A home cook’s secret weapon

Pam Droog Jones


It was party time at Temple Beth El in Jefferson City and I volunteered to bring a side dish. Kasha sounded just right. I bought a box at the local Schnucks and followed a recipe I found online. It turned out like the gruel that must have been served to Oliver Twist and his orphan pals in 19th century London. My husband, Jerry, a renowned cook and baker, offered to try it again with the unused kasha and the recipe on the box. Naturally his was divine and got raves from the congregants. (Secret you probably know but I didn’t: egg yolk coating).

Later it dawned on me I should have consulted my late mother’s Settlement Cookbook. Originally published in 1945 and subtitled “The way to a man’s heart,” I would bet my mom, and every post-war bride, received it as a wedding gift. Settlement was her go-to cookbook, and over the years she stuffed in so many recipes—handwritten, typed, copied, clipped—that the faded yellow binding literally burst.

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Her collection included lots of recipes for molds and casseroles, things called Surprise and Delight and dishes that require cream soup or cream cheese. There also are several chicken tribute recipes like Bette’s Chicken, Lucy’s Kentucky 1890 Chicken (complete with a dash of bourbon) and June Miller’s Chicken.

I also found my mom’s handwritten recipe for my late brother’s favorite, Mrs. Eisenberg’s Banana Cake, a dense, heavy business slathered with glossy chocolate frosting. I was especially thrilled to discover her recipe for noodle kugel. I think our family loved it so much because unlike traditional kugel, my mom’s had a sweet, crunchy topping of butter, sugar, cinnamon and crushed corn flakes. It always was a crowd pleaser. In fact, that’s what I’ll have Jerry make for me to bring to the next party at Temple Beth El.