Country Cooking

Apple Butter Cookies

Country CookingI can tell you “first-hand” stories about ancestors I never met. You’ll feel like you were back in the 1700s or 1800s, when it happened. But I have one close relative I know little about — and each new discovery is a gem.

She’s my mom’s oldest sister, aunt Alberta. She was like a “second mom” to her family, helping with a household of little kids close in age. Her mother — my grandmother — had six children by the time she was 26.

Alberta was named after her rather, Bert, and her uncle, Albert. She was nicknamed “Apple Butter” because the youngest in the family, Garnett, pronounced it that way when he was a toddler. Apple butter would have been an easier name from him to know from a young age because every fall my grandmother got out the cast-iron kettle, set it up in the yard over a wood fire, and made a big kettle of apple butter. The kids, who were supposed to be helping, spent more time jumping around the yard, whooping and playing. After being canned, the jars of apple butter would last for months.


When I enjoy apple butter, sometimes I think of Alberta. She spent a quiet young life helping with the household and the younger kids, devoted to her church and family. When she was issued a marriage license in 1936, she was 19. Her husband-to-be, J.C. Tolbirt, was 31 and it was his second marriage. She left no children when she died of a kidney infection in 1940 — a few days after her 23rd birthday.

Part of the intrigue about Alberta is that after she was gone, her husband was, too. The Hamiltons never heard from him again. Grandma didn’t talk much about J.C. Too many problems: he’d been married before, was too much older, and from a “foreign country,” Texas. We discovered this year that he married only two months later. We are still searching for Helen Tolbirt, a daughter from his first marriage, who was my mom’s friend in childhood.

But those are just facts. The sad part for me is not knowing her, because as one cousin once said, “I never met a Hamilton I didn’t like.” Alberta served her family when young, being the oldest sister, and later served the churches and communities where her husband ministered. She helped write sermons and supposedly preached on occasion.

I’m sure Alberta cooked, as all women did then, because she was a pastor’s wife. They lived in north and south Missouri, Kansas, and Texas in their short marriage, serving churches in each place. Though this isn’t Alberta’s recipe (we have no written recipes of hers) I dedicate it to the aunt I never knew.

Apple butter cookies

APPLE BUTTER COOKIES (with Apple Butter Frosting)


4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
2 cups sugar
1 cup lard
2 eggs
2 cups apple butter
Butter for cookie sheets


2 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 cup apple butter

Preheat oven to 375 F. In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and cloves. Set aside. In a large bowl, cream sugar and lard together. Then add eggs and applesauce. Mix well. Add in dry ingredients, a third of the quantity at a time, and continue mixing well. Drop by small spoonfuls (about the size of a golf ball) on greased cookie sheet. Bake at 375 F for 8 minutes. When done, let rest on cookie sheet for 1 minute, then cool on wire rack.

For frosting, mix confectioner’s sugar and apple butter until smooth. Add more of sugar to make consistency thicker, more apple butter to make it thinner. When cookies are completely cool, frost cookies with icing. These cookies stay moist for several days.

Makes approx. 4 dozen cookies.

How I Develop a Recipe

Chuck MalloryIf you’re an avid cook you’ve probably made up your own recipes, then tried to duplicate them, and find you can’t! Or maybe your cooking is good enough that others want your recipes. Either way, it’s time to start developing your own recipes in written form.

First, two key points. The first should be obvious, the second might not.

1. If you find a recipe you like and change one ingredient, you really haven’t developed a new recipe. There are copyright battles about this, and it’s hard for anyone to claim a recipe that is exclusively theirs. But have integrity and come up with something that really is yours.

2. You don’t have to start every ingredient from scratch. You can review other recipes and create your own version. The trick is to use similar recipes from a variety of sources, and create a recipe that is notably different from the others.

People think I have hundreds of cookbooks, but actually I only have 106 (at present). Since I’m interested in rural cooking, culinary history, and side dishes, I’m selective about what cookbooks I buy. Almost all of them are out-of-print or rare cookbooks. As a result, I have some recipes that are unusable. For instance, I have an entire book on how to make aspics and vegetable salads with gelatin. In this era, people really don’t want to eat those.

I write in most of my cookbooks. I’m not going to re-sell them and I want to keep notes on when I made it, how it turned out, and flag any steps that seem wrong. For the last reason, I almost never use “community cookbooks,” which are not vetted by editors. I have two – one that includes a recipe from my mom, and another that includes a recipe from my “great aunt” Georgia Ruth.Yes, community cookbooks are fine for fundraisers, but are a very general set of recipes and often contain mistakes and omissions.


When I start with an interesting idea I’ve seen in a cookbook, I find similar recipes in other cookbooks and compare. There is a crucial first step here in developing a recipe, even if you are starting from a recipe in your own mind. It’s the start of “editorial testing.” Read through the recipe and ask if it makes sense or if there is something missing – just like you should do before you try a new recipe.

Editorial Testing

1. Are any ingredients vague? What is a “box” of gelatin? At least one major brand has two sizes. While a “pinch” of something usually won’t throw off a recipe and can be understood, other simple-sounding ingredients could derail the cook. A “cup of green beans” could be a cup of canned green beans, or a cup of raw green beans. If the recipe doesn’t simmer for a long time, that makes a huge difference. Also, think about how a cook who is not your age would interpret your ingredient. Since I’m not a spring chicken, a recipe that calls for “gelatin” to me would mean powdered gelatin. A college-age cook might think it means a plastic container of pre-made “snack pack” type gelatin.

2. Does it have one or more highly unusual ingredients? Some cooks cannot find the same ingredients you can. Often I find myself wanting to include an ingredient like kimchi or banana leaves, then I remember people from Grandma Hamilton’s small town could not get those unless they drove over an hour to a city grocery store. That points to the next step.

3. Who is your audience? Are you writing your favorite recipes for your children? Fine, they know you and likely can interpret some things. Since I write about rural Midwest cooking and publish my recipes, I avoid unusual and foreign food ingredients. In some places – and you might have foreign readers if you’re a food blogger – some ingredients are not available or understood. Could you add vegemite or arepa?

4. Be suspicious if a brand name is used. There are many recipes out there from food companies. Does your recipe call for “Bisquick”? I don’t use Bisquick. It’s easily combined from homemade ingredients – flour, baking powder, salt and oil or butter. Does the recipe suggest adding “Country Crock” for margarine? People tend to substitute, and butter is quite different from margarine. Why use a box of “Duncan Hines cake mix”? Why isn’t another brand OK? Make your ingredients as broad and basic as possible.

5. Are all amounts, containers and temperatures specified? Some old family recipes do not have a baking temperature. Everything seems to have been cooked at 350 F or was made on a wood-burning cookstove. To fine-tune more, do your instructions make sense in the order they are cooked? If you assemble most of one dish, then list a sauce that must be simmered for hours to go with it, start with the part that will take the most time. What is a “loaf pan”? There are at least five sizes. The ingredients should be in order and logical.

I start with a written rough draft, and make notes on it while I cook, such as “the batter will be thin.” Often I consult my go-to cooking book, Keys to Good Cooking by Harold McGee. I have read this cover to cover, highlighted the “good parts” that pertain to my style of cooking, and refer to it at least weekly. Knowing the science behind cooking can save you from many mistakes.

Wasting Food!

Usually a recipe takes at least a couple of tries before I get it right, and sometimes more.

Occasionally I throw out the attempt altogether, as when I tried to cook a savory dish with bananas.

When I first started trying to make my own recipes, it was hard to fail and throw away a bunch of food. But if you’re going to develop recipes, you must. Just have a compost pile to “save” what you can. Unless you’re a master baker, or have worked in a creative bakery, do not start with baking. It’s tricky. 

Here are three great sources:

The Kitchen: How to Write a Recipe 

Cookbook Style Sheet  – This is for the serious recipe writer, though it’s worth a look for anyone.

Here’s a great piece from a cookbook editor, showing how a recipe is edited.

And if you want to write or blog, go for it! Sure, the cooking/food world is crowded and popular now, but if you do what you love, you can’t go wrong. I wanted to write about my ancestors, since I love genealogy and have all kinds of old family photos. Since I liked rural-style old-time recipes, the ideas meshed and “Country Cooking” was born.

Triple Apple Bread

Chuck MalloryImagine my dismay when one day, about a year ago, I got a hankering for apple butter. I had never seen it at my local farmers' market, so I went to the “local” Jewel grocery store (Jewel-Osco/Albertsons/Safeway, and maybe a different name where you are; I know it’s different from Kroger/Ralphs/Food4Less/Harris Teeter).

I couldn’t find it. The first young clerk said, “I haven’t heard of that, but you might check dairy.” When I told him it was not dairy, but more like applesauce, he led me over to the applesauce. “It’s not here, I already looked,” I said.

So apparently they didn’t carry it. I tried another clerk on another aisle, who said, “It must be jams/jellies.” We found it – two lone jars of apple butter on the bottom shelf. I picked up one and dusted off the lid.

“Hmm,” she said, “that doesn’t look right. Check the expiration date.”

“It’s supposed to be brown,” I said. “It’s not applesauce. It has cinnamon and spices in it.”

“Oh, it’s like cinnamon applesauce,” she said. “So why isn’t it pink?”

Suddenly I missed my small-town childhood grocery store, with owners Joe and Phyllis at the counter, along with worker “Milky,” a former milkman.

I asked people at work the next day about apple butter. Remember, this is Chicago.

“Is that like honey butter?” one person asked.

“Do you chop up apples and mix them with butter?” another asked.

I realized apple butter might now be relegated to the status of old-timey and country-people food. But I still like it. When you’re a kid and need to make your own after-school snack, it’s easy and delicious to put a glob of apple butter on a saltine cracker. I still eat those occasionally for comfort food. Maybe the sweet/salty mix was prescient, since salted caramel became the rage in this decade.

Now that I’m grown up, I needed a grown-up way to use apple butter. Granted, this recipe doesn’t actually require apple butter – since you could include the same ingredients a different way – but I’m pushing apple butter so it doesn’t become extinct and I have to start making my own.

Triple Apple Bread

Triple Apple Bread

2 large apples, peeled, cored, and grated
1 cup applesauce
1 cup apple butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup cooking oil
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour a 1 1/2-quart loaf pan.

In large bowl, mix together apples, applesauce, apple butter, brown sugar, oil, eggs, cinnamon nd nutmeg, and stir well.

Add flour, baking soda and salt and stir well.

Pour mixture into prepared pan and bake for 1 hour. Let loaf stand for 10 minutes after baking, then turn onto a wire rack and cool to room temperature. Slice and serve.

This bread freezes well. Wrap tightly to prevent freezer burn and when needed, thaw at room temperature for several hours.

Peaches 'n' Cream Pie

Country CookingI haven’t gone completely crazy. I simply realize that while most everyone likes many of the trappings of the holiday feasts, there are those who don’t like everything – or want variety. For instance, I like pumpkin pie like anyone else, but it’s nothing I seek out. I could live without it. I’m not into pumpkin-flavored anything else: Sorry, Starbucks, sell all the Pumpkin Spice Lattes you want, I won’t be buying any.

If you are making a holiday dinner, or bringing something, try a complete surprise – Peaches ‘n’ Cream Pie. Peaches are certainly not in season, but this is a pie you rarely see. Grocery stores don’t sell them. Many people in the north have never even heard of it, and fewer Southerners than ever can claim to have tasted it.

It takes a classic Southern dessert – fresh peaches coated with heavy cream and a sprinkling of sugar – and puts it into a pie crust for a highly satisfying dessert that is sweet, fruity and moist.

In developing this recipe, one that required much more trial-and-error than usual, I wanted to created a baked pie that didn’t use the usual ingredients in peaches-and-cream-pie combos you see online. Those have canned peaches, cream cheese, or pudding mix. I wanted real cream, frozen unsweetened peaches (as close to fresh as you can get), and as simple a recipe as possible. (The journey was inspiring, though: how I develop a recipe is my next blog.) If you have fresh peaches to make it with, the recipe is still the same.

It’s a nice surprise for family or friends, no matter what the season.

Peaches and Cream Pie

Peaches and Cream Pie

Homemade or purchased pie crust (deep-dish 9-inch pie crust with top)
1 egg white
4 cups (approximately 20 ounces) frozen peaches, thawed and chopped
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk

Brush bottom of pie crust with egg white. In a large bowl, mix thawed peaches, sugar, salt and vanilla.

In a separate small bowl, mix cornstarch, heavy cream and sweetened condensed milk until smooth and lump-free. Add cornstarch/cream mixture to large bowl of fruit mixture. Stir thoroughly until blended.

Pour filling into pie shell. Cover pie with top crust. Brush top of crust with egg white. Place in refrigerator 1 hour to chill. Prior to baking, preheat oven to 400 F.

Bake on center rack for 50 to 55 minutes; cover edges in foil the last 15 minutes to prevent crust from burning. Remove from oven and let rest at room temperature at least 15 minutes before serving.

What it looks like uncooked

Peaches and Cream Pie, good anytime 

Stay in touch with my goings on:

My “country roads” pix on Pinterest; Twitter; and my blog for book readers and writers.

Lime Ice Cream

Country CookingCold weather creeps in during October, so there's no better time to get out the ice cream maker!

What? While summer is prime time for making ice cream, there's nothing to cheer up a gloomy, rainy fall day like making a batch of homemade ice cream.

This time of year naturally makes one want to experiment with pumpkin or apple ice cream. However, what's in season doesn't really matter when I make it. I've found that canned pumpkin (with no added ingredients) is just as tasty as homemade pumpkin purée.

For apple ice cream, I prefer to use a mix of applesauce and apple butter (both organic) for the best flavor. To me, ice cream should be flavorful and velvety – no nuts or chunks of fruit to interrupt the smoothness.

A great autumn homemade ice cream that reminds me of the recent season of summer – and a promise of that season rolling around again – is lime ice cream. Ironically, I insist on fresh fruit for this ice cream. My grandma Mallory in Missouri could have never made this when she was young because tropical fruit was a once-a-year expensive novelty, and then it was one orange as a Christmas gift.

This ice cream looks like vanilla with specks of lime. But it's deceitful because each taste is like walking through a luscious lime grove. The secret ingredient? Frozen concentrated lemonade. It somehow boosts the lime flavor.

Lime Ice Cream - Chuck Mallory

Lime Ice Cream

6 limes
1 cup granulated sugar
2 cups whipping cream (heavy cream)
2 tablespoons lemonade concentrate

Zest 3 limes thoroughly. Put in a large bowl. Halve all 6 limes and squeeze juice until at least 1/2 cup is reached. Add to zest in bowl. Whisk in sugar, whipping cream and lemonade concentrate. Stir until thoroughly mixed.

Pour mixture into ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer's recommendations. It can be served semi-soft directly when completed, or pack into a container, cover and freeze 1-plus hours for firm ice cream.

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Can Opener Casserole

Country CookingThis summer I ventured out of my usual antique-store shopping and hit two large “antique flea markets,” in Allegan, Michigan, and Elkhorn, Wisconsin. These had hundreds of dealers and each was an all-day-a-thon. Of course I looked for the usual: dishware, cookware and old cookbooks.

And of course I found them all, especially old cookbooks. These have great stories, fascinating recipes (though not always useful or complete), and serve as a good springboard for recipe development. I notice a distinct trend from decade to decade. Cookbooks in the 1910s and 1920s sometimes had a section about how to work with your maids or how to endure the work of hosting a dinner party if you don’t have them.

By the 1930s that’s gone, and indeed, there were fewer cookbooks published due to the Great Depression. The 1940s era started with recipes about conserving food (for the war effort, of course) and featured substitutes for sugar and other ingredients, since rationing was rampant. By this time, the thought of kitchen maids for most people was long gone. Cookbooks were also being purchased much more by the general public rather than the elite.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, the Populuxe era was in full swing, with baby boomer kids out on swing sets, husbands at work, and dutiful wives in the house, cleaning, ironing, doing laundry and, of course, cooking. The text often refers to the “perfect” housewife who “wants” the house to sparkle, the husband and children to be happy, and to be shining like a star when everyone rolls in for a hot, homemade dinner every single night. And of course she had to sparkle from time to time hosting friends at a weekend dinner party – without maids.

(We all know that wasn’t the perfect picture for some women, who by the 1970s were burning their bras, seeing “Maude” on TV, and hearing, “I Am Woman.” Reality finally hit.)

Can-Opener Casserole is one of the easiest things you can make

The 1950s and '60s were an especially convenient time of canned, frozen and other packaged foods that made life easier for that harried housewife. In more than one cookbook, I’ve seen a recipe for “Can-Opener Casserole” (or a similar title) that showed wives how easy it could be – just open a bunch of cans, mix and bake.

We might scoff at this today, but how often do we go to the drive-through for dinner because we’re tired, had long day at work, and the children will like it? There are days that you do need a shortcut, and while it’s not how you would normally eat, it’s OK once in a great while. So the idea of a can-opener casserole is not so lazy after all.

This is a variation on those can-opener casserole recipes. I wanted to make it as simple as possible but more flavorful than some of the ones I tried. Also, some “can-opener” convenience recipes start with cans but have you adding various spices and fresh ingredients.

If you have some leftover fried chicken, roast or other meat that can be reheated in the oven, pop that pan in the oven alongside this casserole during the last 15 minutes of cooking, and you’ll have what seems like a whole new meal. Another benefit of this recipe is that other than the amount of the last two ingredients, you don’t have to have the exact size of can – just close. You can also vary what vegetables you include. Note, however, that you need some starchy vegetables (beans, carrots, corn, peas, white potatoes, winter squash). A couple of cans of vegetables that are 50 percent or more of tomato just won’t work.

Can Opener Casserole

Can-Opener Casserole

1 can (15 ounces or so) of a starchy vegetable, such as corn or green beans, drained
1 can (15 ounces or so) of a vegetable mix, such as Tomatoes/Okra/Corn (Margaret Holmes brand
     from Aldi) or Del Monte or Libby brand Mixed Vegetables, drained
1 can (10 to 11 ounces or so) condensed cream of mushroom soup (alternatves: condensed cream
     of celery soup, condensed cream of chicken soup)
1 bag (10 ounces or so) frozen chopped onions (or chop one fresh onion)
1 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese (packaged, like Kraft brand, not fresh)

Preheat oven to 375 F. Butter or oil an 8-by-8 or 7-by-11-inch casserole dish (or any baking dish that holds 2 to 2  1/2 quarts). Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl and stir until thoroughly mixed. Pour into greased baking dish. Bake uncovered for 1 hour. Remove from oven and let sit 5 minutes before serving.

There is no need to add salt because of the amount in the canned soup and Parmesan cheese. You can add pepper to taste if desired, though.

Clear out the closets! Here comes more dishware.

And if you're like me and have a penchant for cookware from antique shows and stores, clear out a hallway closet for all the goods.

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Church Supper Lemon Icebox Pie

Country CookingIf you are from the Midwest and had the growing-up experience of going to a church supper at a country church, you are very lucky. I remember these fondly. Pleasant Green Baptist Church in north Missouri still stands today, and I suspect they still have their church suppers, church dinners, or maybe even church picnics. The church was founded August 25, 1885, after a revival meeting in an arbor near the site. The first pastor was paid a whopping $6 a month.

Back in the day, all the church ladies made great recipes that they knew by heart, just as well as they knew every word to the songs in the Broadman Hymnal. Tables were laden with inimitable fried chicken, country ham, mashed potatoes, green bean and corn dishes, deviled eggs (the more religious called them “angeled eggs” so as not to invoke evil), and sparkling, fruit-filled Jello salads (not a dessert–it was a “salad”). But where we kids focused was the array of mouth-watering pies, cakes and cookies.

Of course, Mom never allowed you to fill your plate with all desserts, though us younguns would have been happy to do just that. I have only a couple of recipes from those wonderful women of my youth but know that Georgie Ruth, Aunt Mildred, Bessie Pearl, Ruby Darst, “Aunt Gyp” Smith, Edythe Dickerson, Lillie Maude, Moneaka, Frankie Elam, and others, kept us fat and happy.

A summertime treat from those days would be an “icebox pie.” That was when people still called refrigerators “ice boxes” from the early days when it really was an insulated box with a block of ice in it. Of course, we had a modern refrigerator but called it “the icebox.” Did you?

Remember, this was created to be an old-fashioned recipe. I could have developed it with all kinds of modern substitutes but I don’t prefer aspartame, olestra, sucralose and other things that do not come directly out of the ground, a hen, or a cow’s udder. So don’t shirk at the nine egg yolks, butter and heavy cream. You gotta eat up for a long day o’ preachin!

Prep time: 20 minutes
Total time: overnight or 1 day
Calories: don’t even ask

Church Supper Lemon Icebox Pie by Chuck Mallory

Lemon Icebox Pie

3 cups crushed vanilla wafer cookies (plus extra whole cookies for topping)
1/2 cup melted butter
2 cups whipping cream, divided (second cup is optional for topping)
1/3 cup plus 2 teaspoons superfine sugar, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
9 large egg yolks
superfine sugar
20 to 21 ounces sweetened condensed milk*
1 cup lemon juice (bottled is fine)

(*this typically comes in 14-ounce cans; use 1 and 1/2 cans)

Preheat oven to 325 F. Crush vanilla wafer cookies to a fine crumb.

In a medium bowl, place cookie crumbs and melted butter. Mix thoroughly. Press into the bottom and about an inch up the side of a 10-inch pie pan or springform pan. Bake for 10 minutes, remove and let cool.

In a medium bowl, pour 1 cup whipping cream, 2 teaspoons superfine sugar and vanilla extract, and whip to soft peaks, about 3 to 5 minutes. (Do not be concerned if you are not creating stiff “whipped cream,” as this part will be folded into another mixture and frozen.)

In a large bowl, mix egg yolks and remaining superfine sugar. Whisk at high speed (hand or stand mixer) for about 5 minutes, until mixture is somewhat fluffy. Stirring slowly, add sweetened condensed milk and lemon juice until mixed. Gently fold in the medium bowl of whipped cream mixture until fully blended.

Pour into prepared crust. Cover with plastic wrap and put in freezer overnight or at least eight hours.

When serving, remove from freezer about 10 to 15 minutes before serving. If desired, top with whole vanilla wafer cookies. Whip 1 more cup whipping cream to firm peaks and use as topping.

NOTE: I doubt the church ladies fussed with something like superfine sugar. You can use regular sugar in this recipe, but it’s easier to mix superfine. If you cannot find superfine sugar, put sugar in a blender and mix on high to break it down to superfine texture.

Where are the lemons? Get real! These were the old days. We didn’t mess with fresh fruit!