Search This Blog

Wednesday, November 25, 2015



Pie on the sly, from my great-grandmother's eye.

      You see, you never left her home hungry, no matter whether you ate before you came. Everybody needs more meat on their bones, anyway, right?

      She was a woman who could sweeten batter with the dip of her finger, yet she kept a few surprises tangled midst her apron strings. I was just a little girl when I went to visit them, but I recall a few things...particularly the kitchen. The green and yellow vinyl chairs that squeaked when you sat on them always solicited giggles from the younger generations. The scent of fresh-baked cookies, peach cobbler and rum cakes greeted you whenever you walked in the door.

     Oh, the rum cakes! Truth be told, when I say rum cakes, I mean it quite literally. Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems to me she flavored most of her desserts with a wee bit'o spirit. I would sit in the squeaky vinyl chair, swinging my legs back and forth, and watch her add the 'secret' ingredient. My great-grandfather always chose his moment, waltzing in to strike up an argument with her. I can't really recall what they quarreled over, but that's probably because it was a normal occurrence. I have my theories. Namely, one. When he struck up a quarrel, she would forget whether she added the secret ingredient, and add another splash or two--just to be sure. If he could get her mad enough to leave the room, that much the better, for it would leave unattended cake batter. A splash for each hand, plus one more for good measure, and you got yourself a real down-home honest-to-goodness cake in the making! Some of those quarrel cakes were strong enough to knock the paint off a barn, but they sure disappeared in a hurry.

      There are two rules every baker should know. The first is that you never give away your best recipes without a fight. She never made it easy, as she never measured anything. "A pinch of this, a handful of that" was the answer to everything. As far as I know, some of the grandchildren are still trying to crack her recipes.

     The other rule every good baker knows is that you never serve a "quarrel cake" without tasting it first. Hers were always perfect - the kind you might see in a fancy home-cooking magazine. My great-grandmother had a system for testing her creations without letting on she had. You see, her pies and cakes were served already sliced into perfect pieces on the platter, placed with just the least little bit of space between each piece.

     Beautiful, appealing to the eye, and sheer genius. No one seemed to notice that if you slid the pieces together, forming a whole pie, it would reveal one whole slice was missing.

     Boy, how I loved that woman's ingenuity. As you enter the holiday season, gearing up for the feasts and treats, maybe you'll wear extra stretchy pants. Perhaps you'll pack a few containers to stash the leftovers. Maybe, you'll pocket your favorite flask and strike up a healthy, rousing quarrel with the baker. Whatever your method, remember, there's always a way to have a piece of pie... on the sly.

     From my table to yours, I hope you, dear reader, have a bright and beautiful Thanksgiving.

Shayna Matthews,
author of "The Legend of Venture Canyon" and "A Spot in the Woods" from the "Memories From Maple Street: Leaving Childhood Behind" anthology.

Traditional foods within a different region are always of interest, so allow me to share a few of my favorite recipes within my home-town community of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Enjoy!


"Snitz", also spelled "Schnitz" is the Pennsylvania Dutch word for apples. "Knepp" means flour dumplings. Combined with ham, it makes an incredible dish. Yum!

For the snitz you need:
1 1/2 pounds of cured ham or 1 ham hock
    2 cups dried apples
    2 Tbsp. brown sugar
For the knepp (dumplings)
    2 cups flour
    3 1/2 tsp. baking powder
    1/2 tsp. salt
    1 egg, beaten
    2 Tbsp. butter
    1/3 to 1/2 cup milk
Snitz: Wash dried apples, cover with water and soak overnight. In the morning, cover ham with cold water and cook slowly for three hours. Add apples, water, and brown sugar, then allow to cook for one more hour.
Knepp: Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir in beaten egg and melted butter. Add milk until batter is stiff. Drop batter by spoonfuls into boiling ham and apples. Cover pan tightly and cook dumplings 10 to 12 minutes. Do not lift cover until ready to serve.

1 lb. elbow macaroni,
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons mustard
1 cup mayo
1 12oz can evaporated milk
1/3 cup vinegar
1/4 tsp. salt.
Chop: 1 small onion, celery, carrot, parsley & olives to taste. Cook: drain and cool macaroni. Mix with other ingredients and refrigerate overnight.

Wild Turkey (1 Shot many is your call)
Cranberry Juice
Grape Juice
Spritz of lemon.
Mix these 4 ingredients together for 1 tall glass. Drink 1 glass a day for GOOD HEALTH. Disclaimer - I have not tried this, but my grandfather swears by it, and he still runs up and down the Pennsylvania hillsides like a mountain goat, so I tend to believe him. If you like this, he also has a special One-Pot Man's Meal.

ONE-POT MAN'S MEAL from the kitchen of "Pops".
Mix ham, cabbage, cauliflower, potatoes, onions, carrots and celery. Cook together in 1 pot for no more than 45 minutes. If you have leftovers in the morning, fry it all up together with eggs in a skillet. (Umm, ewww).

Lancaster County's best known dessert got its name when cooks had to "shoo" the flies attracted by the molasses and brown sugar.
    1 cup flour
    2/3 cup brown sugar
    1 Tbsp. shortening
    1 tsp. baking soda
    3/4 cup hot water
    1 cup molasses
    1 egg, beaten
    1 9" unbaked pie shell
Combine flour and brown sugar. Cut shortening into flour mixture until crumbly. Reserve 1/2 cup crumbs. Dissolve baking soda in hot (but not boiling) water. In a small bowl combine molasses, egg, and baking soda water and beat well. Pour into unbaked pie shell. Sprinkle reserved crumbs over top. Bake at 375° for 35 minutes.

For the cookies
 2 cups brown sugar
    1 cup vegetable oil
    1 1/2 cups cooked, mashed pumpkin
    2 eggs
    3 cups flour
    1 tsp. baking soda
    1 tsp. baking powder
    1 tsp. salt
    1 1/2 tbsp. cinnamon
    1/2 tbsp. ginger
    1/2 tbsp. ground cloves
    1 tsp. vanilla
    1/2 cup black walnuts, ground (optional)
For the filling
    2 cups 10x sugar
    1 egg white, beaten
    2 tbsp. milk
    1/2 cup shortening
    1 tsp. vanilla
Cookies: Cream sugar and oil. Mix in pumpkin and eggs. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Drop by heaping teaspoons onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350° for 10 to 12 minutes. Cool.
Filling: Mix 1 cup sugar with egg white, milk, and vanilla. Add shortening and another cup of sugar. After cookies cool, spread filling generously on the flat sides of half the cookies. Top with another cookie to form a sandwich.
Yield: 3 dozen sandwich pies.


  1. Your grandparents would make wonderful characters in a book. I love them. I can also remember little squabbles between my grandparents...there's were not for grandpa to garner more booze in his cakes and pies but both were very political in their views of government and often would squabble over their difference of opinions or perhaps it would be over a memory of some bit of history in which they shared different points of views. I would often hear my grandmother utter "Clarence!" and he "Desi!" when they disagreed. I loved them both dearly and looking back often what they spoke about came to pass as far as government went...As for my grandmother, I would give anything to sit in her kitchen and watch her as she fried up chicken for Sunday dinner and pulled a cherry pie out of her oven. BTW I'm going to give a few of your recipes a try. they look yummy.

    1. Hi Barb! They would make good characters, wouldn't they? Something you just said really jumped out at me - your grandfather's name. Clarence was my great-grandfather's name, too! She would utter the same name when he made her mad, lol. Small world - we have some very similar memories! Now that I'm older, and more than appreciative of stories - what I wouldn't give to sit in that kitchen, talking with them both. I would record every story they wanted to tell me.

      I hope you enjoy my recipes - let me know how they turn out for you! :-)

  2. What memories. My great grandmother made an oatmeal cake that no one has been able to duplicate and if there ever was a recipe, well, it's long gone.

    Thank you for a fun way to start the Thanksgiving holiday, my favorite. Doris

    1. I know the feeling. I've tried to make my husband's grandmother's "no bake" chocolate oatmeal cookies. The first batch could have been used as hockey pucks, the second ran all over the counter and puddled underneath the stove. The third? The squirrels wouldn't even eat them. LOL
      Happy Thanksgiving, Doris!

  3. My entire family came from north central PA near Lancaster. I was born in Bloomsburg, my sister in Sunbury. Although we left there when I was five, we visited my maternal grandmother and paternal grandfather often. My grandmother was Pennsylvania Dutch. Shoo-fly pie was my mom's favorite. The last time I ever had it was in the late 1960's before she died. I was so happy to see your recipe so I can try to make it myself.
    I had to laugh at your great-grandparents and their use of alcohol in cooking. My dad believed brandy cured everything. He may have been right because it either cures it, or makes you stop caring.
    A delightful blog, Shayna.

    1. Ahh, another Pennsylvanian at heart! My goodness, if I could, I would ship you a shoo-fly pie, Sarah! That's a long time to go without one, so I wish you luck with my recipe. I didn't leave anything out, I promise. :-) I like to think I take after my great-grandfather's style of cooking. Add a little booze to both the batter and the cook, and if it doesn't turn out, who cares? ;-) Thank you for reading, and Happy Thanksgiving!