandwich Rolls (from Gloria Pitzer’s “Secret Recipes”TM Newsletter)

1/2 cup Warm Water

1 TB Granulated Sugar

1 package Rapid Rise Dry Yeast

6 oz. Milk, very warm

1/2 tsp Salt

1/4 TB Baking Soda, softened in 1 TB water

2 1/2 cups All-Purpose Flour

In large mixing bowl combine warm water, sugar and yeast. Let stand about 5 minutes till very bubbly. With wire whisk add the rest with only 1 cup of the flour, beating to smooth dough. Beat in rest of flour until batter is thick and sticky but smooth, all flour being dissolved. Divide dough between 5 ovenproof, Pam-sprayed, cornmeal dusted (let excess shake out) soup bowls (each 5 inches in diameter). Cover each one in a square of Saran wrap sprayed in a bit of Pam and that side down. Let rise almost an hour or till above rim of bowls or cans. Discard Saran pieces. Bake on center rack of 375º F oven about 20 minutes or till golden brown. Let cool in containers on rack, spraying tops each in a bit of Pam while they cool to keep crusts soft. To use for sandwiches – slice in half horizontally and grill on lightly buttered hot griddle as you would for grilled cheese sandwich or broiler toast till golden. Then fill with lettuce and assorted lunch meats and cheese or sandwich fillings.

Butter Pie Crust, Like Baker’s Square

Butter Pie Crust, Like Baker’s Square

 

My most dependable & very favorite recipe!

  • 1 stick butter ((NOT margarine))
  • 1 TB sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 C all purpose flour
  1. Prepare a 10-inch Pyrex pie plate by spraying it in Pam. (Pyrex plates work best with this very rich recipe.) If you don’t have Pam, grease the pan in Crisco only! It might stick otherwise!
  2. Melt the butter in a small sauce pan on medium heat until it’s frothy, but don’t let it change color or become the least-bit brown. (I like to put the stick of butter into my heat-proof, 1 ½-quart, glass mixing bowl, placing it in the microwave for 2 to 3 minutes on “Defrost”.)
  3. As soon as the butter is melted, and while it’s still hot, dump in the remaining ingredients.
  4. Turn your electric mixer on high and beat mixture in a bowl for about 30 seconds or until it comes away from the center and hits the sides of the bowl.
  5. Quickly gather mixture into a ball and pat it out to cover the bottom and sides of the Pam-sprayed Pyrex pie plate.
  6. Bake crust at 375°F for 18 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Then, fill as desired. Makes one 10-inch pie crust.
  7. Note: Make one single recipe at a time. Do not double this recipe. The dough becomes difficult to work with as it cools and, then, it crumbles and breaks apart.
  8. To make a top crust for a filled pie: Pat out a single recipe, as given above, on a Pam-sprayed and waxed-paper-lined dinner plate. Invert top crust over filled, crust-lined pan, per recipe of your choice. Lift off plate and peel back waxed paper. Make slits for steam to escape. Gently press crust to rim of pie pan with a floured fork (or a fork dipped in ice water.) Use an egg-wash if you wish (one egg yolk, beaten with 1 tablespoon cold water and brushed lightly – lapping it, rather than pressing it, over top of crust), but the butter in this crust should allow it to brown beautifully without the wash. Bake per filling recipe directions. Generally, the best temperature is at 375°F for 25 to 28 minutes or until filling begins to bubble up through the slits in the top crust in the crust is golden brown.