Hello, again! You may already know me from Little Indiana, the travel website, the award-winning book (Best of Indiana Nonfiction Award, First Place, Society of Professional Journalists, 2016), a (now retired) PBS segment on WTIU’s Emmy Award-winning program, The Weekly Special, and a bimonthly column in a small town newspaper, formerly sandwiched between the latest farming news and high school sports.
My work has been featured or used in publications ranging from Midwest-focused magazines and newspapers to a Hebrew gift guide and a Japanese newsletter.
I visited ice cream parlors, judged chili contests, and ate at barbecue joints, cafes and diners, coffee shops, cake shops, tea rooms, cupcake shops, and restaurants galore, often with my two sons in tow. Given all the images floating around out there of me eating something …
What you may not have known about me is that I don’t just love to eat (and talk about food),
I love to bake.
I always tried to baked something for our travels. It was nice knowing that if a destination disappointed, or if we were in the middle of nowhere and hungry, at least we still had something good to snack on at any given time.
Nothing is more cheering.
I may no longer travel Indiana, seeing as how I am now a Hoosier-turned-Pennsylvanian knee-deep in Amish country, but baking was part of my life well before Little Indiana, and it’s certainly still a big part of my life now.
Some things don’t change.
I have binders of recipe clippings galore from neighbor Donna, from my grandma, from my mom. My Microsoft OneNote account is full of recipes, notes, and tweaks. Cooking and baking magazines make me *swoon*. As for physical cookbooks? Well, let’s just say I may have a problem.
But I’m not alone.
I come from a long line of people interested in food and the community it creates.
A Family of Food Fans
My maternal great-grandma, Grace Cummings, opened her first café in Wilmore, Kansas, in 1923. Grace moved her business to Coldwater, Kansas, in 1929. She stayed in business for over fifty years. My mom used to say that if she made a pie that didn’t turn out right, she’d throw the whole thing out.
Grace (known to everyone as “Ma”) ran Cummings Café, woke up at the crack of dawn to make the pies, and to pack the cowboys’ lunches.
When the sheriff needed to round up a posse, he’d stop there first.
On the Swedish side of things, my grandmother, Magel, made brownies so hard that my dad often joked about using them to pave the driveway. While brownies may not have been her masterpiece, she knew her way around the kitchen. When my grandpa’s health failed, she started going through paper things on the nights I stayed over.
I have many of her handwritten recipes, including a few she must have jotted down while watching, “The French Chef,” otherwise known as Julia Child, because they look hurried and aren’t as detailed, as it happens when you are writing while watching something.
At the time, she put these random recipes, the “winter menu” you see above, clippings, and tiny booklets in a manila envelope. I tucked them away, saving them for when I was older.
Grandma’s Swedish pancakes, what she termed “French” coffee (just coffee with a hefty dose of milk in it), and “Jessica’s Salad,” a pasta salad (the one with spaghetti noodles, veggies, and Italian dressing) so nicknamed because I ate a ton of it as a kid, were my favorites.
My cousin and I used to raid her cookie tin of Imperial Cookies at Christmas, those melt-in-your-mouth, red or green sprinkle-covered handfuls of happiness. Okay, I don’t remember if my cousin grabbed Imperial Cookies, but I know I was single-minded in my cookie-stealing efforts. I loved those things.
Grandma and I also shared a fondness for all things lemon.
But I think I can blame my mother for my interest in all things food. I didn’t always understand how recipes worked though. As a kid, I remember her reading off recipe ingredients and saying, “Doesn’t that sound good?” I had no idea. The question didn’t even make sense to me.
Now? I do the same with my kids. I mean, I get it.
Mom’s Christmas cookie trays were legendary. No wonder. The family loved cookies and that kind of thing (except for my dad. He’s a mutant. Who doesn’t love cookies?!?!). Skipping past my dad, she had plenty to make for an appreciative audience. We were a good-sized group in those days.
Until I moved out on my own and spent holidays in other places, I didn’t know that there were people out there who weren’t big on stuffing themselves silly at holiday meals, who didn’t linger at the table over dessert, just talking. I remember my grandma and aunt conversing in Swedish over coffee and cookies one Christmas (black, exactly how I drink it).
Anyway, Mom baked well in advance, storing the cookies and bars out of our sight. Smart woman. Mint Brownies were always at the top of my request list. They were three layers of amazing kept in the fridge.
I wish I could find a pic of the cookie trays at Christmas, so you can see I’m not making it up. Of course, my mom wasn’t the only person baking great gads of cookies.
Another woman routinely boasted to my mother of her mother’s wonderful baking. After years of hearing about it (and I mean YEARS), she brought us a generous plate heaped with her mother’s cookies. We finally had a chance to try them.
They were beautiful cookies. Just beautiful.
In the days before Instagram, these would have been Instagrammable. They were also terrible. Every single one somehow managed a complex flavoring of — absolutely nothing.
I could have eaten the wallpaper and gotten more out of it.
I appreciate a good cookie. That tells you right there how disappointed I was. It was over twenty years ago and I’m STILL upset!
Grandpa Stanley was known to pop by the house for no real reason, because he knew there was always something sweet available. He liked to man the bar on holidays, where all the appetizers were spread out. Okay, so he may not have cooked, but he did enjoy food (and always washed the dishes) which are also important.
My paternal grandpa was a baker. Staying the night at their house was especially fun because Grandpa Joe would arrive home in the morning with fresh chocolate donuts for me from Hunssinger Bakery in Chicago, where he worked. You haven’t lived until you’ve had a fresh donut. It’s been…many decades, since he passed away back when I was in kindergarten, but it isn’t something you forget.
Of course, his cakes were things of beauty. I still remember suckers stuck into the corners of one of them. I’m not even sure if it was my cake, but I do remember being excited about the suckers!
Grandma Rose, my paternal Italian grandma, was more of a cook than a baker, though she did occasionally turn out a plateful of powered sugar-dusted rosettes. I have her rosettes iron and finally used it to make a batch of rosettes of my own in 2021.
I’d raid her fridge as a preteen and teen, and know I was likely to find a vinegar salad or fried pork chops; or (my favorite) “greens;” a combination of broccoli, potatoes, and seasoning; covered with ketchup (and that I still crave and make every so often).
Still, there was nothing better than her gołąbki (Polish stuffed cabbage she must have learned from her Polish husband or in-laws) or her spaghetti gravy with giant, almost the size-of-my-palm meatballs and neck bones that had been simmering for hours.
Those were my absolute favorites and things I make for my family today (yes, even with the neck bones, whenever I can find them).
I did, however, draw the line at pickled pigs’ feet. I can remember Grandma sitting at her table, with an open jar of pickled pigs feet, and a fork, asking me to give them a try. *shudder* I stand by that decision.
This brief family history food-loving summary doesn’t even begin to include my Aunt Hazel and her pumpkin bars, incredible rolls, and waffle obsession or learning spaghetti gravy at the side of my great aunt, just like my grandma used to make (and a recipe I thought was lost forever).
Today, my two sons flip through cookbooks. I may even intentionally leave a cookbook or cooking magazine I think they’d enjoy out in the living room. I know they will flip through it, find something, and want to make it (or have help making it, depending). I like that.
When they leave my home for their own, they’ll be all set when it comes to cooking and baking. At least, that’s the plan. So far, so good.
My love of usable, well-made, kitchen-y items, from my grandmother’s rolling pin to my grandfather’s decorating tips, and my mom’s old cookbooks, cooking magazines, and aprons (and pretty much whatever other cooking or baking cast-offs she sends my way), leave no room for the here-and-gone trendy food crazes.
What you will find on Little Indiana Bakes are good, scratch-made foods that will stand the test of time.
It’s like a hug on the inside.
If it tastes good, if it’s something my kids or I love, it appears here. I’m not posting things because it’s flashy, new, and sweeping through social media sites. We need to LOVE it. With so many recipes available, there isn’t time for ho-hum and hum-drum.
You may notice that sometimes my articles contain…a lot of words. Well, so do I.
Truth is, I enjoy research and reading and learning all I can about a topic. I think you will too. If not, no worries. You’ll be able to skip down to the recipe on any post by looking for the Table of Contents a few short paragraphs into an article. Click it to jump to the section you want (like “recipe”). I’m nice like that.
Wanna Swap Recipes?
Of course, the best part of baking is sharing recipes. If you have something amazing you want to share, please DO.
You can send me an email or you can leave a comment below. Let me know where you found it and if it has any personal significance to you. Please include your name and location (even first name and state is fine), plus your website link, if you have one. Just because I’m curious.
It may even appear here one day.
Is there something I can help you find? Ask away! I’d love to aid you in your quest. Of course, I usually have something or other I’m trying to find or recreate too.
Come to the carb side … because no great story ever started with salad.