Grandma Rang’s Cottage Cheese Pie

When in my mother’s opinion, I was strong enough to get out of bed, I wanted to see what a Quarantine Sign looked like.  I had heard someone pounding on our front door, and Mom or Dad had told me that everything was all right, that no one was trying to get into the house.  It was only a man nailing a sign to the door telling people not to come inside until everyone was well again.

“Everyone” was me.  I had scarlet fever.  My mother and two sisters had to stay home, and my father had to wash carefully every morning before going to the garage where he worked. No one else in my family caught the disease, and I finally got well.  I am not sure how old I was, but it must have been between my fourth and fifth birthdays.  

One thing I remember clearly is that, when Mom first let me get up, I had forgotten how to walk.  I wanted to see that Quarantine Sign, so Mom had to hold my hand when I went to the front door.  The sign on the door was red.  At the top, big letters said “QUARANTINE”  with smaller lettering underneath explaining that our house was infected with Scarlet Fever.

That was the first time I was confined in the house because I was sick. I was eight years old when the second quarantine occurred.  I was in third grade at Blair School, the same one-room my father had attended when he was a boy.  There were nineteen or twenty students at Blair when three quarters of us came down with measles and chicken pox.

If you have the option, do not get chicken pox and measles at the same time.  I still have scars from picking those itching scabs as the blisters healed while lying in bed in a darkened room.  I can’t say anything good about chicken pox, but I complained so much that my mother taught me how to knit to distract me while I was in bed.  I knitted a pair of socks (only the straight parts, Mom knitted the heels), and I am still rather proud of my accomplishment, though I have never tried to duplicate the feat.

My sisters came down with both diseases, which are dangerous infections.  My sister Barbara was so sick that a doctor came to our house, gave her something to lower her fever and helped her recover with no permanent problems.   Children still die of measles, and many adults develop shingles, which is caused by the chicken pox virus that hides in the nervous system for life.  I have had shingles and do not recommend it.  Today, nearly all children in developed countries are vaccinated against measles and chicken pox, and there are vaccines that prevent or lessen the severity of shingles.  Get vaccinated.

Although I wasn’t as sick as my sisters, I did lose my appetite.  This may seem like a small matter to you, but it really worried my mother.  Normally I was a two-plates-of-food-for-dinner boy, as old photos confirm.  I was, however, also an active kid who filled the woodbox, fed the chickens, rode his bike when there was not snow, skated and skied in the winter, built snow forts in winter and pole and board forts in the summer.  Thus, what looks like fat is really well developed muscle.

Confined to bed in a darkened room, I simply wasn’t hungry.  Mom did her best to tempt my tastebuds.  She made chicken noodle soup, of course, since every woman I knew claimed it was a sovereign remedy for any illness.  I vaguely remember her spooning broth or lemon toddy into my mouth and offering fresh bread.  I am sure that she also baked some treats—cookies, cakes and probably pies.  “You have to eat something,” she would say, and I would try.

I don’t remember it, but she may well have made Grandma Rang’s Cottage Cheese Pie.  I found the recipe written on the back of the same card Mom had copied Grandma’s Dutch Pudding recipe.  Grandma Rang had a hen house filled with layers and made her own butter and cottage cheese, so it would have been a fairly economical dessert.  She had only to buy sugar and a lemon for the filling.

As usual, the recipe is a list of ingredients with brief instructions to mix them together, pour the batter into a flour crust and bake about an hour until a knife comes out clean.  I have made this pie several times to fine tune the instructions.  I assume that Grandma added some cream to her cottage cheese curds, so I made the pie with ordinary whole milk cottage cheese from the market.

The result is a refreshing variation on cheese cake.  Using an electric mixer breaks up the larger curds, but enough remain to give this pie an interesting texture.  The lemon zest works magically well with the cheese and eggs.  The flavor reminds me of those quarantines of long ago as we huddle in our home self-quarantined against COVID-19.  

It’s a pie to perk up your day. You really should try it.

INGREDIENTS:

1/2 cup butter

1 cup granulated sugar

3 large eggs

2 cups whole milk small curd cottage cheese

1 T corn starch

zest from one lemon

1 unbaked nine-inch pie shell

PROCEDURE:

Preheat the oven to 350º.  

Cream the butter and sugar together.  Stir in the eggs one at a time.  Grate the lemon  and stir the zest and corn starch into the egg and sugar mixture. Add the cottage cheese and and blend the batter for about two minutes.  Grandma would have used a spoon or egg beater, but I use our electric mixer on medium for about a minute and on high for the rest of the time.  

Pour the batter into the pie shell and bake at 350º for fifty minutes.  Test for doneness with a butter knife inserted near the center of the pie.  If the knife comes out clean, the pie is done; otherwise, bake five minutes longer and test again.

NOTES:  Grandma told Mom that she could substitute any shortening for the butter.

Salmon with Ginger Marmalade

Salmon with Ginger Marmalade

About thirty years ago, Jerri and I decided to treat my mother and father to a fishing charter on Lake Superior.  Since they both loved to fish, I was surprised when they refused the offer.  Dad explained that since he had broken his leg the year before, he wasn’t as steady as he once was.  Thinking on my feet, I told him that we could rent a wheelchair for him. He huffed like an old buck, “Humph, I don’t need a wheelchair.”

I closed the sale. “So you’ll come, right?”

Mom’s excuse was even less persuasive than Dad’s.  “Why don’t you take Patrick in my place? Lake Superior is so big that I wouldn’t know how to fish it.  Besides, I like to fish from shore,” she added.  

“Mom, it’s a charter.  It’s a thirty-foot boat with a sonar fish finder. The captain sets up the rods, takes us out on Chequamegon Bay until he finds a school of fish then trolls the baits.  We take turns reeling in the fish.  Come on,” I pleaded.  She turned out to be a pushover.  We had snagged our two anglers.

When I called Captain Dave to reserve a date, he told me that his boat had room for six people at no extra cost.  We invited my brother-in-law and sister to join us and confirmed the date with Dave.  Three weeks later our Captain met us at the dock in Washburn, Wisconsin.  It was a beautiful morning with a light breeze and puffy clouds. 

After a short pause, Mom walked up the gangway and watched Dad follow her onto the deck. They sat down and leaned back against the railing.  Dave warmed up the engine and I cast off the bow line when he gave the order.  We were under way.  The wind became a little stronger as we moved out of the harbor and there was a light chop on the water.  A perfect day for fishing, I thought, until I realized that Mom did not look very happy.

Before I embarked for Germany as a graduate student in 1965 on the SS Berlin, I had researched seasickness.  I learned three useful facts.  First, seasickness was known to the ancient Greeks, who gave us the word “nausea” from their word for ship (naus) to describe the symptoms.  Second, seasickness is caused by actual or perceived motion.  And third, stay on deck and study the horizon if you feel seasick.

I can testify that some people suffer from seasickness without venturing far on the water.  They think that when they are in a boat, it is moving, and that makes them feel nauseous.  I saw this first hand when I boarded the Berlin in New York City. A woman was vomiting on the deck of the ship still securely docked at the pier.  

Mom’s case was different.  We were several miles from the dock and getting farther away every minute.“Mom,” I said, “are you okay?”

“Probably something I ate,” she answered.

“I think you might be seasick,” I told her, and suggested that she might feel better if she walked on the deck and looked at the scenery.  Her solution was was to go into the cabin and look out the windows.  When I checked a few minutes later, she said that she felt better, so I told Dave we could continue our trip.

When Captain Dave reached the area where he expected to find salmon, he slowed the boat, rigged the rods and watched the sonar screen.  In a few minutes  a fish hit one of the lures, and as the senior member of the team, Dad landed his salmon.  A few minutes later another rod bowed, and I opened the door to the cabin to find Mom looking worse than she had an hour earlier.  “Mom, there’s a fish on your rod.  You have to land it.”

She did not look like the excited mother I remembered when she got a six-inch panfish on her casting rod.  “I don’t feel very well, so you just do it for me,” she replied.

“I can’t,” I lied to her, “it’s a rule.  It’s rod number two and you are number two.”

She climbed the the steps carefully and gingerly took the rod Dave handed her, but when the salmon jumped out of the water, her fishing instinct took over.  The whole boat trembled as she shook with excitement.  We have a photograph of Mom and her salmon. She has a big smile, proof that catching a salmon can cure seasickness.

  

That fishing trip was long after I ate my first serving of salmon when I was just a toddler.  That salmon would have come out of a can, been mixed with onions, crackers and egg and baked into a loaf by my mother.  I am pretty sure that I first had fresh salmon was when I was in college.  Today, I love salmon whether it’s baked into loaves, made into soup, grilled over charcoal or fried with this marinade.

INGREDIENTS:

About 1 lb. salmon filets

2 large or three medium cloves garlic

2 T olive oil, divided

1/3 cup soy sauce

1/3 cup ginger marmalade

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes

1/4 tsp. liquid smoke flavoring

PROCEDURE:

Make the marinade first.  Remove the paper from the garlic cloves and mince them.  In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the garlic, one tablespoon olive oil, soy sauce, marmalade, mustard, red pepper flakes and smoke flavoring

If necessary, remove the skin from the salmon.  Put three or four serving-size filets in a sealable plastic bag.  Add half of the marinade, seal the bag and massage the filets until all of them are coated with the marinade.  Put the bag in the refrigerator and let the filets marinate for about an hour.

When you are ready to cook the salmon, coat a non-stick skillet with a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat.  Put the filets in the skillet and sauté them for two to four minutes.  Turn the filets and cook them for another two to three minutes.  Test for doneness after two minutes.  If the fish flakes, the salmon is done.

Remove the filets from the pan and tent them in a warm serving dish.  Add the reserved marinade (not the marinade in the bag) to the skillet, raise the heat and reduce the volume by half to create the sauce.  Place the filets on plates and spoon sauce over them.  

Serve with a good Chardonnay or Viognier.  If you don’t have either of these wines on hand, you could substitute a Sauvignon blanc.

Serve with simple side dishes that won’t distract from the flavor of the salmon.  White rice and green beans or asparagus sautéed in a little olive oil and lightly seasoned with salt and pepper are good choices.

NOTES:  Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc+Viognier is a wonderful domestic wine blend to serve with this salmon.  Panilonco Chardonnay Viognier is a good Chilean blend that pairs well also.