PAYNE, Ohio Dortha Schaefer s kitchen has been a gathering place for the 67 years she s been married to Roy Schaefer. Last Wednesday was no different.
The 86-year-old dynamo who has been writing her column, The Spice Rack, for the Paulding Progess for 37 years, invited her daughters, Garnett Beagle, who lives down the country road, and Mary K. Hess, who lives in West Liberty, Ohio, nearly two hours away, to join her to share a family recipe and to reminisce about Mrs. Schaefer s cooking and career in entering contests.
When I arrived, the energetic Mrs. Schaefer had her recipes ready. She had submitted many of them to community cookbooks in some form. I won a TV with one of them, but I can t remember which one, she said, thinking back to the hundreds of contests she s entered since she first began in 1957.
But the mother of seven, grandmother of eight, and great-grandmother of 14 does remember the Saucy Ground Round-Ups that won her a food processor. I put scallions in that in place of the onions (that s printed in the community cookbook), she said. That recipe I developed from scratch.
Also invited to the cooking session was her friend from contestg days, Betty Yearling of Payne, Ohio, and Maria Miller Gorden of the Ohio Farmers Union. Mrs. Yearling and Mrs. Schaefer were members of the Affadaisies, a group of women who loved entering contests. The club included the late Evelyn Ryan, whose daughter, Terry Ryan of San Francisco, wrote the book The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio (it later became a movie staring Julianne Moore and Woody Harrelson), which was based on her mother, who supported 10 children by entering contests during the 1950s and 60s. Mrs. Ryan died in 1998.
Through all these years, Mrs. Schaefer passed the love of cooking on to her seven children.
When the kids were at home, they took turns planning Sunday dinner, says Mrs. Schaefer. Garnett always had fried chicken. For Mary K., it was beef and noodles, and the noodles were from scratch. Nobody bought noodles in those days. John picked spaghetti and meatballs. Each child planned the dinner and cooked it. I made them do the dishes, too.
I did a lot of cooking, says Mrs. Hess. Mom said, it always tastes better when someone else makes it. For a family this size you have to make it in huge amounts.
Today Mrs. Beagle frequently cooks using her mother s recipes, including the Chicken Strata. I have had many good comments on her strawberry shortcake recipe, too, she says. While Garnett is the designated stuffing maker for the annual Thanksgiving turkey, using her mother s recipe, my kids tell me I don t make it exactly like my mother, she says.
For family dinners, everybody pitches in. On this day it s no different. Mrs. Schaefer is assigned the salad. Mrs. Beagle gathers ingredients and Mrs. Hess begins the Clam Linguine. When our husbands and kids went on vacations to Maine and stayed in cabins in the state park, we made this dish, says Mrs. Hess, noting how much Garnett s husband, Leo, loves the dish.
Made with canned chopped clams, garlic, green onions, and sliced mushrooms, the dish is finished with white vermouth and served atop pasta.
Mrs. Schaefer was a longtime friend of Evelyn Ryan. When Mrs. Ryan died, her 10 children found seven dresser drawers of material from her years of contesting, says Pat Walter of Defiance, a family friend. Her death propelled the book.
Terry Ryan took the material back to San Francisco, where she realized what she had and wrote the book, says Ms. Walter.
Dortha helped illuminate the area of contesting, which Dortha did as well as mom, says Betsy Ryan of New York in a phone interview. Her sister, author Terry Ryan, is not well. They met at the Affadaisies, a club of contesters. They traded advice and read over each other s entries. With many of the women living in rural areas, the club was a way of getting together without getting together physically. They all had big families and couldn t leave [home] to be together.
Dortha and Tuff (Terry) met at (Dortha s) house several times (when Tuff was writing the book), says Ms. Ryan. Dortha told the story of how she and mom got together and talked about specific information on how to approach a contest by one company versus another company.
Often it was to complete the last line of a jingle, or ... in 25 words or less tell us why you like Tide.
We did not know Mary K and Garnett until Tuff approached them about the book, said Ms. Ryan. The book caused Dortha to return to her past. Dortha s family has become like family to us.
In fact the Mr. and Mrs. Schaefer, the two daughters, and their husbands went to many of the book signings that Terry Ryan had in Ohio, Indiana, and the Midwest. It was fun, says Mrs. Schaefer with great sincerity. Terry was the heroine and we were her worthy subjects.
When Terry was on Rosie O Donnell s show in 2001, we spent three days in New York City and sat in the audience.
In 2003, they went to Toronto for the last two days of filming of the movie for the wrap party.
It was a big deal for all of us, says the local celebrity.
Besides keeping up with all of her writing, she will be the first-round judge of the Ohio Farmers Union Ohio Flavors Recipe Contest. The contest, which is open to Ohio Farmers Union members (membership is $45 per year) who are 18 years old and older may submit original recipes of an appetizer, soup, salad, side dish, main dish, or dessert that uses at least one Ohio grown or raised product. The deadline is May 30. (For rules, visit www.ohfarmersunion.org or call 800-321-3671.)
Part of being a contester is trying to see the contest through the judge s eyes, says Maria Gordon of the Farmers Union, based in Ottawa, Ohio.
And while Dortha Schaefer says I m not a gourmet cook, she has plenty of experience on how to add something different in a recipe and how a name for a recipe can transform Biscuits with Hamburger Gravy into a prize winner like Saucey Ground Round-ups.
Family memories and the kitchen are intertwined for Dortha Schaefer and her family.
But she is not alone. Even celebrity chefs like Art Smith and Cat Cora have included family recipes in their cookbooks as well as at events.
At an April dinner to benefit the Culinary Trust of the International Association of Culinary Professionals in Chicago, Chicken and Dumplings was served from Art Smith s cookbook. He writes in Back to the Family: Food Tastes Better Shared with Ones You Love (Thomas Nelson, $29.95) that his mother makes a mean chicken and dumplings. The dumplings are more like pasta than fluffy.
Also served was Creamy Rice Pudding from Cooking from the Hip by Cat Cora (Houghton, Mifflin, $30). Chef Cora was raised in a small Greek community in Jackson, Miss. For Creamy Rice Pudding, leftover rice is transformed into a smooth and fragrant rice pudding.
Indeed Mother s Day is a great time to return to the family table with recipes from each generation. Let family memories spring from the kitchen.
Contact Kathie Smith at email@example.com or 419-724-6155.