Preparing dishes for family and friends, adding their own twists to create new dishes and giving their time and talents to feed others makes three Jefferson women known for their talents in the kitchen.
Becky Schroeder, Carrie Knoll and Marianne Carlson agreed to share how they get creative in the kitchen. Each also shares a favorite recipe.
Carrie has no qualms about making a recipe her own. Just ask her about the molasses cookies she has made for the last 10 years.
It took her five years to perfect the recipe.
“One time my brother made a batch of molasses cookies, and they were so good. But he had done something wrong with the recipe, and he didn’t know what he had done that made them so good. He could not quite get the cookies to taste the same again,” Carrie says.
Then she found a recipe that used butter and began tweaking the recipe every time she made the cookies until she got them just right. Some of the secrets to the perfect molasses cookies include using cinnamon from Kalona that has 4 percent cinnamon oil, a much higher percentage than most cinnamon. She also grinds cloves fresh.
Her molasses cookie recipe calls for 2 ½ cups flour; 2 teaspoons baking soda; ¼ teaspoon salt; ½ teaspoon ginger; 1 heaping teaspoon cinnamon; ¼ heaping teaspoon cloves; ½ cup brown sugar; ½ cup white sugar; ¾ cup butter, no substitutes; 1/3 cup molasses; 1 egg. Mix all ingredients. Roll into balls and then roll in sugar, bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.
Buying food as natural as possible when she can helps make her food better, Carrie says. She and husband, Rob, grow a lot of their own vegetables in the landscaping around their home, and Rob planted 300 pounds of potatoes this year.
As she talked, she continued to work on making a broccoli cheese soup that would become part of a fundraising effort by the women’s group at the First United Methodist Church in Jefferson.
“We’re making foods to freeze and sell to help out working moms,” Carrie explains. “I’m making 12 quarts. It was one of the recipes chosen to be part of the fundraiser. This way, women can come home and heat up a homemade dish for their families.”
The money the group makes will go to the good Samaritan Fund in Jefferson.
Carrie says she simply grew up cooking. Her grandmother, mother, sisters, cousins and other family members cook to this day.
“My family gets together every week to eat. We all cook. At family reunions we have lots more deserts than main dishes,” she says.
In fact, family members have published two cookbooks which contain favorite family recipes: “Treasured Family Recipes” published in 2003, and “The Gathering Basket” published in 2010. Either cookbook can be purchased for $10. Anyone interested should email Carrie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
While she says she likes to cook many different dishes, she gets the most out of making bread.
“It is soothing to make it, work the dough. It is very gratifying to give a warm loaf of bread to another person,” she sys.
Carrie, a nurse, says cooking gives her a creative outlet.
Becky learned how to cook from one of her grandmothers, who never used a measuring cup.
“Instead of a measuring cup, she would add a pinch of salt, a handful of flour. Now I do the same thing,” she says.
She seldom keeps a recipe the same when she finds a new one. She studies the ingredients and considers how she can change it to be more to her liking.
“I think a really good cook has good taste buds, and not everyone can taste how a recipe should be,” she says.
Becky loves to cook for her family, which can mean her immediate family or her church family. She helps her husband, David, with his duties as pastor of Abundant Life Ministries, an independent church in Jefferson.
She’ll cook for the children who go to church camp as easily as she cooks for her family.
“I tell people I can cook for 100 and do just fine without any help actually cooking,” she says. “More than that, and I know I’ll need some help.”
Becky also cooks for fundraisers for various church activities and often, when asked by friends, will cook for other events as well.
“I’m not an artist, not creative in many ways, but cooking is a creative outlet for me,” she says. “Many people have asked me if they could hire me to do catering for them, but then it wouldn’t be fun. I just find cooking very fulfilling.”
When she and her family — 23 including herself and her husband, along with adult children and grandchildren — go on vacation, she cooks all three meals every day. During the last vacation, she made her chicken and noodle recipe and mashed potatoes. That meant making nine times her regular chicken noodle recipe and 20 pounds of potatoes.
“I just consider it fun,” she says.
Becky has a tradition of allowing her adult children and grandchildren to pick out what meal and what kind of cake they want for their birthday. Almost without fail, her children choose her peanut butter cake.
The cake calls for 2 cups sugar; 1 ¾ cups sifted flower; 1 teaspoon baking powder, 2 teaspoon baking soda; 1 teaspoon salt; ¾ cup cocoa; 1 cup strong coffee at room temperature; 1 cup buttermilk; ½ cup oil; 2 eggs; 1 teaspoon vanilla. Sift dry ingredients, gradually beating in coffee, buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla. Beat 2 minutes. Split the batter between two 8-inch round cake pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.
Cool in pans for 10 minutes. Remove and wrap in plastic wrap and freeze. Take out after frozen and allow to thaw a little before cutting each cake through the middle to create layers.
The frosting takes 3 cups whipping cream, a slight ½ cup sugar and a slight ½ cup peanut butter. Beat to stiff peaks. Spread the frosting between and on top of each layer as they are stacked to create the cake. The cake needs to be refrigerated.
Marianne swears she could make her award-winning cinnamon rolls with her eyes closed.
“I could probably do it blindfolded,” she says with a smile. “The dough feels like bubble gum. When it does, I know I’ve had a real good day, and it feels wonderful in my hands.”
That dough has helped her garner the top prize in the Tones Iowa State Fair competition for her frosted cinnamon rolls in 2004 and for her caramel pecan rolls in 2006.
“I cook all kinds of different foods, but baking is my real passion. I would love to be a pastry chef,” says Marianne, who is a public health nurse in Greene County. “My dream would be to have a bakery.”
She has been a nurse for 40 years.
Marianne has been taking food entries to the Iowa State Fair for nine years. This year she made 50 entries and won the Spam contest and an apple pie contest. If her spam recipe, a quiche, wins at the next level, she would win a trip to Hawaii for a 75-year Spam celebration.
She grew up learning how to cook from her mother.
“We lived on a farm. She would ask me if I wanted to start supper or go out and feed the chickens. I would start supper,” Marianne says.
All her sisters — Gina Harrington, Teresa Shahan and Denise Harberts — are also good cooks.
“We all have recipes, including my mother, in the 2002 United Methodist Women Cookbook,” she says, adding that the cookbook can still be purchased at the church. Marianne’s award-winning cinnamon recipe also is the cookbook.
She also shared the recipe.
Ingredients for the cinnamon rolls, enough to fill a 13 by 17 deep baking pan — 1 package yeast; ½ cup warm water; 1 cup mashed potatoes; 1 cup hot potato water; ½ cup shortening; 2 teaspoons salt; ¾ cup sugar; 1 cup cold water; 1 egg; 9 cups flour.
Dissolve yeast in ½ cup warm water in a large bowl and set aside. Combine mashed potatoes, potato water, shortening, salt and sugar. Add yeast mixture and one egg and mix well. Add flour to make a very soft dough. Cover the dough and allow to rise until double in size, approximately 45-60 minutes. Roll out and make into cinnamon rolls. Place into greased baking pan. Cover and let rise until about double. Bake at 375 degrees until done, approximately 26 minutes, depending on individual oven. The recipe makes about 2 dozen rolls.
Marianne uses a thermometer to make sure the center of her rolls are getting done. She wants them to get to 180 degrees in the center.
“There is a lot of science that goes into baking. I not only check the temperature of the rolls, but also the temperature of the water for the yeast. Then, the dough has to be kneaded just right,” she says.
Marianne believes the attention to the details of baking, using potatoes in the recipe, along with getting the best and freshest ingredients possible, are why the cinnamon rolls have won competitions. She uses King Arthur flour and prefers Tones’ Spice Island cinnamon when she can find it.
“The best advice I can give is to always make sure your spices are fresh. If they are more than a year old, don’t use them; it makes a difference,” she says.
“It is kind of an art for me. I’m not artistic like my daughter who is an art teacher, but I find it relaxing and therapeutic,” she says.