We left Hillsboro, Kan., more than three decades ago, but we still think of it often.
Fondly, I might add.
Especially while cooking.
When Millie and I moved to Fresno, Calif., in 1982, after working for the Mennonite Brethren Publishing House since 1975, I began taking my turn making dinner. One day I found Clara’s recipe in the Hillsboro MB Church cookbook for a pineapple/ham/green pepper casserole. It was very easy and delicious.
When Millie got home from work I served it and said I should send Clara a note thanking her for an excellent recipe.
“Umm, maybe not,” Millie said, “since she got this recipe from me after a potluck at the publishing house.”
“So it’s your recipe,” I said.
“No, not mine,” said Millie. “I got it from Anne Dueck.”
Ah, I thought, so it came from dear friend Anne, at whose table we dined often when she and husband Al were involved with Tabor College.
“And,” Millie went on, “Anne got it from her friend Lillian Falls when they both lived in Santa Clara, Calif.”
It had come full circle, as Lillian (nee Dahl) was originally from Hillsboro.
Amazing how recipes can float around in the public domain, pick up the imprimatur of the latest practitioner, make its way across the country, maybe even around the world, and circle back home, still tasty and succulent. No wonder so many cookbooks say “community” in their titles.
One of our Hillsboro standouts is Ev Seibel’s recipe for chocolate chip cookies. Millie has made thousands of them. Now our granddaughter Jordan does, too. Ev’s recipe says to slam the hot cookie sheet down on the counter after baking, supposedly to make the cookies chewier. Whether or not she was kidding, our kitchen has heard the slam of many cookie sheets. And the cookies are always chewy. We remember Ev for many fond reasons, but surely for this one.
Vida Bartel’s 90-minute cinnamon buns could well be the most delectable buns ever to emerge from an oven, Hillsboro or elsewhere. They have become Millie’s stock-in-trade for friends who are celebrating, grieving or need some comfort food. They are known in these parts as “Millie’s cinnamon buns,” a clear but tasty case of pastry plagiarism.
The statute of limitations on that recipe has long run out, but when I munch down on one I can think, “Thank you, Vida.”
Then, too, there’s a recipe for pumpkin bread by Celia Gross, Delora Kaufman and Lucille Prieb. And innumerable other casseroles and soups. There are just too many to mention (slurp).
Our recipe files are like a Kroeker family travelogue, full of scrawls on the backs of envelopes and odd-shaped slips of paper. Only last week I cooked up a big pot of chili verde based on a recipe from Cathy Oberg when we were guests in her and Terry’s home in central California.
Back in biblical times meals symbolized fellowship, community and covenant. They were binding experiences, a common partaking of the basic elements of life. One of my seminary professors called eating together “a powerful way to break down barriers, identify with one another and affirm what we have in common.” Bible scholar William Barclay called it “one of the simplest and oldest acts of fellowship in the world.”
Think of that. In our homes you and I dine with friends and family, not foes. Food and fellowship are noble allies. How better to celebrate unity than to break bread together? Is that why the Lord employed a simple meal to launch the ordinance we call communion?
Hmm. Makes cookbooks seem almost like holy writ.
I’ll think of that next time Millie and Jordan bake slam-bam cookies together.
Wally Kroeker is a retired writer and editor living in Winnipeg, Man. From 1975 to 1985 he was editor of the Mennonite brethren Christian Leader magazine, published in Hillsboro, Kan.