Celery Leaves…

My Mom is on my mind a lot every December. Shannon, Mom’s and my birthday’s are all this month. Mom would have been 92 on the 13th and has been gone for 14 years already. Don’t know exactly why as the end of the year nears, she’s in my thoughts more often.

Mom feeding me, Larry & Mona peeking over her shoulder, 1951…

It’s probably the fudge. When I gear up to make Christmas candy, Mom’s fudge pushes its way to the forefront. And it’s not really her fudge either. It’s Mom’s grandma Berghuis’ recipe, so do the math. Mom was born in 1926, lost her young mother a couple weeks later. Grew up in the care of her paternal grandparents, the Wanningen’s, but also lived close enough to spend a lot of quality time with her maternal grands, the fudge and penuche makers. (Frequently on Sunday afternoons, between morning and evening church services. A sin for sure, but you didn’t hear it from me). Meaning this recipe probably originated in the Netherlands before they immigrated to Sioux Center, Iowa in the late 1800’s. They were sponsored by local folks (friends and relatives, also from the Netherlands earlier in the century) who had housing and jobs lined up and waiting for them when they arrived.

Great grandma Berghuis’ fudge recipe…

I love making candy, well, because I love candy. Over the years, I have tried various fudge recipes, marshmallow fudge, evaporated milk fudge, sweetened condensed milk fudge, chocolate chip fudge, (never made peanut butter fudge because it’s useless and gross) but all pale in comparison to the simple Dutch recipe of my great grandma Berghuis. The ingredients are few, but the taste is smooth, solid and deliciously creamy. There are drawbacks. It’s not called Never fail fudge for a reason. Because I’ve failed perfecting it numerous times. Distracted or in a hurry will get me every time. Patience is a virtue to be desired when one makes old fashioned fudge. I don’t use a candy thermometer because my Mom didn’t, her mom didn’t neither did her grandma. It would be disloyal or simply letting them down somehow if I used a different method to make perfect fudge. Just can’t do it.

The hot chocolate set brought over from the Netherlands as a thank you gift to their sponsors…

You can’t miss the window of opportunity given when one makes candy. The perfect soft ball stage lasts only a minute or two. My job is to test it during that short time frame. My failures are usually when I prematurely turn off the heat source. Maybe a mere 30 seconds from victory and the soft ball may look just about right. Don’t fall for this pagan candy wannabe. Be patient and wait another half minute and test again. And again. The effort becomes apparent when that small dot of fudge removed from its cold water grave sets proudly on my index finger for a nanosecond before succumbing to gravity. Perfect. Move it off the hot burner, add butter and vanilla and wait about 20 minutes. Don’t touch, stir or look at it cross eyed during the cool down.

When it’s still too hot to carry the pan to the table bare handed, but the pan has cooled considerably, your second tough task begins. About 5 to 10 minutes of hand beating with a large spoon. I lay an old towel over my lap because that melted butter splashes around until it’s mixed in. I have never made a batch of fudge that didn’t end up on a buttered plate. Never once poured it in a pan. Mom thought her poured, sometimes uneven fudge had some depth on a plate and was pretty and unique. The middle tends to be thicker with some swirly designs as you’re scooping out the entire batch on a plate. And the word ‘nutmeats’ is just so Mom. She rarely made fudge without nutmeats, always using walnuts. Me too unless it’s a specific request to go nutless. Over the years this family fudge recipe remains near and dear. I feel a strong sense of belonging to some exclusive club, surrounded by love every time I make a batch. (Except for the occasional cursing fit when it fails to ‘lose its sheen’ and I’m ready to pour it on the plate. Yeah, there’s that). I hope it’s years before my fudge making days are a thing of the past. And yes, Shannon makes the same fudge, so the tradition lives on.

No uniform, even pieces of fudge in this house…

Mom also bequeathed her soup gene to me. I honestly could eat soup everyday of the year. But her soup days were more determined by the seasons, mine aren’t. If I’m hungry for Bean Soup in July, I’ll be making a pot whether it’s 92 degrees or not. Mom only made Pea (whole, not split) and Bean soup during the winter months for the strangest reason. After a big snowfall, she’d get out her white enamel 4 quart soup pot, pull on her boots and coat, trudge out to the back yard and fill the pot to the very top with fresh packed snow (never yellow tinged). After the pot full of snow melted in the kitchen and she’d gone through every stinking pea or bean, deeming them worthy for our consumption, she’d toss them in the melted snow to soak overnight. Couldn’t use regular great tasting Rock Valley tap water, had to be snow. I don’t know if she thought it was softer water or if it was the fluoride in our drinking water that bothered her, but she always used snow when the peas or beans needed to be soaked.

Mom’s homemade chicken soup recipe…

I thought that whole snow business was a bunch of hooey, plus prohibited me from making some soups during warmer months, so I veered away from that strange tradition. Geez, I don’t even like looking at snow when it’s falling, let alone bring it in the house on purpose. I simply use tap water, soak my peas or beans overnight, drain, rinse and use fresh water to cook.

Mom didn’t make chili very often (neither do I-that’s Hubs department) but she did make great Vegetable Beef, Chicken Rice, Pea and Bean soups. I’ve kind of lost my taste for rice in soups the last few years though. I prefer pearl barley (pain in the ass, it’s got to be soaked like beans or quick cooked. If I’m not feeling the love of pre-soaking/cooking I just use 10 minute quick barley (hanging my head here in shame).

Can’t forget about Penuche (pe-noo-chee), brown sugar fudge…

Maybe the reason I’m prone to Mom’s soups can be explained because we live in Michigan. (Besides our endless winters like Iowa’s, I could easily melt snow most months for soaking). You know how much I enjoy reading ‘actual books’ and ‘real paper newspapers.’ I only get a real newspaper 2 days a week. (Besides my weekly Rock Valley Bee which shows up whenever it so chooses). Last Sunday I sat down with pretty good sized paper because of all the Christmas ads. Front section of the Jackson Citizen Patriot has almost of full page of weather. Local forecast for the week plus this meteorologist dude writes a couple paragraphs about some weird weather related phenomenon, or astounding snowfall amount for the poor schmucks who live in the UP.

No, not a fungus. It’s flour from rolling my loaves of bread that spilled off the counter…

I’ve been down in the dumps all week about his weather article. It just seems so much worse when I see this type of language in print. There’s a tool (besides the weatherman) in Grand Rapids which measures the amount of sunshine we get. During the month of November, there was a possibility of having 17,500 minutes of glorious sunshine in Michigan. We were blessed with 1,500 minutes of sunshine. Turn it around it’s even worse. Instead of the lowly pittance of 8% sunshine, we were graced with 92% of cloud cover during daylight hours. Oh for cripe’s sake, just shoot me now. Weather rants over, I’m spent.

Homemade bread on the rise. Hey, it’s got a cup of wheat flour in it…

Thursday morning dawned dark and dreary, surprise-surprise. Good day for chicken soup and homemade bread. John prefers me to use a whole chicken for soup (dark meat), I prefer 2 big chicken breasts with skin and bones to start. But I had thawed a chicken so simmered him for a spell. Started mixing my 3 loaves of bread and decided to eat totally healthy for the day so I threw in one cup of whole wheat flour. (That justifies the thick slices of bread and the glob of butter slathered on each one). Before that healthy bread dough needed some major smack down I cut my veggies for the soup. That’s when I was hit with such a Mom moment it almost knocked me to my (bad) knees.

Tastes great and I did give a loaf to Ari…

Chopped up a big onion, cried for awhile (just because of the onion-not Mom-induced-yet). Half a bag of shredded carrots chopped in half, measured some 10 minute barley and a handful of small noodles. Got out the celery, rinsed off 4 stalks to chop. Looked at the 5 inner, smaller stalks remaining when it hit me. Mom. She always chopped those beautiful green leaves of the celery stalks and threw them in the soup during the last couple minutes. I don’t know if it was for the taste especially, maybe for the visual appeal, added color or texture to the soup. I’ve done it oodles of times in my life, but yesterday it knocked me for a loop. Just a flood of Mom thoughts. This frequently happens when I least expect it.

It was the small container of chopped celery leaves that got to me…

Mom must have thought those celery leaves added a lot to her soup. If she had extra, she’d lay paper towels down on the counter, chop up the extra celery leaves and let them dry for a day. Store them in a container and the next time when soup was on our supper menu and she was pushed for time, she’d use the dried celery flakes from her spice cabinet. Really, how much love does this show for a simple supper of soup? I should have appreciated her more. Much more. Mom, for always adding celery leaves to our pot of chicken soup, thanks…

Penuche-uncut version…

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