Every time I visit Jon’s parents, a culinary marathon is waiting for me. For some odd reason, I am always caught off guard.
We are visiting this weekend because there is a hard freeze, and his parent’s must keep their small town hardware store open for the whole town to fix their 60 year old busted pipes.
Since I know nothing about hardware, busted pipes, or cash registers, I always volunteer to take on the meals. Jon’s mom hates to cook and is better at the store. No big deal... until she calls an hour into my cooking…
You see, Jon’s parents do a lot of philanthropic work by volunteering their time and resources to help mostly religious charitable events. This is where I come in. Jon’s mother always volunteers to make 2-3 desserts for the Knights of Columbus Chicken Fried Steak Dinner or the Catholic Daughter’s Scholarship Fundraiser. What ends up happening is I get this call while I'm lazily making tonight's family meal:
“Would you mind making a dessert for Daddy’s Knight’s Dinner tomorrow? I don’t want to put you under too much trouble…I just told them I would bring a dessert and I am so busy at the store…”
This happens EVERY time I come over. EVERY TIME. It’s not that I mind the cooking. Really, it’s okay…fodder to blog about, but it's the slight feeling of manipulation that bothers me.
“What would you like me to make?” I inquire.
“Oh well I actually need two desserts, something easy that won’t be too much work and your good at,” she says.
“Um, ok well what’s popular among this crowd?"
"Well, mostly pies and cakes because they are going to be put on little plates and sold individually. No cookies, they never sell. Not that pumpkin cake you make because it has to be scooped out. Nothing that has to be scooped out. Something that will hold its shape on a plate,” She says.
*I stare blankly into space...*
“Um, okay. I’ll look through the cookbook.”
“I’m sure whatever you make will be fine, long as it is none of that other stuff. Thanks! *click*
Another thing that you must know about Jon’s parents is that they are big “use what we have on hand” kind of people. If they are making a recipe and don’t have one of the ingredients, it is just getting left out. Simple as that. I have eaten soups at their house that have consisted of chicken broth, flour, and egg yolks. That is it. “Dumpling Soup” is what they call it. It looks like white worms in chicken broth. Call me spoiled, but I like ummm more full-bodied food.
That being said, I go and see what they have already available. Flour, sugar, soda, baking powder, pecans, lemons, powdered sugar. Hmmm…I pull out the recipe book that I got tonight's jelly roll dessert recipe from. As I flip through the pages of old world recipes that require a minimum of 50 ingredients, sweat starts to bead up on my forehead. I start to get the kolache panic. I am not going to be able to pull this off.
Now, one may wonder why I just don’t run to the grocery store and pick up a ready made cake, pie, or confectionery delight. The answer is this: In this small town of mostly Czech immigrant families, they KNOW when you cheat. They can take one look at a slice of store bought cake and tell you 50 reasons why it tastes like sugared cardboard. Your dessert will be shunned and ignored. (Except by maybe the great-grandchild that eats that crap at school every day.) You don’t want your name associated with that. God, I love small towns.
You may also ask, “Why does it matter?” Well, good food goes a long way in this town. At the Catholic Church’s annual bazaar, some desserts bring in hundreds of dollars in live auctions. There is a lady who makes a fried cookie known as a “Rosette” every year and puts 20 in large pickle jar. Last year they brought in over $1000 to the church. Another old lady makes a German chocolate cake, $800 if I remember right. It doesn’t matter if the quality is sliding because of their age. What matters is that is Mrs. X’s Rosettes and they are worth it. What also matters is that small towners talk to each other about everyone. If I bring a sub-par dessert, I may not be “good enough” for that Vacek boy. He might be better off dating the pretty Hlavinka girl down the street.
But I digress. I find some reasonable looking recipes: Banana Nut Cake and Carrot Cake. Miraculous, they have carrots and a can of pineapple on hand.
I sent the youngin’s to the store for bananas and a few other items. Let the cooking marathon begin…