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.

Mushroom Pie

I sometimes think that I owe my love of mushrooms to my father who claimed that mushrooms were poisonous. Since we ate them when they were hidden in my mother’s tuna noodle casserole and none of us died, I decided that my father had to be wrong at least about some mushrooms. Like many sons, I rebelled in small ways, one of which was to develop a craving for mushrooms when I became a teenager.

I ordered pepperoni and mushroom pizzas and spent the extra dollar to top our steaks with mushrooms when my prom date and I were having dinner at a local supper club. I liked the taste of mushrooms and knew that many were considered delicacies. Mrs. Hanus, our neighbor who picked wild mushrooms and cooked many dishes with them, told me when I was eight or nine years old that her parents used to sell some kinds of mushrooms for as much as a dollar a pound. I was impressed.

Mrs. Hanus added mushrooms to her pot roast and gravy, she made mushroom soup that didn’t come out of a can and she even baked mushrooms with buckwheat to make a kind of hot dish. Although I never saw one in her kitchen, I would not be surprised if she also made mushroom pies. I am certain that she would have if she had known this recipe.

If you like mushrooms as much as I do, and if you want to observe a Meatless Monday once in a while, this mushroom pie is a tasty choice.

INGREDIENTS:

1/2 – 3/4 lb. mushrooms
1 large onion (3 to 4 inches in diameter)
1 medium clove garlic
2 T olive oil
1 T butter
1/2 tsp. cider vinegar
1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. dried basil
1/4 tsp. oregano
Pinches of crushed red pepper and salt
1 cup mozzarella cheese
4 oz. Neufchatel or cream cheese
1 large egg
1 T all-purpose flour
1/2 cup milk
2 T grated Parmesan cheese
1 nine or ten-inch pie crust

PROCEDURE:

Line a nine-inch pie plate with a pie crust. Here is my recipe for Plain Pie Crust

Preheat the oven to 350º.

Clean and slice the mushrooms and set them aside in a bowl. Grate and set aside a cup of mozzarella cheese.

Remove the dry outer layers on the onion and garlic clove. Slice the onion in half lengthwise, then cut each half crosswise into thin slices. Mince the garlic.

Heat the olive oil and butter in a large skillet over moderate heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook for two or three minutes, then stir in the vinegar, lemon juice, basil, oregano, red pepper and salt. Reduce the heat and continue cooking for four minutes.

Add the mushrooms to the onion and garlic in the skillet and cook for about
three more minutes over moderate heat. Remove the skillet from the heat to let the vegetables cool to a warm room temperature.

While the vegetables are cooling, blend the Neufchatel or cream cheese with the egg. Add the flour and milk and beat until you have a smooth batter.

When the vegetable mixture is cool, stir in the mozzarella cheese and spoon the mixture into the pie crust. Spread the cream cheese topping evenly over the vegetables and sprinkle the pie with grated Parmesan cheese.

Set the pie on a center shelf in the oven and bake for forty to forty-five minutes. Check for doneness at forty minutes. If a table knife inserted near the center of the pie comes out clean, the pie is done. If it does not, cook another five minutes or so.

Cool the pie on a rack for a few minutes before serving.

NOTES: You can use either white button or baby bella mushrooms, but I think that the bellas have more flavor. You could use half of each. Incidentally, baby bella is the more common name of the Cremino or Cremini mushroom in the United States.

Use a ten-inch pie plate if you use three-quarters of a pound of mushrooms.