Mom was an amazing cook and the holidays were an opportunity for her skills to shine. As a child of the Great Depression she was efficient without being stingy, simple but not drab, and traditional while willing to try new dishes.
Her Thanksgiving and Christmas table always included succulent turkey and glazed ham. Fresh, never instant, mashed white Idaho potatoes and white gravy. But the real treat was the Indiana German egg noodles she made to perfection. In Indiana the absence of egg noodles on a holiday table is grounds for banishment. Thick, wide, yellow noodles boiled in the broth of a freshly cooked chicken and the addition of some Swanson’s chicken broth if needed.
After being away from Indiana for 12 years, I returned to interview for a pastoral position in Kokomo. The meal after our first visit with the church included several samplings of egg noodles. I looked at my wife and said, “Honey, I feel called.”
I asked Mom where her recipe for egg noodles came from. She told me it was an old family recipe that was passed from generation to generation and dates from the “old country.” For many years I accepted and repeated her story, which I’m sure was the one she was told many years before. But, there is a problem with that version of the tale.
My maternal grandmother was from a Scotch-Irish clan whose American roots were in Appalachia, specifically Huntington, West Virginia. Grandma’s father was a glass blower that came to Gas City, Indiana for work. That had to be sometime after my grandmother’s birth, but before 1910 when the natural gas field in Indiana went dry.
Grandpa’s side was native American either from the Cherokee or Choctaw tribes. Their roots in Indiana date back to the early 1820’s, only 20 years after Indiana was opened for settlement. They passed themselves off as white and avoided the removal of the eastern tribes to Oklahoma in 1838 and 1830 respectively.
Neither the Scotch-Irish nor Native Americans have a tradition of making egg noodles. Historically, that tradition came to Indiana after a large German migration settled there. Perhaps her father’s family picked up the recipe from their German neighbors. Whatever the origin, Mom’s egg noodles were the best.
Early Thanksgiving or Christmas morning she would get up to start the chicken to boiling and preparing the dough. After letting it sit for a time while she worked on the turkey and ham and other dishes for the table, she would begin the rolling process. Plenty of Pillsbury flour was spread across that antique oak round table we ate at in the kitchen. My earliest memories are of a wooden rolling pen, but she later traded it for a good size marble one that could’ve passed for a medieval weapon.
Tearing off a workable amount from the giant ball of dough resting in a large bowl, she rolled it on one side than the other until it achieved the thickness and look she was after. She then cut the whole in quarters and to acceptable lengths and put them in a stack. Bringing her knife through the whole mound, she divided them into the width of a noodle. I always enjoyed watching her do this – slice, push aside with the blade, and slice again. There was a rhythm to it that almost looked like a choreographed noodle dance. This was done over and over again until the bowl of dough was empty. Again, she let them dry in the air of the kitchen.
It was during this time that I’d sneak an uncooked noodle or two until Mom chased me out of the kitchen. Oh, I know you’re not supposed to eat raw eggs, but that dough was almost as good as the finished product. Mom dropped her noodles gently through her fingers into the boiling broth. They were never put in a mess at a time, but almost separately one by one. The noodles were finished when they reached a golden yellow. Served over mashed potatoes, the way they are eaten in Indiana, each bite was savory and just what your taste buds expected from its memory of them during the last holiday they were served.
Mom’s egg noodles survive her. My nephew, Brian, is the new guardian of her recipe and the cook that carries on the tradition. Something’s different now. I can only conclude that it’s the one ingredient she sprinkled every meal with that none of us can replicate – her love.
The LORD be with you.