Her crown jewel — of the kitchen-created variety

Rick Houser

Throughout the years I have lived I have seen and done a virtual ton of things. But if that is to be narrowed down to one topic such as cooking, I can then point to some exceptions to good cooking and point out the items that will I feel last my lifetime. Let me begin with the following.

There was my Aunt Margaret’s and Cousin Lydia’s’ three layer German chocolate cake made from scratch and iced in a caramel and coconut icing. Then there was my Great Aunt Oice’ and Cousin Grace Evans’ made-from-scratch grape pie complete with the lattice crust and melted in crystals of sugar that only caused her crown jewel to sparkle just a little more. (As if that could be possible.) Then there were Eva Jennings’ yeast rolls wiped with butter. They were truly unique. Just typing this list has caused the mouth to water and my memory to snap back almost 40 years and now I can almost see, smell and taste them as though I just took a bite of them

On a note that is very near to my heart comes my mom and her cooking. She was a good cook but not a special cook. She had to yield to the items I mentioned. But mom did one thing I never saw or tasted in any of these places. Mom made doughnuts from scratch, and when one entered your mouth you knew you had just tasted a crown jewel, from-scratch item. Maybe twice or three times a year she would go to all the preparation and effort to make the doughnuts. This was always greeted by dad, sister, brother and yours truly. (Also it seemed neighbors appeared out of nowhere at these occasions. I thought maybe the aroma had carried that far.) It also seemed that her recipe called for a mixture that made many doughnuts. Overcooking was never a problem as there were seldom any left over.

She made a traditional yeast-type doughnut and one made from mashed potatoes used for the dough I think. Either way she deep fried them and as they came out of the grease very hot; they then were dropped into a paper bag containing either powdered sugar of granulated sugar. The bag was closed and shook so the doughnut was covered with the sugar. My dad always jumped to this job and he would bring along a cup of coffee. He would look at me and say “just to be safe we better try this batch to make sure they are good enough to eat,” and then wink at me. After a couple of sampled doughnuts and a cup of coffee dad would declare the batch was fit to eat. My mom really had little humor and especially when it came to her cooking. But she would smile as all the time she was dropping in raw dough in the shape of a doughnut and removing ones that she felt were done.

This was a treat my family got to enjoy and almost exclusively. Like I had said a neighbor or two or three would happen to drop in and enjoy the fresh doughnut along with a fresh cup of coffee. It was a treat that was as special to us as was the cakes and pies and rolls were to those families. Each was the home of a delicacy one would not find elsewhere.

Now my mom was proud of her doughnuts and liked to hear folks praise her as do almost all good cooks. In the late 70s I was working in the service center in Batavia for the Human Services Department on the third floor. There were over 95 of us working in that building at the time. One evening I stopped at my parents’ home and told mom that a couple of the folks I worked with were talking nicely about her doughnuts. By this time my parents were retired. Mom asks me how many worked there and I told her 95. She said for me to stop at 6 a.m., and don’t be late. It was never wise to contradict my mom so I agreed to be there. The next morning I arrived and as I walked into the house I of course could smell the undeniable fragrance that only freshly made doughnuts can deliver. When I entered the kitchen I beheld a sight like I had never seen before and feel I never will again.

There on the table were grocery bags loaded with doughnuts as were the bags on the counters. Also there in the middle of all this was my dad and his cup of coffee with a doughnut in hand. He smiled and said it is a good thing you got here as I am plumb wore out from shaking these bags all morning. Mom was finishing the last batch of what were 144 doughnuts for me to take to the service center. After the initial shock wore off some I said to my mom that this was way too much and why did she do it. She smiled and said that if a couple had told how good they tasted shouldn’t the others deserve the taste of a homemade doughnut? She looked tired but was smiling in a satisfied way. Remember my mom always said that a little bit of flattering went a long way with her. That was never truer than at that moment.

So we loaded the car and I headed to Batavia. It was only 15 miles but the aroma almost caused me to pass out. I was trapped in aroma heaven! I got them all up to my office and started the Mr. Coffee we had in the office and I opened a bag. Those who worked on the floor were there in a flash and some were reaching for a second one. Then as the morning moved on workers from the other floors appeared in my door and would mention they had heard there were homemade doughnuts. (Amazing to me was a coffee drinker has a special cup and most all the folks who I saw that day just happened to bring along their mug just in case I had coffee also.) Since I am my mother’s son I made coffee all day.

By the end of the work day there were only a few left and some coworkers took them off of my hands. On the way home I stopped and told mom all I could think of that was said of her doughnuts. Again was that satisfaction smile. Mom also told me she wouldn’t be taking on a project of that size again. I understood of course and told her so. As tired as she was and happy it all went as she had hoped my dad spoke up and said “we just can’t do this again as my arm is wore out from shaking all those doughnuts in the bag of sugar. “ I smiled at him and said we can’t have you injured. I don’t know if they still make people like the ones I listed and I am real certain they only made one of my mom also.

Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and loves to share stories about his youth and other topics. If you wish he may be able to speak to your group. He may be reached at [email protected]


Rick Houser