Susanne’s Asparagus-Ham Roll–ups

When I was growing up, my mother was a member of the Ladies Aid at our church.  Among the many activities the ladies organized were potluck dinners.  Since our little country church lacked a fellowship hall or even a basement, the best potlucks were in the summer, when plank tables covered with bright tablecloths were piled with fried chicken, roast beef or pork, potatoes, bread, salads, pickles, cookies, cakes and pies.

Those potlucks were carefully planned by the senior members of the Ladies Aid.  Grandma Weingarten or Mrs. Sjostrom would approach my mother after church with a request that she bring a gallon of her potato salad or a three pound meat loaf or whatever else fitted the menu that had been decided upon and that they knew Mom cooked well.  Other ladies were asked to bring their appropriate specialties.

“Asked” may not be the right word, though it is a polite way to say “ordered.”  The results were well-balanced and delicious dinners.  I don’t remember appetizers (unless you count the first piece of chicken) but neither do I recall any potlucks that consisted of ten bowls of jell-o, two trays of celery and carrots, three casseroles and a plate of spice bars.  Ladies then may have deferred to their husbands in most things, but they ruled the kitchens and planned the meals.  And plan they did.

A few years ago when I was still gainfully employed I had the good fortune to work with a team that knew how to organize potlucks.  Again, the ladies took charge.  A sign-up sheet would appear in the break room headed with the theme for the affair and spaces for such items as “3 Meat dishes,” “3 Salads,” “Bread/rolls,” “2 Desserts,” etc.  

There were soup and sandwich potlucks, outdoor barbecue potlucks and of course potlucks for special occasions or seasons: The Christmas Cookie potluck comes to mind.   

Since the place was filled with good cooks, these dinners (lunch is truly not the appropriate word) were anticipated by everyone in the building.  My retirement potluck was as spectacular as one could want.  Among the many excellent dishes that day were spears of fresh asparagus from Susanne’s garden wrapped with ham and cream cheese in flour tortillas.  When I asked for the recipe she told me that a friend had given it to her and she was happy to share it. 


1 lb. fresh asparagus spears

3/4  to 1 lb. shaved ham or turkey

1/4 cup sesame seeds

8 oz. tub whipped cream cheese 

Shredded parmesan, cheddar or other cheese

1 package large thin flour tortillas.


Wash the asparagus spears and trim if necessary.  Drop them into a pot of boiling water and cook them for three to four minutes or steam them to “al dente,” which will take a bit longer.   Use a fork to test for doneness or bite one as you do when cooking pasta.  The exact time depends on the size of the spears.  

Put a couple of quarts of cold water in a large bowl and add a dozen or so ice cubes.  Using tongs or a slotted spoon, drop the hot spears into the ice water to stop the cooking and cool them quickly.  Incidentally, this is called shocking.  You will know you have cooked the spears properly if they are bright green and tender but not mushy.  

Spread a tortilla with cream cheese and sprinkle with sesame seed and shredded cheese.  Add a layer of shaved ham or turkey and place a small bundle of asparagus spears (two to four depending on the size) on each half. Roll each bundle to the center of the tortilla.  Slice down the center to form two “logs,” then cut on the bias into thirds, chill and serve.  Susanne’s drawing shows how to do this: 

NOTES:  The ingredients listed will make 48 appetizers.  Susanne used Garlic and Herb cream cheese, but any flavor you like (excepting sweet varieties) should work fine.  I know that they are good with Chive and Onion cream cheese.

Ham and Great Northern Bean Soup

Americans waste lots of good food today, between thirty and forty percent of our food supply, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Some of that waste occurs during harvesting and processing food, but the USDA estimates that thirty-one percent of food is wasted at the retail and consumer levels.

We, of course, are the consumers, and we all waste food. When surveyed, most Americans feel that they waste less food than their friends and neighbors. In other words, like the parents in the Prairie Home Companion city of Lake Wobegon, where “all the children are above average,” we all believe than we are below average in wasting food. As a logical statement, this must be a self-evident falsehood.

Since I think that we waste less food than most people, I offer a little quiz to determine whether you actually do waste less food than Jerri and I.

Question 1:  Do you eat bananas after they have turned brown?

Question 2:  Do you cut the “bad spot” off the apple you forgot about and eat the rest?

Question 3:  Do you save three tablespoons of mashed potatoes for lunch?

Question 4:  Do you save the tablespoon of leftover gravy to put on the potatoes?

Question 5:  Do you boil the turkey carcass, pick off the meat and save the broth?

Question 6:  Do you save ham bones to make soup?

If you can answer yes to all six, you are doing very well. But if you want to compete with Jerri, you have to answer yes to this question also.

Question 7: Do you clean out the shortening can with a spatula to save the last bit of grease to season the cast iron frying pans?

If your answer is a resounding YES! you are a leading warrior in the battle against food waste.

And if you saved that ham bone from your Easter dinner, you have a good start on a great soup.


1 lb. Great Northern Beans
1 ham bone
Ham skin (if available)
1 or 2 cups chopped ham
1 or 2 chicken bouillon cubes
1 1/2 cups chopped carrots
1 1/2 cups chopped celery
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. dried thyme
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. white pepper
Salt and black pepper if necessary


Rinse the beans the night before you make the soup, discarding any debris. When I was a kid, it was not uncommon to find a tiny stone or two in the dry beans. I haven’t found one in the last three or four years, but I always look. Put the beans into a large bowl and cover them with cold water.

Next morning, put the beans into a five-quart saucepan or Dutch oven and cover them with water. Bring the pan to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer the beans for about forty-five minutes until they begin to get tender. Drain the beans and set them aside. Reserve the bean water.

Put the ham bone into the Dutch oven or a soup pot. Cover the ham bone with cold water and bring the pot to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the bone for at least an hour to make the broth.

While the ham bone is simmering, clean and chop the vegetables. I like to chop the carrots into quarter-inch rounds, the celery into half-inch pieces and the onion into a quarter-inch dice. Mince the garlic and chop the ham. The amount of ham you need depends on how much meat was on the ham bone. I chop it into a half to three-quarter-inch dice. Set the meat and vegetables aside in a bowl.

After simmering for an hour or so, the meat should be falling off the bone and most of the flavor from the bone and skin (if used) will be in the broth. Remove the ham bone and skin from the broth and set them aside to cool.

Add the chopped ham, chicken bouillon cube, vegetables, bay leaf, thyme, cloves and white pepper to the pot. If necessary add enough of the bean water to cover the vegetables by a half inch or so. Bring the pot to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer.

Remove the meat from the ham bone and add it to the soup. Mash a half cup of beans and stir them into the soup, then add the rest of the beans plus a little more bean water and continue simmering the soup until the beans are tender.

Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper if necessary.

Serve with a salad and good bread.

NOTES: If the ham bone and meat are from a very salty ham, you might want to use only one bouillon cube. Add a teaspoonful of instant bouillon if the the soup needs more salt when you first taste it. Stir and simmer the soup for a minute and taste it again before making the final adjustment.

Many people are becoming more interested in reducing food waste. The USDA has a good page about the Food Waste Challenge which sponsors programs to help businesses and organizations achieve a goal of cutting food waste in half by 2030.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency has an excellent site on the Sustainable Management of Food.

One good example of a program designed to reduce food waste was started several years ago at Pine City, Minnesota. Named after a western Wisconsin lady known for her Christian generosity, Ruby’s Pantry now serves dozens of communities in Minnesota and Wisconsin from distribution warehouses in southeastern Minnesota and central Wisconsin.

Trucks deliver food and other items to communities where volunteers work at a “Pop Up Pantry” once a month. Several years ago, a friend of ours active in First Lutheran Church inspired her church to sponsor a Ruby’s Pop-Up Pantry every third Thursday in New Richmond.

Everyone is invited to attend. Ruby’s Pantry is devoted to sharing food and other necessities to anyone who can use them. People of all income levels and diet preferences are welcome. The only request is that you not waste the items you receive. If there is something that you can not use, give it to a neighbor or a local food shelf.

That’s what Jerri and I do, and we think that it is a wonderful program.