27 September 2012

Chilly? Then have some...CHILI

   OK. I know. Three months is way too long between blog posts. I really have to get focused on this blog, I have HUGE plans for it, but I realize that unless I post at least a of couple times a month that it will continue to just drag along. I will make a better effort to make this idea of family stories, food & genealogy come together more frequently. So, with that I bring you my first item for Autumn. Chili.

   This spicy stew-like dish has many regional variations. Meaty or meatless, spicy or mild, macaroni or no.... wait sorry for all of you Cheese Heads in Wisconsin , where I now reside, macaroni in chili is NOT chili...It's GOULASH !! The meat added can be any that you choose, the most popular being beef, I use mostly ground chuck, but at times prefer shanks or brisket. Should I add tomatoes or peppers? Should it be spicy or mild? But, the biggest controversy I have encountered when talking chili is. 

To Bean or not to Bean?... That is the question. 

   To me the only answer here is Yes! I use many different varieties of beans depending on the type of chili I am making. My mother's traditional chili calls for dark & light red-kidney beans. My wife and youngest daughter Emily love chicken chili, so here I go with Great Northern, creamy Cannellini or Navy beans. Vegetarian chili, for my daughter Abigail  begs for a legume trifecta of black, kidney & pinto beans.

   Growing up in NW Pennsylvania, chili for us always seemed to mark the "official" beginning of Autumn. Cool crisp afternoons, lawn freshly mowed, trees changing color. Coming home from squirrel or rabbit hunting with my dad or a Sunday sitting down with my family watching the Pittsburgh Steelers dominate the 1970's. This was also one of the first dishes I can remember making after getting married and moving to Seattle, WA while in the Marine Corps. Nothing can bring you closer to home than preparing the food you remember growing up with during your youth. My immediate family growing up consisted of my parents and older sister, and even though there was only a household of 4 my parents prepared every meal as if 15 people were coming over to eat. My parents made spaghetti sauce, soup, stew and chili by the " 5 gallon " rule, it was usually started before breakfast, probably because after cooking it all day it concentrated to a more reasonable 3 gallons.

My mother's chili is simple as follows.

Ground beef
Chopped celery
V8 vegetable juice - 1 large can
Kidney beans - drained
Whole canned or diced tomatoes
packet of chili seasoning

   I chop and cook down the onion & celery with salt/pepper in olive oil. Then I add the ground beef, once browned add tomatoes and beans, continue to cook for about 10 minutes add seasoning packet, vegetable juice then cover and let simmer on low for at least an hour. Serve with crackers or a nice crusty loaf of Italian bread.

   I love using this roaster for my chili. My mother gave this to me a couple years ago. It belonged to my dad's mother, grandma Nan. A classic Wagner Magnalite 4265-P probably purchased in the 1950's ( you'll see this again at New Year's for pork & sauerkraut ).

   Yes I know. Most people consider this to be a " Serving Bowl " Well it's the one I use for chili... and cereal...OK and ice cream. I mean come on, I need to fit 3 bowls in one, this was pre-DVR only 3 channels on a Zenith or Curtis Mathis console TV, you can't make multiple trips to the kitchen when your watching Terry Bradshaw launch one down the side-line to Lynn Swann, you might miss something.

   I hope you will all try my mothers chili, whether you like your chili with or without beans or want to substitute the beef for chicken it will be a dish that most definitely says... AUTUMN is Here!! Most importantly, get in kitchen and cook with your children, You'll give them memories that will last for generations and they will love you for it.

Thanks mom and dad. I love you both.

24 June 2012

Apples are excellent - until you've tried... A Peach !

I was at a small roadside fruit & vegetable stand recently and came upon a nice hefty 1/2 peck of fresh peaches. I picked one up and gave it a gentle squeeze after taking a hearty draw of it's dusty sweet aroma. I knew immediately that they were destined to be transformed into single serving galettes. Paired with a cup of strong coffee provides one of the best morning meals I can think of, simple and slightly sweet. 

As I held it in my hand feeling its warmth and weight I realized that every time I come across a peach such as this I have the same memory. It is 1979 I am sitting in the back of the family car brushing my Aunt Barb's Crystal Gail-esque hair as she sits in the front seat next to my mother, as usual she snookered me into this task by telling me she would give me a whole $.25 ( I still have not seen one penny of that money to this day, but that's what makes it special I guess. )

We are traveling to a place we often visited, McCloskey's Farm in Jamestown, PA a roadside purveyor of fresh fruits & vegetables. Oh how I can see the bins of apples, plums & peaches, melons, onions & squash piled high. Being that we grew most of our own vegetables in a garden my parents had that was a large 1/4 acre at least we were here for the fruit. Peaches always being one of my favorites, I liked how the fuzz made my chin itch.

Slice peaches thinly and add some sugar to help sweeten, this will also pull moisture out and make a nice syrup to add to the tarts. This my all purpose crust I use for desserts as well as potpies and quiche, just omit the sugar.


1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 Tbs. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 stick cold butter cut into small cubes
1/4 cup + 1 Tbs ICE COLD Water

Mix dry ingredients
Cut in butter w/ a pastry knife until it looks like moist sand yet still has some chunks of butter visible.
Add water and combine w/ the back of a fork until it comes together.
form into a ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30min.

Cut dough into quarters and roll out on floured surface ( do not over work the dough )

Fan out the slices on the dough leave an inch around the edge to fold up into a neat little purse. Brush with melted butter. Bake at 400 degrees for 30-35 minutes. As always these can be modified to your liking. Strawberries, blueberries and plums make great variations. In the fall apples and pears are the star. Serve w/ fresh whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream if you wish.

Three of the greatest women in my life ( besides my wife & three daughters ) are my mother & her two sisters, my aunts Barb & Mary. There has been no comedy trio or Vaudeville act that could begin to match the comedic, humorous and at times wit full revenge that these sisters posses. They were around so much as I grew up that it would be rude to not consider them more mother like. Aunt Barb & Aunt Mary have taught me that no matter how bad things can get in your life there is good somewhere in your future.

Aunt Barb was one of the first people I cooked for. I bragged that at age 8 I could cook as good as anyone I knew, I was staying over at her house and I made her breakfast. All she had was eggs and onions, so I made her an over cooked omelette with no cheese and way to many raw onions. I think she ate it only to make me feel good, if she haden't I may have quit cooking all together. She gave me the confidence to continue doing what I loved. I'm sure she would have loved to have had a peach galette instead.

My Aunt Mary is only 6-7 years older than I am, but I thought she was the hippest chic around. she had the look of an older Joanie Cunningham from Happy Days with the James Dean FTW attitude to go with it.  A teenager in the 70's and 80's she blazed her own path, albeit not always the straight one, which she would admit to if asked. But hey older kids to hang with how cool was that. She gave me my first rock albums KISS Destroyer ( I still have it ) & Billy Joel's Glass House ever since I have been a huge fan of music. She gave me the nerve to walk on the wild side from time to time over the years, and without knowing she has also taught me how to not let it consume me. She has said this to me one way or another over the years in a playful manner, but I always knew there was some truth to it..." learn from not only from your own mistakes, but from mine as well, because if you don't I will kick your ass. "

To my Mother, Aunt Barb & Aunt Mary I Love You...thanks for the memories I think of them often.

16 June 2012

Peter Piper picked a peck of... Pickled Eggs !?

 Where did pickled eggs originate & why? First the why. As with most food items these delectable treats were born of necessity for preservation purposes, before refrigeration many food stuffs were salted, brined, dried or smoked. In order to keep food edible during the winter months. Many believe that the British introduced pickled eggs to the New World, when in fact they are of German ancestry most likely brought by early German immigrants in the mid- 1700's, they were also a popular food item of the Hessian mercenaries fighting against the Colonials during the Revolutionary War. Many early recipes come from the Pennsylvania Dutch living in Southeastern & South Central Pennsylvania.

Pickled eggs to many people are an oddity that most snicker at. I admit, though I will sit and eat 5-6 of these at a time, even I can't make myself eat the plain white pickled eggs you find traditionally south of the Mason-Dixon. I mean no disrespect to these jars that occupy counter space next to the boiled peanuts and pecan logs, they serve a useful purpose in a region where food can be quite spicy. These preserved oval orbs cool the palate & the brininess helps enhance the flavor of slow hickory or fruit wood smoked pork.

This recipe for pickled eggs & beets I would normally save for around Easter because that's the time of year when I remember my mother making these the most. For some reason she seemed to only make them once a year, however they now have a spot reserved in her refrigerator and appear at least twice a month now thanks to my father. I remember getting excited when the first crock of pickled eggs would make their initial appearance, it meant to me that summer was around the corner, the garden would be planted and the fresh fruits & vegetables that my parents would coax from the soil would soon make it to my plate. I will be featuring many of these items over the next several weeks.

There are many variations of this recipe that have been made by my family over the years made with sugar, cloves, chili flakes or hot peppers. Try different flavor combinations, you will not be disappointed. The basic recipe is as follows.

Large container w/ lid
1 dozen eggs
2 cans of whole or sliced beets
1 medium sweet onion
Apple cider vinegar

Hard boil eggs and peel. I prefer to use older eggs as they tend to release their shells much better.
Add 1 can of beets plus liquid to container, add 1/2 of onion as well. Next place eggs in container. Add last can of beets & onion. Finally pour in enough apple cider vinegar to cover. Close lid and place in refrigerator for 24hrs. These eggs will keep for a couple weeks. Serve cold.

Food for me has the ability to instantly take me back to a time before cell phones, computers & social media. The mid 70's & early 80's were a simple time for me in Northwestern PA, yet far more advanced than what my parents experienced in the previous two decades. The sweet smell of a peach, the warmth of a tomato held to the cheek or the sound of peas dropping into a metal bowl while sitting on the patio shucking a bushel of pods. These sensations put me back in the moment. I can hear the sounds, feel the sun warming my skin and smell the smells.

I love these memories. I try and recreate them as often as I can, & I love my parents for providing them to me. Thank You Mom & Dad.

05 May 2012

Good grades, Great food

   I haven't set up any interviews yet, so I pulled this one from my own experiences. I was born and raised in northwest Pennsylvania during the 70's & 80's. A time when candy cost a penny a piece and you knew it was time to come home for dinner because the street lights were on. As I hope this blog shows, the connection between food and memories links us all, one of my earliest food memories that turned into family a tradition came when I was only around 6 or 7 yrs old.

   I would say school was a problem for me, only in the sense that I didn't apply myself, learning was easy for me, but I felt that if I knew the material then why did I have to do homework and assignments, just give me the quiz or test, if I pass then my grades should reflect that. Well, they did not, I would say I was a definitely an average student pulling strong C's the occasional B but teetering into D's at times. Every year my parents would reward my sister and I with a " special " dinner out, if we had kept our grades consistent and passed to the next grade level. We always chose the Old Express restaurant in Sharon, Pa. It was a converted railroad depot with a steam engine and dining cars, we always sat at a table where you could look through the glass and underneath the rail cars.

   So, what does a youngster of 6 or 7 choose when out for this one-time a year meal, LOBSTER !! I wanted to crown my achievement with the most expensive and luxurious item I could get my hands on. I loved them probably because they were a curiosity I mean what boy doesn't like bugs, animals & amphibious creatures, we hunted them in our play time, kept them in shoe boxes under our beds away from a mothers keen eye, so why not eat a creature as strange as this, besides they are delicious, succulent, sweet and they turn red when cooked, awesome to a boy. I always named my lobster George, but then again as a kid I named everything George. poking eyes, pulling antenna, cracking claws seemed an appropriate way to eat something. I always tried to convince my parents that it would be beneficial to let me keep the claws, I was never allowed.

                  Tully's Steakhouse formerly the Old Express / Seafood Express in Sharon, PA

  When I had the chance this past week to get some live Maine lobsters from friends that own a lobster co-op in Scarborough, ME I jumped at the opportunity. I guess being a truck driver has it's benefits. Gary and Tim run the Pine Point Fisherman's Co-Op. I hope to see them often. Incidentally Gary has a son that goes to school about a half hour away from me here in WI. He plays hockey for Lawrence University and I will be taking him some treats from WI next week when I make another trip to Maine. Cheese curds and bratwurst anyone?

                                         Pine Point Fisherman's Co-Op in Scarborough, ME

   And so this week I shared and re-lived memories with my family of being a boy that was rewarded for getting Good grades with Great food.

                                    Lobster's that were brought back from Pine Point this week.

   Who knew that a food item that was considered to be food fit for servants and lower class members of society and often relegated to the fields as fertilizer would turn out to be the King of the Ocean.


salted water
melted butter


   In a large pot boil salted water with lemon slices, put your lobster in head first ( lobster do NOT scream when put in boiling water, that sound is steam leaving the body ), start timing immediately 8min for a 1 lb & 12 min for a 1 1/2 lb lobster, increase 3 min per lb.


   Thanks for the memories mom & dad.

   Want to see your family food history on this blog contact me at my email link & don't forget to follow me on Twitter.

20 April 2012

Green Bean-a-Rooni

It was never a question as to what I would start with for this blog. This story comes from my own parents James & Cathy Wathan as told by my dad, these are his words.

 This Wathan traditional fare started while I was serving in the United States Marine Corps and stationed at The Portsmouth Naval Yard in Portsmouth NH from 1970 to 1971. My wife (Cathy) and I lived on the third floor of a downtown apartment paying roughly $90.00 per month for rent. Back at that time a married couple in the Marine Corps didn't make that much money, we received $220 a month, so things were tight. I had come home from the base, where I was a prison guard with the Marine Security Guard Force at the Naval Prison. I worked 24hrs on 24hrs off.

   I had gotten Home and we were trying to figure out something for supper, and as I remember, it was between pay periods and the cupboards were pretty bare. We found that we had a couple of pork chops, a can of tomato rice soup and a can of green beans. I usually did the cooking when I was home as I still do 40 years later.

   I fried up the pork chops in a skillet, and after they were done added the tomato rice soup, along with the can of green beans, covered and let them simmer for about a half hour. My wife and I came up with name on the spot as a joke. To this day we still fix them at least once a month. Our kids know what we're talking about but when we tell other people they kind of look at you with that deer in the head light look. That usually changes once they have tried it.

   Well that's our story and we're sticking to it and we hope you'll try it and enjoy it.

   4 Pork Chops
   1 can green beans
   1 can tomato rice soup

   Cook chops till done (Can be baked in oven)
   Add tomato rice soup use a little less water than a full can along with the green beans cover and reduce heat to low and simmer for at least a half hour
   Serve chop with soup and bean mixture ladled over top

 I made this today for the blog, I would prefer bone-in-chops but this is what I had, also we have tried this different ways over the years with tomato soup and cooked rice, fresh beans and frozen, but it never tastes as good as tomato-rice soup and canned green beans. I usually bake mine off in the oven at 350 degrees for 45 min after cooking the chops and combine everything together

Thanks to my parents

Genealogy Jim

19 April 2012


FOOD. It is at the core of every families history. It is constant, continually occurring & reoccurring in our lives, even during lean times. Arguably more so in the past, it has been the single driving force in determining where we live, occupation, social status, survivability & religious practice. Civilizations have started brutal wars over food & yet still have the compassion to share with charitable generosity.

My goal here is to find the family history or individual story behind the meal, whether something as simple as a single ingredient, say a home-grown tomato to a dish created on a whim.

Many of these stories will come from a time when frugality was necessary. The Great Depression was not only a time of hardship, but also a time of creativity. Not only will the stories be posted here, but also the recipes. These will mostly be collected from actual conversations & interviews. It is not my intention to use recycled articles from long ago, out-of-print books & periodicals though some may be used from time-to-time when accompanied with a story of significant quality or entertaining value.

Please check back often as this is a work in progress.

James Wathan
Genealogy Jim