September 29, 2010

Potato and Peach Bliss


I'm learning the best way to find about a state's resources is to contact elected officials. It's more fun and easier than staying up late reading books like "Weird Missouri." The book BTW offers up a variety of rather strange items. I'm not about to dwell on the silly notion that the world's deepest mineral mine -- Pea Ridge Mine -- at Sullivan, Mo. -- could in some "Twilight Zone" World be a gate to hell. My daughters are scared of thunderstorms. Nor would I bother tracking down an antiquated menu item like the Guber Burger. Peanut Butter smeared on ground beef I think is a few steps above purgatory, and no longer available in Sedalia.

Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill and her staff gauge the pulse of the state with "Kitchen Table Talks." And I knew from an earlier Q&A with the Senator that she enjoys cooking with her family when she's away from Capitol Hill. I was thrilled when Corey Dillon in the KC office said they could help with the project. Keep reading to find out about Corey's fond family memories of Missouri meals.

Senator McCaskill offers her family's favorite potato dish, which I think will go well with tomorrow's entry. (Required viewing before tomorrow's meal: Ang Lee's "Ride with the Devil." And no, we're not fixin' Deviled Eggs.)

When presenting a true heartland dish, you cannot go wrong with potatoes. Searching for the Julia Child's quote to back this up. Baseball statistician and author Bill James, a native Kansan, says that two-thirds of his favorite foods are some form of potatoes, from steaming hot scalloped to summer's cool Mayonnaise potato salad dishes. Here's what I'm making tonight:

Senator Claire McCaskill's
Bacon New Potato Salad

Small red new potatos – 5 lbs.
Scallions – 1 bunch chopped
Fresh green beans – 2 lbs.
Bacon – 1 lb.
Black olives – 1 can sliced (optional)
Celery – 2 stalks chopped
Beef bouillon – 1 can
Tarragon – 1 tsp.
White wine vinegar – 1/3 cup
Mayo – ½ to 1 cup

Steam or boil new potatoes. Drain and cool, slice into quarters. Steam green beans. Cook bacon, and then crumble it into small pieces. Chop scallions and celery. 

Mix potatoes, green beans, scallions, olives, celery, bouillon, tarragon, and white wine vinegar (all ingredients except mayo and bacon). Salt and pepper to taste. Let sit for at least an hour (better overnight). When ready to serve, add mayo and bacon.


Need more Spud-rific books for keeping with today's theme? For kids: "Potato Joe" by Keith Baker or "The Enormous Potato" by Aubrey Davis and Duan Petricic.

For adults: "Potato: A History of the Propitious Esculent" by John Reader or "The Potato: How the Humble Spud Rescued the Western World" by Larry Zuckerman. Who knew there were two books just on the HISTORY of potatoes?


I'm familiar with CSA's (Community Supported Agriculture farms where buyers invest in a share of the farms produce), but I'd not heard of produce auctions. There is one in Jamesport and another in Fortuna. Corey Dillon, who went to an auction last month and came back with tomatoes and peaches, notes that they are open to anyone and the beautiful and reasonably-priced produce is from farms within 100-miles. With a plethora of peaches, Corey used her great-grandmother's recipe, which she shares with us:

Corey Dillon's
Peach Butter

6 cups sliced peaches
1 cup water
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
4 cups sugar

Mix all ingredients together. Boil gently, stir frequently until mixture thickens. Pour into sterile glass jars and when cool seal with paraffin. (I didn't seal with paraffin. It will keep for up to a year, refrigerate after opening jar.)


So what was it like growing up with Missouri's bounty? Corey Dillon explains:

For me, cooking with family and family meals are some of my best memories.  My quintessential Missouri meal – that always makes me think of home, near Lake of the Ozarks —  is fried fish (crappie), spinach and fried potatoes!  When I was little my dad was a real fisherman and would go fishing any time he could.  He would catch crappie in the Lake and he would freeze them in milk jugs that had the top cut off.  Then, when he had enough saved back we would have a fish fry. My mom would bread the crappie in a cornmeal mixture and fry it. She would also peel and slice the potatoes and fry them in a skillet until they were dark and crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.  Finally, she made spinach that was served with vinegar on the side. My great-grandmother used to come visit for two weeks every summer and we always had to have a fish fry when she visited. I remember my mom frying the fish and my grandma sneaking into the kitchen to get a sample. She sampled so much that we were worried that there wouldn’t be enough left for dinner!  There was always more than enough, but I’m certain we never had many leftovers!

Oh, and pies! My mom makes the best pies! She learned how to make pies from her grandmother who lived in Smithton, Mo., just east of Sedalia. My mom taught me -- and now my daughter -- that the key is to roll the pie crust so thin you can read a newspaper through it! Every season has its own special pie affiliated with it. In the springtime we always have cherry pies from the tart cherry trees outside the kitchen window. Then, in summertime we have golden peach pies.  In the fall, my mom makes the best apple pie around.  In fact, my nephew says that Grandmama’s  apple pie is the very best!  And, in the wintertime – for Thanksgiving  – my mom makes a delicious pecan pie! Over the years I have learned how to make them too, but there is something that is oh so special about my mom’s pies. 

Around Christmas time our favorite family cooking has always centered around cookies and candies to have on hand during the holiday season and to give away as gifts. Black walnuts are a common ingredient in two of my favorite holiday treats.  In the fall my mom, my aunt and my grandmother used to pick up gunny sacks full of walnuts from under the black walnut trees at my aunt’s house. After they were hulled, I remember getting to crack them with a hammer.  We would put all of the cracked walnuts in a bowl and sit for hours picking out the delicious meat!  We use the black walnuts in Lep cookies which are a traditional German cookie that my great grandmother made year round, and my mom and I make only at Christmas. They are a spice cookie that is full of molasses, raisins and black walnuts.  My favorite part of my great grandmother’s recipe is that it doesn’t specify exactly how much flour to add.  It says, “add flour until the spoon stands up!” And, of course, fudge.  My mom’s Christmas chocolate fudge always turns out perfectly and she always adds black walnuts!  It is the taste of Christmas!

— Corey

Corey Dillon's
(Traditional German Holiday Spice Cookies)

Mix together:
2 c brown sugar
1 c shortening
2 c molasses
1 1/2 c sour milk or buttermilk
2 T baking soda

Then add:
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp each of ginger, cloves, nutmeg and allspice
1 tsp salt
1 c dates
2 c nuts
2 c raisins
1 c preserves (any kind)
1 tsp lemon extract
Orange peel

Add spices to flour and add to wet mixture stirring after each addition. Continue adding flour until dough is stiff.

Cover and refrigerate overnight. These can be dropped by spoonful and stamped with a glass dipped in sugar or add flour and powdered sugar to your board and make a log, then slice to bake.

Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes.


You cannot go wrong with German foods for a Missouri meal -- potato dishes and the intoxicating smell of Lepkuchen baking on a cool winter's day. According to "Welcome to the U.S.A. Missouri" book for children by Ann Heinrichs ad Matt Kania, many Missouri towns have a strong German heritage including Hermann, Altenburg, Westphalia, Augusta, Dutzow and Berger.

Thank you, Corey and Senator McCaskill! 

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