Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 17, 2010

Grandma's Kitchen: Vittles and rituals

Local columnist

---- — It's been fun here, this first day of May. This afternoon, I have been watching the fuss surrounding the annual Run for the Roses, the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.

The present topic of discussion is the fascinating food! I feel like I should be out in the kitchen cooking up some Kentucky Burgoo or cheesy grits in honor of the occasion. I prefer their traditional ham biscuits because they are quick and simple. It is amazing to me how every locale and culture across our country has its own spring ritual. Food plays an important part in these rites. For instance, up here we tap maple trees and hunt the elusive morels.

Spring is a great time to take a journey back home, if only in memory. I loved springtime in the Ozark foothills, with the fragrance of blooming magnolias. I recall the old-timers digging their sassafras root for making "spring tonic" tea to thin their blood. The commonly held belief was that your blood thickened during the winter of inactivity and required thinning with sassafras tea and wild greens, sort of like changing the oil in your car. This thinning prepared you for the rigors of spring plowing, planting and removing the snakes that had kept warm in the storm cellar. All of this needed to be completed before the arrival of tornado season. Granny kept busy trying to pry Grandpa out of his beloved long johns. His theory was if they kept out the cold, they would keep out the heat! I hope you are enjoying your memories too, with the coming of spring.

After reading all the mail perpetuated by last month's column, I feel I need to revisit the natural laundry soap recipe. There have been many questions about the difference between the Arm & Hammer Washing Soda and their baking soda. Use only the washing soda in the soap. You will find it alongside the laundry products at the grocer's and it should not be confused with the baking soda, which is a food product. We welcome your questions.

I appreciate your stevia questions, too, and the inquiries on how to use it. As with so many products, there are variations between manufacturers, their suggested uses, and corresponding measurement conversions. Molly and I use the KAL brand. It is pure, organic, powdered stevia — with no additives. It's the only product we use. It is so potent that even a fraction can make a big difference in the taste of your dessert. Because you have asked, here is a reprint of the Baked Custard. Some of you missed the correction when it was printed last month.

Baked Custard

6 well beaten eggs

1/8 t. stevia

1 t. salt

4 c. milk, scalded

1 t. vanilla

Combine eggs, stevia and salt. Slowly stir in slightly cooled milk and vanilla. Place glass casserole bowl in shallow pan on oven rack. Pour hot water in the pan, about 1 inch deep. Pour custard into glass casserole bowl. Sprinkle surface of custard with cinnamon. Bake in slow oven (325°) for 45 minutes, or until knife inserted off-center comes out clean. Serve warm or chilled.


This following idea was sent to me by faithful reader Jeannette from Empire. She gave me permission to share it with you. It is called an Appetizer Buffet. This would be perfect for a birthday party, shower, or actually any occasion! This would be especially great at Christmas. Just ask each guest to bring a plate of her/his favorite appetizer, along with copies of the recipe. It would be so simple for the hostess, who would only need to supply dessert plates and beverages. The buffet would be so colorful, and you would return home with a fistful of new recipes.


Here are a couple of recipes that Molly prepared this past month. They are simple yet tasty. We hope you enjoy them and take advantage of the asparagus bounty that is now available!

Roasted Carrots with Feta and Toasted Walnuts

3 lbs. carrots

3 T. olive oil

Coarse grind sea salt to taste

Coarse pepper to taste

1/3 c. crumbled feta

¾ c. walnuts, toasted

Clean the carrots and peel, if desired. Slice into half-inch diagonal slices. Place on shallow baking pan. Drizzle the carrots with olive oil, sprinkle with coarse salt, and toss until carrots are coated. Bake in a 425° oven for 25 minutes. While carrots are roasting, coarsely chop walnuts and toast in a dry hot skillet, tossing often. When the carrots are done roasting, mix with the crumbled feta and toasted walnuts. Serve warm.

Oven Roasted Asparagus

2 lbs. of asparagus, washed and trimmed

2 T. olive oil

Arrange asparagus in shallow pan. Drizzle with olive oil. Bake at 425° for about 15-18 minutes until asparagus is tender.

Happy springtime! A belated Happy Mother's Day hug to all of you daughters, mothers and grandmothers.


Parting Shot:

"Anything loving that we do or think contributes to the healing of humanity."

— Marianne Williamson

Edna Shaffer is a local mother, grandmother and great-grandmother who writes about cooking from the perspective of an older adult. She can be reached at For more Grandma's Kitchen columns by Edna Shaffer, log on to