Mom’s Boiled Dinner

Winter in our home meant soup at least a couple of times a week when I was growing up. One of our favorites was boiled dinner.   While many boiled dinner recipes call for serving the meat and vegetables on a platter and saving the broth to make a soup later, our boiled dinner was the soup.

My mother’s recipe for boiled dinner started with a meaty ham bone or a large smoked pork hock.  Usually she used the bone from a picnic ham, since she liked the economy of buying a picnic ham, roasting it for dinner and having leftover ham to slice for breakfast and sandwiches.   She usually saved the skin from the ham and put it into the soup pot along with the bone to enrich the broth.

After breakfast she would put the ham bone in the pot, cover it with water and bring it to boiling, then move it off to the back corner of the stove to simmer until she had time to add the vegetables later in the day.

My sister Patsy theorizes that the reason mom’s boiled dinner always tasted so good was the long slow simmering it received on the back of the wood stove in winter.  And when supper time arrived, there was fresh bread with sliced ham or summer sausage for sandwiches.

Like most soup recipes, boiled dinner can be made with many variations, but here is a good way to start.

INGREDIENTS:

A meaty ham bone or smoked pork hock
3 or 4 quarts water
3 stalks celery
3 carrots
1 medium onion (2 – 3 inches in diameter)
3 medium potatoes
1 small cabbage (4 – 5 inches in diameter) or half of a larger cabbage
Salt and pepper to taste

PROCEDURE:

Put the ham bone or hock in a soup pot or Dutch oven and cover it with water.   Bring it to the boil, turn down the heat and simmer for at least 2 hours.   Clean and chop the celery, carrots and onion into half inch pieces.   Peel the potatoes and cut into inch cubes. Add these vegetables and simmer for an hour.   Taste the broth and adjust the seasoning.

Remove the ham bone from the pot.   Let it cool until it is easy to cut off the meat and return the meat to the pot.   Wash the cabbage, removing any damaged outer leaves, and cut it into eighths.   Add the cabbage to the pot about 20 minutes before serving and simmer until tender but not mushy.

Wonderful with a green salad and fresh bread for sandwiches.

NOTES:   You can replace the ham bone or hock with 2 cups chopped ham and three bouillon cubes.   I use two chicken cubes and one beef cube when I do this and add three or four whole cloves.   You can also use two smoked turkey drumsticks.

Gus Gauch’s Macaroni and Cheese

Gus Gauch was a farmer who lived down the road from us in the country. He was also one of the two best fly fishermen on the Namakagon River north of Hayward.

When I was eight years old, Gus talked my mother into letting him teach me how to fly fish for trout.  She was afraid that her firstborn might not make it home from the river, and if she had seen me starting to float away in my brand new plastic waders that first day, my trout fishing career would have ended pretty quickly.  However, Gus was there to catch me as I was about to tip over, and we never told her about it.

I learned a lot of things from Gus, one of which was not to tell your mother everything.  Another was his recipe for macaroni and cheese.  The first time I had it was in late winter when Gus asked me to come over after supper so we could tie some flies.  When I got there he was still eating.  He asked me if I wanted some macaroni and cheese, and since I hadn’t had anything to eat for fifteen minutes I said yes.

It wasn’t like my mother’s macaroni and cheese but I loved it.  Unlike most macaroni and cheese recipes, this one does not use a white sauce into which you melt the cheese.  Instead, you layer the cooked macaroni, shredded cheese and buttered bread crumbs in a casserole and heat it briefly in the oven.  It is extremely simple and easy to make, has no trans fats, is lower in calories than ordinary mac and cheese and is just plain delicious.

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups uncooked macaroni
4 – 5 T butter
8 oz. medium cheddar cheese
3 or 4 slices dry bread or buns to make 1 cup of bread crumbs
Salt and pepper to taste

PROCEDURE:

Bring two quarts of water to boiling.  Preheat the oven to 300º.

While the water is heating, shred the cheese and set it aside.  When the water reaches a full boil, stir in the macaroni and cook nine or ten minutes; I always add salt to the boiling water, but suit yourself. Drain but do not rinse so the pasta will be hot when you assemble the dish.

While the macaroni is cooking, crush three or four slices of dry bread (hot dog or hamburger buns you have dried in the oven work very well also) to make about one cup of bread crumbs.  Do not try to turn the crumbs into a powder.  Leave some quarter inch pieces to provide a little variety in appearance. 

Melt four tablespoons of butter in a small frying pan on low heat.  When the butter is melted, add the bread crumbs and toast them slightly stirring with a fork until the crumbs are mixed with the butter.  Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. I use about a quarter teaspoon each of salt and pepper. If the crumbs seem too dry, add a little more butter.

Butter an ovenproof glass baking dish.  Put a thin layer (about a half inch) of macaroni in the dish, sprinkle about one-third of the cheese evenly over the macaroni.  Repeat with two more layers.  Spread bread crumbs over the top and put the uncovered dish in the hot oven.  Heat about fifteen minutes until the cheese is melted.

And that’s it!

NOTES:  You can use mild or sharp cheddar cheese for a different flavor.  And if you want to be fancy, grate an extra tablespoon of cheese on top of the crumbs.  If you don’t have any dry bread, toast 4 slices and cut them into small cubes.