Thursday, December 12, 2013

Nellie Barrett, Part 2

This is the second post in a series about my 2nd great-grandmother, Nellie Barrett.

Nellie with four grandchildren and one of her daughters.  (L-R) Lawrence Gilbert "Gil" Cook (son of Magadelene Barrett), Nellie Barrett, LaVerne Rutherfurd (daughter of Julia Barrett Rutherfurd), Magdalene Barrett Rutherfurd holding daughter Patty Rutherfurd.  Front: Stephen P. Barrett (son of Stephen J. Barrett)

 My grandmother, LaVerne Rutherfurd Smith, grew up near her grandmother in Los Angeles.  In later years, she wrote down some of her recollections of Nellie Barrett. I found them amongst the papers that she left me. I am simply transcribing her words in the paragraphs that follow.

" When I was growing up, my Grandmother (Nellie Cecilia O’Hare) Barrett always lived nearby. She was the daughter of Michael O’Hare and Mary Mathis. She had been a widow for eight years before I was born. Charlie and Bernard, two sons, were young men and lived at home. We always called my Grandmother “Mama” just as her own children did. She was a very quiet lady.

When Sunday came, I used to walk to her house to read the Katzenjammer Kids, which came in her Examiner newspaper but not in our Times. I think she took that paper because of the sports section. The boys were great sports fans and she was always a baseball enthusiast. She also subscribed to a magazine that had the best paper dolls and I used to get to cut them out. I had one of the really good paper doll collections in the neighborhood. (A friend, Margaret Marston, and I used to play paper dolls. The Marstons had a low bookcase with glass doors and we used it for a great doll house).

Mama crocheted and think I was grown up before I know people had pillow cases without crocheted and embroidered edges. In early baby photos of me I see crocheted trim on my clothes. Mama was also the world’s greatest pie maker. I used to watch her while she was baking and I remember she burned sugar in a black skillet when she made caramel custard pie. She used lard for a crust that would melt in your mouth. She also made a very special cole slaw that all the families requested when we had dinner together. It had a boiled dressing it must have been German from her days in a German community in Illinois.

For holiday dinners, Mama made the pies. My Grandmother Rutherfurd [Annie Dickson Rutherfurd] always brought steamed pudding with hard sauce. Everyone tried to be polite about the pudding, even her own sons, by having a small serving of pudding before eating the wonderful pie. My Uncle Bob [Robert Rutherfurd] said I’d need to eat a little pudding so I could have a lot of the hard sauce.

Mama had some records I liked to play. She had a tall Victrola. If I stood on a chair, I could put on a record and reach the crank to wind the Victrola. Two songs I remember were the “Missouri Waltz” and “Let the World Go By.” (I think that was the name. I know it had a part where it said, “a place that’s known to God alone, just a place to call our own.” I often wondered what “godding alone” was but thought it must be pleasant.)

Mama had severe asthma. It was this condition that brought her to California after her husband’s death. The doctor had prescribed either Arizona or [California.] "

The document ends without that final word, leaving me to wonder if there might be another page that I’m missing. I’ve looked through all the papers I was given, but can’t find anything more. Even this much is a wonderful first-person account of the life of Nellie Barrett, and I’m grateful to have it.

My mother and I searched through family cookbooks looking for Nellie's recipes for caramel pie and cole slaw.  Unfortunately, we have not been able to locate them.  However, I have looked up some old-fashioned recipes that meet my grandmother's description of Nellie's favorites.

Caramel Custard Pie

This rich caramel custard pie is a classic favorite. The secret is to make the caramel in a cast iron skillet. Serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream.

1 (9 inch) pie shell, baked
1 cup white sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
4 egg yolks, beaten
1 cup white sugar

In a medium saucepan, mix together 1 cup sugar, flour, salt, milk, and egg yolks, stirring until smooth. Cook over medium heat until thick and bubbly, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and set aside.  Sprinkle remaining 1 cup sugar in a 10 inch cast iron skillet. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until sugar is caramelized. Remove from heat and carefully pour into warm cream mixture. Stir until smooth. Pour mixture into pastry. Chill completely and serve with whipped cream.

Cole Slaw with Boiled Dressing

1 small to medium head green cabbage, outer leaves removed, sliced in half through the core
1 red pepper, chopped fine
8 red radishes, grated

1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons flour, fluffed with a fork to aerate before measuring
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon dry mustard
A generous pinch of cayenne pepper

2 egg yolks
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup cider vinegar or white vinegar
Generous kosher salt
1 teaspoon celery seed (or more to taste)

Soak the cabbage halves in cold water in the fridge for an hour. Chop the cabbage into fine pieces, aim for about 8 cups of chopped cabbage.

In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the flour, sugar, mustard and cayenne, stirring quickly to combine after each addition. Whisk together the yolks and milk in a small bowl, add the vinegar. (It will appear to curdle.) A tablespoon at a time, stir the egg-milk-vinegar mixture into the flour mixture, fully incorporating each new addition before adding more. Stir until the mixture thickens slightly and when drawing a finger across the back of a spoon, the finger's path remains clear. Season with salt and celery seed.  Stir in the chopped cabbage, red pepper and onion. Taste and adjust seasonings to taste. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Maybe it's time to bring back these recipes and make them family favorites once again.

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