Special family recipes bring back memories any time of year, but during the holidays there is nothing more comforting than to gather around, even help make, time-honored homemade food.
Three women who are known for their baking and cooking — Dalieth Johnston of rural Grand Junction, Jodi Hoskins of rural Rippey and Traci Beger of Grand Junction — shared their favorite recipes and talked about their feelings about cooking and why their friends and families are sentimental about what they cook.
Sweet, sweet caramels
Dalieth Johnston, the food service director at Greene County Elementary School in Grand Junction, is known for her cooking both in and outside of her job. She grew up around her grandmother and mother who cooked and baked at home. Her mother eventually went to work, and the children, including Dalieth, took over some of the cooking duties.
“I guess I have never gotten away from it,” she says.
Dalieth and her husband, Larry, have raised six children and although all grown and out of the house, they often gather for large family dinners, particularly at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“I have both the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinners. On Christmas Eve, we would have different kinds of soups,” Dalieth says.
One recipe that has become a favorite treat Dalieth makes specifically for the holiday seasons are caramels. It takes her about two hours to make a batch. She explained that it was a long process for her to perfect the caramel recipe she uses today.
“There are lots of different recipes, and I tried five or six of them before I found just the right version,” she says. “My aunt had a recipe for drop caramels. They were good. I don’t know what happened to that recipe, but they just didn’t taste the same when I made them.”
She finally found a recipe in the newspaper, although she still doesn’t know what happened to the original one.
She uses butter, corn syrup, heavy whipping cream and half and half.
“It is important to use real butter, real cream, not short cuts,” she says.
For a variation, she sprinkles one-third of a large cookie sheet with pecans, but some of her family members don’t like nuts, so most of her caramels are nut-free.
Well before Thanksgiving, the Johnston family members were asking when she was going to make caramels. She’ll make up a number of batches and wrap them in wax paper to give as gifts, as stocking stuffers and to place in gift baskets.
“It’s a family deal. Several of the children come home, and we take turns stirring the mixture. It takes a lot of stirring,” Dalieth says. “The trick is to get them to the right temperature and as soon as you reach them temperature, turn the mixture off. Then you spread the mixture on the pan and allow to cool. Once cooled, she cuts the caramel slab into long strips with a pizza cutter and then trims them down to the small caramel pieces. Once finished and wrapped, she stores them in her refrigerator until she gives them away or brings them out for a meal.
She gives enough to her children so that they can eat them all year around.
“The kids associate ‘Mom’s caramels’ with a fun family time,” Dalieth says.
Dalieth’s Caramel recipe
1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream
1-1/2 cups half and half
2 cups sugar, white
1-3/4 cup white corn syrup
3/4 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
Chopped pecans, optional
Mix cream and half and half together. Reserve one cup of the mixture Mix with the remaining ingredients except for the vanilla, nuts and reserved cup of cream mixture.
Boil 30 minutes over a low to medium heat stirring constantly. After 30 minutes, slowly add in cream mixture so it doesn’t stop the mixture from boiling. Continue cooking stirring until it reaches 240 degrees, it will take about another hour and one-half. Turn off the heat just as soon as it reaches 240 degrees. If the mixture cooks too long, the caramel will not have the right consistency. Once the heat is turned off, add the vanilla. Pour the mixture onto a buttered 9-inch by 13-inch pan. If adding nuts, sprinkle the pan with nuts before pouring the caramel mixture. Allow caramel to cool for two to four hours. Once cooled, turn onto a cutting board and cut them into long strips and then squares. Finish by wrapping each caramel in wax paper.
Jodi Hoskins takes homemade cooking to a new level. Not only are all her recipes from scratch, nearly all of the ingredients comes from the food and animals she and her husband, Craig, grow and raise at home and can or freeze.
“I try growing everything at least once — peas, onions, green beans, tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, celery, green peppers, sweet corn and more,” she says.
They have grape vines for juice and grape jelly and strawberries to make jam. They raise hogs, cattle and sheep.
There are also potatoes and the beef and pork they have butchered fresh every year to put in their freezer. They fill three freezers every year with meat and other goods, such as pies. When Hoskins decides it’s time to make pie, figure on at least 40 to land in the freezer.
Jodi watched her mother cook when she was growing up, but she didn’t really help her mother in the kitchen much.
“Then we got married, and I had to cook and we grew a garden and canned because we couldn’t afford to go to the grocery store,” she says.
Jodi even minces and dries her own home-grown onions.
“I went to buy some minced onions, and it cost $16 and the container wasn’t even full. I can make my own for much less,” she says. And she still provides home-cooked meals for her four adult children and their families, which include five grandkids.
“To me canning all of our food is an accomplishment,” she says. “I was always afraid of a pressure cooker, but then I learned how to use it and I’ve been using it ever since.”
Her family members particularly appreciate how she uses her canned vegetables in the vegetable beef stew. Although Jodi will make the stew year-round, the family expects much more of it during the winter months. In addition to doing the majority of the cooking and canning with the help of other family members, Jodi works full time as a secretary at Greene County Elementary School.
Other family favorites are a crab salad and homemade pizzas. When the children were younger, they would have a pizza night. Jodi would make five pizzas, but the kids would decide what kind.
Even though all her children are adults and now have kids of their own, they like to come over once in a while for a “Pizza Night.”
She’s never written down a recipe for the vegetable soup, but she can tell people how many quarts of the different vegetables she uses.
Jodi’s vegetable soup
1 quart potatoes
1 quart green beans
1 quart carrots
1 quart sweet corn
1 quart cherry tomatoes
1 to 2 quarts tomato juice
First she bakes the beef roast in the oven for about four hours. Once done, she pours off the broth and places it in the freezer just until the fat separates and rises to the top. She then skims off the fat. In a large pot, she puts quart-containers of home-canned potatoes, green beans, sweet corn, tomato juice, carrots, cherry tomatoes and the beef broth from the roast. She then cuts up the beef and places it in the soup to simmer for a while.
“I never add salt to what I can or what I cook,” she said.
The best sugar cookies ever
Traci Beger, a reading teacher at East Greene Elementary school, says she likes cooking, but she particularly likes baking.
And she didn’t get the love of cooking from her mother, Roberta, she says. Her grandmother cooked a lot, but as a youngster in a home where both her parents worked — her father, the late Dennis Tassell, as a superintendent and a coach, and her mother as a secretary and later a teaching associate — they never ate supper together.
However, there is one baked good that gets made every year and gets handed down from generation to generation — kringla. And, even though kringla is a tradition, Beger says her big thing is cookies, particularly sugar cookies. She passed her love of cookies and baking on to two of her three boys. Two of the boys made baked goods that won ribbons at the county level and went on to win at the state level.
“My sons always had their friends over to our house because we lived so close to the school,” Traci says. “I would always bake cookies.”
Traci looks at baking as being an outlet.
“I could bake all day if my legs don’t give out,” she says.
She is particularly pleased that her sons have learned how to bake. In fact, one of her sons, Tory, made some money baking batches of cookies for the holidays and also for special occasions such as graduations.
Now baking cookies and small loaves of different types of bread to give away is a holiday tradition. In fact, the people who have been receiving plates of cookies from the Begers pretty much expect to get them every year.
“Certain people would be upset if they didn’t get them. We deliver 15 or so on Christmas Eve,” Traci says with a laugh.
Sugar Cookies, often referred to as “Tory Cookies”
2 cups sugar
2 cups butter (softened)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sour cream
6 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
Cream together sugar and butter. Add eggs, vanilla and sour cream until well combined. In separate bowl, stir together flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Slowly add this to the creamed mixture until well combined. Chill at least two hours. Once chilled roll out onto floured surface and cut into desired shapes. Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes, depending on how thick you cut your cookies. (We like ours thick.) Remove and allow to cool. Frost and decorate with your favorite frosting and decorations. (We like cream cheese frosting or powdered sugar icing. And often our “go to” frosting is Betty Crocker Cream Cheese Frosting.)