Mother taught me all I know about food and more

Rita Schiller

My mom’s food legacy is everything I thank my mom for and more. My mother said her mother taught her all she knows about food.

After Rita Schiller's dad died, she and her sister would take their mother, Betty Meyer, on trips. Here is Betty standing outside of a bakery they stopped at in small town in Iowa.

My mother was married in the 40’s in Fond du Lac. Her ancestors came from Scotland, Canada, New York, and Ohio. My grandmother never wrote down recipes or had any recipes. I’m lucky to have inherited her food knowledge, and the great stories handed down of resourcefulness.

My mom's specialties include, but not limited to, pies, potato pancakes (made with the manual grinder with the juice from the potatoes running down the grinder and onto the towel placed on the floor below) ground meat sandwiches with her homemade buns made special for family picnics, potatoes salad with her yellow homemade dressing, baked beans, Christmas white and ginger cut out cookies, chocolate chip cookies, Angel food cake, as well as date bars.

Daily garbage was wrapped and tied to save money, no garbage bags purchased. A day did not go by where we were reminded to shut off lights, that food cost money and was not to be thrown out unless the smell was not desirable. When food had to be purchased, those items were put on a list and deemed necessities. There were no food frivolous purchases. She practiced recycling and Meals on Wheels before those terms became mainstream. That was my mom.

My mom kept up with her food education after marriage by belonging to a club. A new generation of ladies at that time joined Homemaker clubs (in fact my mom was one of four women whose husbands all worked for Kiekhaefer who started the local club), and when food shows on television became popular, my mom loved to watch and picked up new tips and made the recipes from the programs she watched. She would serve Paula Dean's Date Sticks and Martha Stewart's Blueberry Coffee Cake when I visited.

She often shared food with me and my sisters, as well as the neighbors. Generosity was simply a part of her world.

My mom wrote recipe cards, collected newspaper clippings and filled notebooks full of handwritten recipes from her sources—cookbooks—through the decades. She loved writing and sharing recipes.

I am so thankful and proud of my mother. I believed that she made the best food in the neighborhood. I recall one day a neighbor asking my mother why her frosting didn't taste like my mom's. She told the neighbor to warm the milk with the butter before adding the powdered sugar.

She often shared her food preparation secrets including her chocolate chip cookies which were so tasty and delicious. The secret? She admitted that she added more than one flavoring; real (not imitation) vanilla and almond extract.

A retired local candy maker confided in her that adding Rice Krispies to the recipe would add a new dimension to her cookies.

As for her Angel Food cake, my sister still recalls my mother's verbal instructions to first rinse the pan with cold water before letting it air dry—a tip given to her by her mother. She was also told to sift flour and sugar four time or it wouldn't rise and to use 11 (not 12) eggs warmed to room temperature. As the cake would rise in the oven mother would exclaim "Hallelujah!" And that's why it was called Angel Food cake.

I am so thankful for my mom and the food inheritance she left me. When I miss my mom I stir up a batch of chocolate chip cookies and I feel she is still with me, still teaching and inspiring me.

Swans Down flour was a staple in many cooks' kitchens. Here is a vintage magazine ad from 1952 advertising an angel food cake mix that promised "heavenly results".

Rita Schiller & her sisters, Watertown, WI

Swans Down Angel Food Cake

From the recipe collection of Betty Meyer

1 ¼ c. cake flour

½ c. sugar (granulated)

1 ½ c. egg whites (11) set at room temp.

¼ t. salt

1 ¼ t. cream of tartar

1 t. vanilla

¼ t. almond extract

1 ½ c. sugar, sifted. (granulated)

Sift flour and ½ c. of sugar four times. Beat egg whites, salt and cream of tartar until stiff peaks form. Add flavorings and 1 ½ c. of sugar in four additions. Sift in flour mixture by hand very carefully. Put in ungreased tube pan. Bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

From the recipe collection of Betty Meyer

½ c. shortening

¼ c. white sugar

½ c. brown sugar

½ t. vanilla

1 egg

1 c. plus 1 T. of flour

½ t. of baking soda

½ t. salt

½ c. of chocolate chips

Blend together shortening, sugars, vanilla and egg. In a separate bowl, blend together flour, baking soda and salt. Add dry ingredients to shortening/sugar mixture. Mix well. Add chocolate chips. Bake at 350 degrees or eat batter as is!