Because of the geographical distances, Dad’s sisters and their families were to a large degree alien to my sister and me. Family reunions, gathering the descendants of Grandpa’s father, Joshua, were no less confusing, even though they were attended largely by people who lived within driving distance of us. Only after I undertook the genealogical research did the connections become clearer. Fortunately, I launched into this project shortly after cousin Floyd had begun collecting materials and asking questions, and we were soon swapping our findings and hunches.
Reflecting on the reunions, Floyd recalled:
“Uncle James, no one enjoyed the food more, unless it was me. Remember the homemade ice cream! Aunt Erma with her quiet manner always enjoyed herself being with the family.”
Food, of course, quickly points to the kitchen where Grandma rolled out dough on tea towels and deftly cut with an unerringly accurate paring knife her homemade noodles – a vestige of her Pennsylvania Dutch heritage, as I would learn. TJ details the process: “She would spread her homemade noodles on clean dish cloths on the kitchen table and then, after they had dried some, transfer them to dowels between two chairs.” In my memory, wooden yardsticks were used instead. Either would work.
Only when I was reading Emerson L. Lesher’s humorous The Muppie Manual: The Mennonite Urban Professional’s Guide for Humility and Success and came across his mentioned of how the generation moving away from the farm prefers “pasta” to “noodles” did it click – none of her daughters or granddaughters learned the recipe or the knack.
Only now do the vague memories linger of overheard discussion of scrapple and German-named specialties we children would never touch willingly in a million years – one sounded vaguely like, hog maws, pig stomach, or maybe “corn paws.” Another was their synonym for cottage cheese, along the lines of “shmear-case” (schmerkase). A Sunday after-church dinner typically included pickled eggs and pickled beets, possibly also from that tradition.
Grandpa’s steaks, meanwhile, would be pounded out with a tenderizing hammer, breaded, and fried Southern-style – definitely not the marinated ones we now grill and savor.
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