Summer Food Memories

(This post written by Gail’s daughter, Virginia Allain, for the Our Echo site.)
Many childhood memories of Mom are centered on food. Perhaps that’s natural since motherly caregiving included keeping six children well-fed. We probably seemed like bottomless pits to her. After playing around the farm for hours, wading in the creek and wandering the pastures, we were ravenous. Many of our games involved running like wild yahoos through the sparse Kansas woods or galloping our pretend horses across the prairie. These activities guaranteed a good appetite.

Many childhood memories of Mom are centered on food. Perhaps that’s natural since motherly caregiving included keeping six children well-fed. We probably seemed like bottomless pits to her. After playing around the farm for hours, wading in the creek and wandering the pastures, we were ravenous. Many of our games involved running like wild yahoos through the sparse Kansas woods or galloping our pretend horses across the prairie. These activities guaranteed a good appetite.

To stave off the hunger pangs until supper time, we had some favorite snacks to fill the void. Bread with a liberal layer of white sugar, saturated with rich cream, was a favorite. We spooned the cream onto the sugar since it was too thick to pour. The golden cream from our jersey cow soaked into the sugar coating in a most satisfying way. Probably a nutritionist would cringe, but we worked off the extra calories running around the countryside, working in the garden and hauling buckets of water to the rabbits. Chubbiness was not a worry.

The garden yielded another favorite snack of tomato sandwiches. We sliced an oversized beefsteak tomato and placed the slices between two pieces of white bread. Of course, we slathered Miracle Whip salad dressing on the Rainbow bread first. We didn’t mind when the juicy tomato and excess Miracle Whip dripped down our chins. We ate the sandwiches outside anyway. When we couldn’t wait to return to our play, we just grabbed a tomato and bit into it. A little sprinkle of salt enhanced the flavor.

Sometimes we pulled out the standard peanut butter to spread on bread or saltines. Again we added extra sustenance by spreading home-churned butter on top of it all. Our peanut butter came in bucket-shaped tins, not in a jar. An oily layer rose to the top and had to be stirred in for creaminess. A topping of Mom’s jam or jelly or preserves completed the sandwich.

Mom kept the cookie jar full. She taught us all to make no-bake cookies, snickerdoodles, brownies and muffins. These weren’t the spongy, cakelike muffins served nowadays. Muffins in the 1950s were similar to hearty bread in texture. We also learned to make fudge, but it didn’t always stiffen properly.

karens muffins

Old-fashioned muffins like we ate in the 1950s and 1960s. Gail’s daughter, Karen, made these recently.

I tried raiding the cookie jar, but it was hard to lift the lid without making a clinking noise. Sneaking a piece of cake was even harder, especially since I cut so crookedly that it was easily detected.

Sometimes we had waffles or pancakes for supper. We looked forward to this treat, but I’m guessing it was a last minute measure when Mom forgot to defrost meat for the meal. She made the pancakes special by pouring the batter into odd shapes. Other families can have their stacks of round pancakes, but we had cloud shapes, turtle shapes, and even swans. Drowned in Log Cabin syrup, from the can that was shaped like a little cabin, the pancakes filled all our hungry tummies. Sometimes we spread jam on the pancakes or sprinkled on powdered sugar. I even remember putting peanut butter on pancakes.

log cabin syrup tin etsy

Photo of Log Cabin Syrup tin from Nutmeg Cottage on Etsy

Eating out was a rare treat. The A&W Root Beer stand was an occasional stop. They had 5 cent (was it really that cheap?) kid’s mugs of root beer. The mug was tiny but coated with frost and the tangy root beer tasted so good on a hot summer day. It was one of the few affordable places to take six children.

Sometimes we visited the Dairy Queen to get the soft serve vanilla ice cream cones. These were the ones with the curl on top. My Mom was a very brave woman to take a carload of kids there. We left with six of us licking our treat as fast as we could to keep the ice cream from melting in the searing Kansas heat. Even so, we always ended up with drips running down our arms and creating sticky spots on our clothing.

retro ice cream cone classic round sticker
retro ice cream cone  by doonidesigns

We sometimes went to a tiny diner where one day a week they had eight hamburgers for a dollar. They weren’t very large hamburgers, but it fit the family budget to eat there on the rare occasion. I think we drove the counter girl crazy when we ordered our eight hamburgers. Each child had their own preferences; with pickles, no pickles, ketchup, no ketchup, mustard, lettuce, etc.

I’d better stop now, as this is making me hungry for a tomato sandwich. I’d love to see other people’s food memories in the comment section.

P is for Pancakes

Cora Joy Martin shared some of her recipes with her daughter-in-law, Gail. She raised eight children and when the crops were ready, Cora fed a whole harvest crew. One of the recipes that Gail Martin inherited from her was her hardy sourdough pancake recipe.

You need to plan ahead to make these. The night before, you mix the milk, flour, salt and sourdough starter. Leave that in a warm place overnight. Check out the rest of the ingredients and instructions below.

Art Deco Glenwood Stove Poster

Art Deco Glenwood Stove Poster by Vintage_Obsession

Hearty Sourdough Pancakes Ingredients

2 cups milk
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup active sourdough starter
2 tsp baking soda
2 eggs
3 tbsp melted lard
2 tbsp sugar

Mix the first 4 ingredients and let stand overnight in a warm place. In the morning, remove one cup of the mixture, to replenish the sourdough starter. To the remaining mixture,

pancakes-white plate pixabay

Pancake photo courtesy of Pixabay.

To the remaining mixture, add the baking soda, the eggs, lard, and sugar. Mix well, then bake on a hot frying pan or griddle that has been greased. This serves 6 people.

Sourdough Starter (Cora’s Version)

1 cup milk, 1 cup flour

Let the milk stand at room temperature in a glass bowl for 24 hours. Do not use a metal container. Then mix in the cup of flour and place it in a warm, but not hot place for 3 or 4 days. It is ready when it begins to smell sour and bubbles.

After that, keep it in a cool dark place when not in use. Stir twice daily. This was used before packaged yeast was available.

eggs bowl pixabay

Eggs in a bowl – photo from Pixabay

You can make the sourdough starter another way. Below is the recipe passed down to Gail Lee Martin by her mother.

Kansas Sourdough Starter (Ruth McGhee’s Version)

1 potato, peeled and grated
3 cups water
1 cup sugar
3 cups flour

Combine the grated potato, sugar, water, and flour. Let stand in a gallon crock, lightly covered with a cloth for 3 days. Every time you remove a cup of starter for a recipe, add 1 cup of water, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 1/2 cup flour to the starter.

Gail Martin shared these recipes when the Butler County Historical Society collected 1920’s and 1930’s recipes. They were published in the cookbook, Grandmother’s Legacy. 

N is for No-Bake Cookies

Gail Lee Martin taught her daughters to cook in the farmhouse kitchen as they were growing up. They made the recipe below for no-bake cookies and passed the techniques for making this easy, chocolaty taste treat on to their own children. You’ll find that it is more similar to fudge than to traditional oven-baked cookies.

Gail’s grandaughter, C.R. K. took up cooking at the young age of three. Now a doctoral student in college, she’s an accomplished baker and a maker of all sorts of gourmet recipes. How does Black Walnut Fudge or White Chocolate Chunk Cookies sound to you? For now, we’ll share the no-bake cookie recipe and save the others for later.

She’s innovative in her presentations of her kitchen creations too. At Easter, she converted the no-bake cookies into the shape of bird’s nests and placed three colorful jelly beans in the center of each.

No bake cookies for Easter

No bake cookies for Easter
You make these fudge-like cookies on the stove top.

Her Mom First Made No-Bake Cookies back in the 1960s

Here are her memories of the origins of no-bake cookies in our family. “The Scribners brought no-bake cookies to one of the West Branch programs/community dinners. I got the recipe from Marlene, who was in my class, and I made the first ones in the family. Would have been early 1960’s.

No Bake Cookies.jpg


  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup cocoa
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 stick of margarine
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 3 cups quick oatmeal
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt


Get out all the ingredients before starting. Lay out the waxed paper to cool the cookies on.

Mix the following in a medium sauce pan:

2 cups sugar

1/4 cup cocoa

1/2 cup milk

1 stick oleo

Bring to a fast boil and boil one minute. Stir frequently.

Remove from fire and add:

1/2 cup peanut butter

3 cups quick oatmeal

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon salt

Stir well and drop by teaspoon onto wax paper. Let set until cool.

Because the mixture is brought to boiling on a stove, children making this should be closely supervised.

To make the Easter version of these, let the cookies set slightly, then shape into nest shapes. Fill the center with small jelly beans. (see the photo above)


This is the more traditional no-bake cookie

F Is for Fifties Foods

Back in the 1950s, there were popular foods that you don’t seem to hear about anymore. Gail Martin had eight hungry mouths to feed, so she resorted to many of the foods I’ll list below.

sandwiches-cheese pixabay

Grilled cheese sandwich – graphic from Pixabay

Tuna casserole, cold pork ‘n beans, fruit cocktail in Jello, corned beef hash, stewed tomatoes with sugar and bread in it, tomato sandwiches, sauerkraut and weenies, macaroni and cheese, Campbell’s tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches, bologna sandwiches or liverwurst.

Most meals came with gravy. Often it was a white gravy to go with the mashed potatoes. When the potato dish was empty, you tore up a slice of white bread and liberally doused it with gravy. A plate in the middle of the table held a stack of bread so that no one left the table hungry.

For breakfast, we might have poached eggs on toast or white rice as a cereal with raisins in it and milk and sugar. There was cinnamon toast (mix the cinnamon and some sugar with softened butter then spread on the warm toast).  For cold cereal, corn flakes and cheerios were around in the 1950s. Also, there was shredded wheat. Mostly, I remember Mom fixing oatmeal in a pot on the stove (no microwave back then) or she might fix Cream of Wheat for a change. We had our own cow, so the cream on our cereal was so thick that you could stand a spoon up in it. Fortunately, we ran all over the farm enough to work off all that cholesterol.

retro fifties foods pixabay

Retro housewife from the 1950s – graphic courtesy of Pixabay

Since we lived in the country, we raised our own chickens and rabbits which appeared at meals regularly. Usually, it was fried. Most of our meat was fried. Pork chops, liver and onions, salmon patties, SPAM, and even some of the vegetables were fried. Mom would slice okra, dip it in a batter, and fry it.

D Is for Dandelion Wine

Mom submitted this “recipe” to a book of Butler County recipes of the 1920s and 30s. The title of the book is Grandmother’s Legacy. She emphasized that this was a just for fun recipe and not actually for consumption.


Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Gail Lee Martin said, “This is an oil camp kid’s memories of making this wine. There was never a shortage of dandelions.”

Pick 5 cups of dandelions. Keep only the yellow part of the flower and discard the green part. The green part makes the wine bitter. Always wash and drain the petals. Put the petals and a gallon of water, more or less, into an empty glass gallon jar. Stir in 1 pound of sugar.

Put the lid on tightly and bury the jar. Oil camp friends are needed to help dig a big enough hole. Of course, they would be in on the taste testing too.

Gail and friends in 1930s

Kids at the oil camp in Greenwood County, KS

After two or three weeks, the mixture should be dug up and taste tested. If needed, add more sugar to suit taste.

“This recipe is for historical purposes and reading enjoyment only,” Gail said.

I’m amazed that back in the 1930s that her mother would let her have a pound of sugar for what definitely sounds like an experimental project. When I looked up real recipes for dandelion wine, they call for additional ingredients like lemons, oranges, and wine yeast.

You could go to the Commonsense Homesteading blog to try her recipe for dandelion wine. It appears to be adult tested, at least.

B Is for Browned Sugar Syrup

Gail Lee McGhee wrote this memory for the recipe book, Grandmother’s Legacy: A Collection of Butler County Recipes from the 1920s and 30s.

“In the thirties, we didn’t get to town very often to buy groceries. I don’t remember my parents ever having bought syrup. Mother would make ours from these directions.”

Pancakes with butter and syrup (photo courtesy of Pixabay)

Browned Sugar Syrup

Brown some white sugar over a slow fire, constantly stirring the sugar as it slowly browns. When there is not any white left, pour a cup of water into the sugary mess. The mixture will instantly become a hard crackling texture. Slowly the boiling mixture will dissolve and thicken to a sweet tasting brown syrup.

Bean Soup on Wash Day

Laundry was a big chore with eight people in the Martin family. The wringer washer  and the washtubs for rinse water moved to the middle of the farmhouse kitchen on wash day. Baskets of wet, heavy clothing, as well as sheets, and towels were lugged out to the clothesline, hung up with the wooden clothespins, and later brought back inside.

On freezing days, it was difficult to gather the stiff, contorted clothing, shaped by the Kansas wind. We thawed them inside, but of course, they were still damp. Actually, the dampness made them just right for ironing.

Since wash day was such a process, Mom opted for a simple meal. Often it was a pot of navy bean soup. She soaked the beans overnight, rinsed them, then let them simmer all day long. For supper, freshly baked cornbread slathered with butter accompanied the hearty bean soup.

This all came to my mind today as I made a huge pot of bean soup using the ham bone left from New Year’s Day dinner. I use a package of 15 kinds of beans. Here’s my 15 bean soup recipe. I’m sure Mom would have loved it.

Virginia Allain's 15-bean soup

Virginia Allain’s 15-bean soup