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Posted on Wed. Jan. 13, 2010 - 06:00 am EDT

Life is sweet for pie-maker, Harlan mom

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Q. I still want to learn …

A. Whatever strikes me. I’m always eager to learn. Glenn said I’m a walking encyclopedia. I’m just curious. I want to know.

Q. I can’t wait to …

A. Go out and have prime rib.

Vera Amstutz, a former hairdresser, owned the Studio Styling Salon in Grabill for 43 years. She spends her days now relaxing by reading and playing cards.

But her favorite hobby is baking. Her specialties are pies and cookies.

Amstutz, who lives in Harlan, likes to make pies for friends who drop by to play cards. She also plays cards with a group called “Over the Hill” at the Leo Legion.

About 10 years ago, Amstutz had a cookie recipe she baked for another card group. A woman asked where the recipe came from, and Amstutz told her it was from a little old lady.

The woman responded: “What do you think you are?”

“I burst out laughing,” says Amstutz, 88. “I’m kind of a cut-up.”

Growing up, Amstutz didn’t have anyone to teach her to cook, but when she and husband Jack married, his mother showed her how to bake.

The problem was that his mother used old-fashioned methods to measure ingredients. Some recipes called for lard the size of a walnut.

“Jack’s mom (the late Dora Amstutz) was a good cook,” Amstutz says. “When I wanted to learn to make lemon pie, I had to sit and watch her. A teaspoon was the teaspoon you used at the table.

“When I started out, Jack asked me if I could make a pie as good as his mother’s. I made a blueberry pie. Jack thought it was as good as his mother’s,” she says.

Her son, Glenn Kauser Jr., knows how much Amstutz enjoys baking.

“Glenn said, ‘Mother, I don’t worry about you unless you stop baking. Then I’ll worry about you,’ ” she says.

Q. How often do you eat out?

A. Not very often. I would say once a week, but when the weather is bad I don’t drive. Every once in a while, I’ll get hungry for a piece of beef, and Glenn will take me out for prime rib.

Q. What do you do to keep meals healthy?

A. I eat very little fat. I’m not a vegetarian, but I eat very little meat. (Recently,) Glenn made a pot roast and I ate the carrots and some meat. I prefer a salad. I eat mostly fruits and vegetables. I eat a lot of chicken. I’m not a big fish eater, but I’ll eat shrimp.

Q. What do you make better than anyone else?

A. Pies – cherry and rhubarb-strawberry.

Q. Because you prefer salads, what vegetable do you eat most often?

A. Probably carrots. Cooked carrots – but I also like them in a salad.

Q. What’s one thing people won’t find in your refrigerator?

A. No yogurt. No fish.

Q. What’s the secret to being a good cook?

A. I really think you have to enjoy cooking. It’s a challenge and I’m a perfectionist.

Q. How would you describe your cooking style?

A. I’d say I’m an old-fashioned cook.

Cherry Pie

4 cups red tart cherries, water-packed

3 tablespoons tapioca

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

8 to 10 drops red food coloring, optional

1 (9-inch) double pie crust

1 tablespoon butter, cut up

1 tablespoon milk

1 tablespoon sugar

Drain cherries. Mix fruit, tapioca, sugar, almond extract and food coloring in a bowl. Let stand 15 minutes. Line a 9-inch pie plate with one pie crust. Fill with fruit mixture. Dot with butter. Cover with top crust, seal and flute edge. Cut several slits in crust. Cover edge with foil and bake 25 minutes in an oven preheated to 400 degrees. Remove foil, brush with milk and sugar and bake another 25 minutes. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Date Skillet Cookies

1/2 cup margarine

1 cup granulated sugar

1 egg, beaten well

1 tablespoon white Karo syrup

1 cup chopped dates

1 cup pecans, chopped

3 cups Rice Krispies cereal

14 ounces coconut

In a saucepan, mix together margarine, sugar, egg, Karo syrup and dates. Cook over low heat about 10 minutes. Add pecans and cereal. Mix well. Roll in small balls about the size of walnuts, then roll in coconut. Makes 4 to 5 dozen.

Buttermilk Cookies

2 cups sugar

1 cup shortening

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 eggs

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons baking powder

3 1/2 cups flour

1 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla

Cream sugar and shortening; add salt and eggs. Mix thoroughly. Sift together baking soda, baking powder and flour. Add alternately with buttermilk to creamed mixture. Mix thoroughly; add vanilla. Drop by rounded teaspoons onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 10 minutes in oven at 400 degrees. Cool. Frost with butter icing. Makes 4 1/2 dozen.

Butter icing:

1/2 cup butter, softened

4 1/2 cups powdered sugar

1/4 cup milk (or more if needed)

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

In medium bowl, cream butter and add powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, mixing after each addition. Each time you add a cup of sugar, add some milk. Mix in vanilla. Makes enough to ice 4 1/2 dozen cookies.

Cook’s Corner is a weekly feature. If you know someone to be profiled, write to Cook’s Corner, The Journal Gazette, P.O. Box 88, Fort Wayne, IN 46801-0088; fax 461-8648; or e-mail

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