Food for thought

A gift of treasured family recipes

Kristen and Kelli Packnett's Monkey Bread, photography by Neal Bruns
Marganelle Henry's Roly-Poly Casserole-y, photography by Neal Bruns
Settlers, Inc., plum pudding with hard sauce, photography by Neal Bruns
Chef Aaron Butts' Thai Red Curry Butternut Squash Soup, photography by Neal Bruns
Nana Blackburn's Bourbon Balls, photography by Neal Bruns

Family meals are multifaceted: hectic, delicious, hilarious, messy, contentious and, at times, all of the above. From choking down mushy peas (and maybe slipping a few bites to the dog under the table) or asking for thirds and fourths of a favorite dish, memories are made. Big news (both good and bad) is often shared around the family table as are reviews of the day to come or the one just spent.

The shared experience of planning, preparing and eating as a group, whether small or large, is primal in its origins, a vital component of human existence, one that not only nourishes the physical self but also helps to sustain the soul by building familial bonds. Baking cookies with Mom as a child or at long last learning the secret ingredient of an uncle’s famous barbecue sauce are experiences that bind us to our tribe and that we pass down to future generations. But perhaps you married into a family with a less-than-appetizing culinary tradition, such as slimy cabbage-wrapped sausages swimming in tomato soup, whose members delight in taunting you every New Year’s Day with their beloved dish. Whether you enjoy the food being served or not, the ritual of these many meals gives rise to cherished customs and stories.

The following recipes and accompanying stories have been generously shared by fellow Fort Waynians. Some of them may remind you of your own family’s feasts, but unless you’ve been served dinner by a prisoner, at least one of them definitely will not. Maybe you’ll try a few of these for your next family celebration; maybe you won’t. Either way, you’re sure to delight in this trove of treasured family recipes.
Thank you to the families for sharing these treasures, and the stories that make them so special, with us.

Marganelle Henry

It takes a special woman to be a mother of 17 children, including Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry, and Marganelle Henry is most definitely that. Her light-hearted good humor, gentle and artistic personality and belief that everyone is valuable and can make a difference certainly can be seen reflected in her many children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. It also takes a special woman to feed 17 children, day in, day out. When Jerome, Marganelle’s late husband, served as warden of the Indiana State Reformatory in the mid-1960s, he was nationally recognized for developing the state’s first work-release program. “There was a period of time before an inmate was released when they could live outside the walls of the dorm but still within the confines of the prison. These men, well, some of them were boys, were very interested in being assigned to maintain the warden’s property,” she explained. As a special treat, some of these inmates were given the opportunity to cook for the warden and his family.

“But there was a rule,” she said. “They had to come up with the recipe on their own.” One of these inmates was particularly sweet and enjoyed dispensing advice to the Henry brood. “He was big, husky – his nickname was Roly Poly – and he came up with a very hearty casserole that fed all our kids, one that they loved for years to come, because we weren’t fancy. So we called it ‘Roly Poly Casserole-y’!” In the 1980s, Marganelle compiled recipe books for all her children and their spouses so they could carry on their favorite childhood recipes, most definitely including Roly Poly Casserole-y.

Roly Poly Casserole-y
3 pounds ground beef, fried and drained
1 large onion, chopped and fried with beef
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
15-ounce package egg noodles, cooked and drained
½ teaspoon nutmeg

1.    Mix ingredients in a large bowl, then transfer to a large covered baking dish. Add a little milk if mixture seems too dry.

2.    Bake at 350 degrees with lid for 25 minutes, without lid for 10 minutes.

Settlers, Inc.

The Swinney Homestead is one of Fort Wayne’s historical gems, and since 1971, the costumed volunteers of Settlers, Inc. have lovingly researched and presented early American life through domestic arts and crafts, history and folklore. This dedicated group initiated the restoration of the 1844 Swinney house as well as purchased and installed the authentic 1849 log house, originally from Huntington County and very much like the one the Swinney family resided in before building their beautiful brick home. From grade-school field trips to the annual “Christmas at Home with the Swinney Sisters” high tea, the Settlers showcase their knowledge in an elegant setting for all to enjoy. While there are no known Swinney recipes, longtime Settlers Katie Bloom and Judy Bozarth say Plum Pudding with Hard Sauce is a bona fide dish the Swinney family would have enjoyed in their day. The key to this receipt (what the Victorians called recipes) is the suet, which a butcher will grind for you but typically “as the last grind of the day, so you have to make arrangements for this in advance,” Bozarth said. She also said as the Settlers members continue to make this recipe, some of them tend to cut down on the suet by half a cup.

Plum Pudding with Hard Sauce
3 cups unbleached flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon ground allspice
2 cups raisins
5 ounces finely ground or chopped beef
kidney suet (about 1½ cups)
1 cup finely chopped, peeled apple (1 medium apple)
1 cup currants
1 cup light molasses
1 cup water
Red candied cherry halves
Green candied fruit pieces
½ cup butter
2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon rum extract
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

1. Grease a 10-cup mold or bowl; set aside. In a mixing bowl, stir together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, cloves and allspice; set aside.

2.    In bowl, combine raisins, suet, apple, currants, molasses and water; mix well. Add dry ingredients; mix thoroughly.

3.    Turn into prepared mold or bowl. Cover with foil, pressing foil tightly against rim of mold or bowl.

4.    Place the filled mold on a rack in a deep kettle. Add enough boiling water to the kettle to cover 1 inch of the mold bottom. Cover kettle; boil gently (bubbles break surface) and steam for 3 hours. Add more boiling water, if necessary.

5. Cool 10 minutes before unfolding onto a large piece of heavy foil. Cool 1 hour. Wrap the pudding in a moisture- and vapor-proof wrap. Cool, label and freeze pudding for up to 3 months.

6. Before serving, thaw the frozen pudding at room temperature for 3 to 4 hours. Remove the heavy foil; return the pudding to the bowl or mold. Cover pudding and steam as above for 1 hour. Slice the pudding into wedges (it will be a bit crumbly); garnish pudding with red candied cherries and green candied fruit pieces. Serve with Hard Sauce. Makes 16 servings.

To use your microwave: Reheat this pudding by removing the foil. Place pudding on a microwave-safe plate. Tent loosely with waxed paper. Micro-cook steamed pudding on 50 percent power (medium) for
10-12 minutes, giving plate a quarter turn twice.

Hard Sauce
1.    In a large mixer bowl, beat ½ cup softened butter until fluffy. Gradually beat in 2 cups sifted powdered sugar. Beat in 1 teaspoon rum extract, ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg and a dash of salt.

2.    Spread the mixture in a 7½-by-3½-by-2-inch loaf pan. Cover and chill until hardened. Makes 1¼ cups.

3.    To serve: Bring the Hard Sauce to room temperature. Spoon onto each serving of the Plum Pudding. Or, cut the Hard Sauce into squares or other shapes and serve with the Plum Pudding.

Josette Rider

Josette Rider, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Indiana, never knew her maternal grandfather, but on particularly cold days, Rider’s mother would whip up a “famous” recipe from Grandpa Jack, who was a great cook, and tell stories about his life. “We didn’t have a lot when we were kids, so whenever we made Grandpa Jack’s Chop Suey, we would feel fancy and like world travelers that got to eat exotic food,” Rider said. This introduction to Asian cuisine has continued to inspire Rider’s own cooking, and she’s spent years exploring various recipes, spending an entire summer delving into Vietnamese and Thai specialties.

Grandpa Jack’s “Famous” Chop Suey
¼ cup shortening
1½ cups diced lean pork (¾ pound)
1 cup onion, chopped
1 cup celery (finely chopped)
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 can bean sprouts drained (or fresh, if you prefer)
1 small can sliced bamboo shoots, drained
1 small can sliced water chestnuts, drained
1 cup hot water
Thickening (make first):  Mix together 1/3 cup cold water, 2 tablespoons cornstarch, 2 teaspoons soy sauce, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 tablespoon La Choy Brown Sauce (makes it rich and tasty).

1.    Melt shortening, then add meat, stir and sear quickly at high heat. Add onions and fry for 5 minutes.

2.    Add celery, salt, pepper and hot water then cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Add bean sprouts, mix thoroughly, then heat to just boiling. Add thickening ingredients, stir gently and cook for five more minutes.

3.    Add water chestnuts and bamboo shoots, then serve over cooked rice.

Aaron Butts

While you may think Joseph Decuis Executive Chef Aaron Butts would be on the hook to dazzle family and friends with an elaborate spread on all the major holidays, the truth is that traditional fare prepared by various members of his “framily” (friends + family) fills the table. “It would be an absolute travesty if the kitchen counter was missing Grandma Sue’s sweet potato casserole with those mini marshmallows, Jill’s cornbread stuffing or Kim’s wild rice and mushroom casserole,” Butts said. He typically waits for last-minute inspirations to determine what he’ll contribute but says he tries not to “get too chef-y.” Typically, he makes a seasonal soup, such as pumpkin soup with orange-cranberry relish or spicy sweet potato soup with five-spiced apple chutney. Butts believes soups are too often overlooked for the holidays, which is unfortunate, noting that soup makes for an elegant first course. He advises keeping soup on the lighter side by not using heavy cream or butter. Because one simply must save room for that sweet potato casserole …

Chef Aaron Butts’ Thai Red Curry Butternut Squash Soup
2 tablespoons coconut oil
2-3 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and chopped
5 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
3 tablespoons Thai red curry paste
2 teaspoons whole coriander, toasted
1 teaspoon whole cumin seed, toasted
½ teaspoon turmeric
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
The juice of 1 large lime
1 cup full-fat coconut milk, reserve 2 tablespoons for garnish
4 cups vegetable stock

1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
3 tablespoons almonds, toasted and finely chopped
2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut flakes, toasted
2 tablespoons cilantro leaves, torn by hand
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon lime juice
Kosher salt and pepper

1.    In a heavy bottomed stock pot or Dutch oven set over medium-high heat, melt the coconut oil. Once the oil is hot and starting to shimmer, add the butternut squash, onion, carrot and apple, seasoning liberally with kosher salt and black pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, for five minutes. Add the garlic, jalapeño pepper, curry paste, coriander, turmeric and cumin, and continue to cook for another five to eight minutes or until the onions are softened and translucent. Add the vegetable stock and coconut milk, scraping any browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Cook for 15-20 minutes or until the squash and carrots are very tender.

2.    While the soup is simmering, you can prepare the garnish. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Toast almonds for 6-8 minutes or until golden brown and fragrant, and set aside to cool. Toast coconut for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until lightly browned, and set aside to cool. In a small mixing bowl, combine chopped apple, chopped almonds, coconut and cilantro leaves. Dress the mixture with olive oil and lime juice, and season to taste with kosher salt and pepper.

3.    Once the soup has simmered and the vegetables are tender, set aside to cool slightly, 5 minutes or so. Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender, being careful not to overfill the blender. Start at a slow speed, then turn the blender to high and purée the soup until smooth. Pour puréed soup through a fine mesh strainer into another stock pot or serving tureen. Once all the soup has been puréed, taste for seasoning. Add the lime juice and more salt to taste.

4.    To serve: Ladle finished soup into warmed soup bowls, spoon a generous amount of the apple-almond mixture in the center and drizzle the soup with the reserved coconut milk.

Michael Limmer

The vice president of marketing for our beloved TinCaps, Michael Limmer, grew up in a family of five hungry boys with a very creative mother who didn’t want to waste holiday leftovers. While the whole family enjoyed the traditional turkey dinners on Thanksgiving and Christmas days, they all “would anxiously anticipate the dinner selection the day AFTER as leftover turkey and gravy magically became a meal we call ‘Stacki Upi’,” Limmer said. His mother would set up a buffet of ingredients, starting with rice and the leftover turkey and gravy. From there, the very specific and non-traditional components get interesting, with a coconut and/or chopped peanut flourish. “Everyone’s plate ends up looking different, but everyone loves the results. It’s become such a requested meal in our family that we have it nearly every time we’re together, whether the turkey is leftover from a holiday feast or prepared specifically to use for ‘Stacki Upi’.”

Stacki Upi
(Components, in order of presentation)
Rice (hot)
Turkey or Chicken
(hot, in pieces)
Gravy – from turkey/
chicken broth (hot)
Chinese Noodles
Tomatoes (diced)
Celery (chopped)
Cheddar Cheese (grated)
Gravy – from turkey/chicken broth (hot – again)
More Chinese Noodles
Green Onions (chopped)
Crushed Pineapple (drained)
Coconut (shredded)
Peanuts (chopped)

Bonnie Blackburn

Nana Blackburn’s Bourbon Balls were (and are) a favorite treat that would arrive packaged with a dozen other assorted cookies. Though there was great distance between our families, these little chocolately bits of boozy bliss made the miles disappear. And Santa loves them!

Nana Blackburn’s Bourbon Balls
1 cup vanilla wafer crumbs
1 cup finely chopped pecans
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 cup powdered sugar, plus 1/4 cup for rolling
¼ cup (or a smidge more) bourbon or rum
1½ tablespoons white corn syrup
Optional: 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut

1.    Combine the vanilla wafer crumbs and pecans.

2.    Sift the cocoa powder and powdered sugar together.

3.    Combine the liquor and white corn syrup, and mix all ingredients together.

4.    Roll into 1-inch balls, then roll cookie balls in remaining ¼ cup powdered sugar. Optional: instead of rolling in sugar, roll rum/bourbon balls in shredded coconut.

5.    Wrap individually in cling film and tie each with ribbon. Not for the under-21 crowd.

Kristen & Kelli Packnett

The Packnett sisters of Opal & Ruby (their fabulous gift boutique), are well known for their deep love of family, friends and entertaining. They certainly know how to throw a good party, a quality passed down to them through the generations.

When Kristin was born in 1978, her parents were living in Wyoming, away from their families and feeling a little homesick over not being able to spend the holidays with their loved ones. As Kristin tells the story, Donna Packnett, the girls’ mother, and her sister Glenna corresponded regularly through good old-fashioned snail mail. “On December 12, my mother received a now-cherished letter from her sister,” sharing a new recipe for Spiced Tea. While the recipe was simple, the comforting, warm and flavorful drink was the start of a new tradition that continues to this day. “When the large Tupperware bowl comes out, we know it’s just a matter of time until we get ourselves a piping hot cup of Spiced Tea!”

Kelli’s favorite recipe is part of a Christmas morning tradition. Though all the “kids” are now in their 30s and 40s, Kelli, Kristin and their cousins still wear coordinating holiday pajamas and gather to open stockings and presents before settling down to breakfast with the whole family. “We always have scrambled eggs, Pigs in a Blanket, Spiced Tea, ‘Lil Smokies and, my favorite, Monkey Bread,” Kelli said. “We only have it one day a year, and there’s nothing quite like the gooey sweetness of this breakfast treat. And, if there are ever any leftovers, you can count on me to write my name on the container, taking claim to my favorite treat for Round Two later that day!”

Spiced Tea
9-ounce canister of TANG orange drink mix
2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 cup instant tea (flavored with lemon and sugar)
½ package Lemonade Kool Aid
1 teaspoon ground cloves

1.    Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Store in an airtight container or jar.

2.    To serve: Mix 2-3 heaping teaspoons of Spiced Tea mix into one cup of boiling water. Double or triple the recipe to make extra for gifts!

Monkey Bread
3 cans biscuits, cut into quarters (non-flaky biscuits)
½ cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 sticks butter
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons vanilla
½ cup chopped pecans

1.    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2.    In a small bowl, mix granulated sugar and cinnamon. Then transfer the sugar and cinnamon mixture to a gallon-size resealable bag, and add quartered pieces of biscuits. Seal the bag, then shake bag until all biscuits are coated.

3.    Drop coated pieces of biscuits into a Bundt pan, alternating with pecans.

4.    In a small saucepan on the stove, melt butter, brown sugar and vanilla over medium-high heat; let sugar dissolve. Once melted together, pour the butter and brown sugar mixture over the biscuits and pecans.

5.    Bake for 30-40 minutes until the crust is dark brown on top. Remove from oven and let it cool in pan for 15-30 minutes. Then turn it over onto a plate.

First appeared in the December 2015 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.


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