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.

Cottage Cheese Salads

Growing up in Wisconsin, I learned to appreciate good cheese before I started school. Grandpa Hopp introduced me to Beer Käse and Limburger and my mother served us Cheddar, Swiss, Brick, Butterkäse and cottage cheese varieties. My father did not like cheese, but he ate a little under protest and finally came to enjoy pizza even if it was made with cheese.

Cottage cheese was a regular element of meals at our home. Depending on how she planned to use it, Mom bought either small or large curd cottage cheese. Much of it was dry cottage cheese that she used to make lasagna, macaroni and cheese, frostings and various kinds of desserts.

She bought creamed cottage cheese or added milk to the dry version when she wanted to make cottage cheese salads. Jerri makes a number of the salads I remember from my childhood, and I still like them, When I told Jerri I planned to post the recipes for some of her cottage cheese salads, she told me that everyone already knew how to make them.

She is probably right, so I will not argue the matter, but just in case there are a few people who don’t, here are some salad ideas that we like. The recipes are short and simple, but the salads are tasty, nutritious and inexpensive, three good reasons to start serving some of them.

Cottage cheese and chive salad consists of only two ingredients: For two servings, put a generous cup of small curd cottage cheese in a small mixing bowl. Wash and chop two tablespoons of chives medium fine, about a quarter inch dice. Stir the chives into the cottage cheese and serve.?
Cottage cheese and tomato salad also consists of only two ingredients: Wash and slice tomatoes or simply use grape tomatoes. Arrange the slices on salad plates and top them with cottage cheese or put cherry tomatoes on top of the cheese. Make as many plates as you need.

A third version combines these first two salads: Top the tomato slices with cottage cheese and chive salad or put grape tomatoes on top of the cheese and chives. This is an especially good combination for an unlimited number of diners.

Cottage cheese also goes well with fruit. The simplest and one of our favorites consists of crushed pineapple stirred into cottage cheese on a bed of lettuce. Jerri eyeballs the quantities but says that you should aim for about a three or four to one ratio. For two generous servings of this salad, start with a cup of cottage cheese and a quarter cup of pineapple stirred in a small mixing bowl. Taste the mixture and add more pineapple if you think it needs it.

When the peach man showed up at the house, Mom always bought two or three pecks of peaches. We ate some fresh and she always made at least one fresh peach pie, but she canned most of them. Canned peaches for dessert were a regular menu item, but she also made peach and cottage cheese salads.

Put lettuce leaves on salad plates. Place canned peach halves on the lettuce and top each half with two or three tablespoons of cottage cheese. When she didn’t have any lettuce, Mom omitted that ingredient. This does not significantly affect the taste, but peach halves do tend to slide around on bare plates.

Fresh wild raspberries crushed and sugared and spooned over cottage cheese make a low calorie dessert that you could put on a bed of lettuce and call a salad.

I hate to admit it, but my mother also made various jello salads that included layers of cottage cheese. You can find recipes for salads like this elsewhere. I have a very short list of foods common in the United States that I do not like. Topping the list is any kind of jello salad. Sorry about that.

I have eaten jello salads in the distant past, and cottage cheese does, as I recall, improve them, but if you are looking for a salad that is cool, refreshing, low in calories and attractive, try a simple cottage cheese salad.

NOTES: If you have a friend with a chive plant, you can start your own very simply by transplanting a piece of that plant to your garden. Water the transplant every couple of days, but don’t drown it. Soon you will have your own source of a versatile herb that requires almost no care. Chives even survive the long winters of northern Wisconsin. By late spring you will have new shoots that are tender and especially delicious.

A little more complicated than these simple salads is Dorothy’s Cottage Cheese Salad. It’s made with cottage cheese, mayonnaise, hard-boiled eggs and sweet pickles. If you shut your eyes, you might think that you’re eating potato salad.