Monday, March 5, 2018

Recipes: Aunt Helen's Stroganoff

Recently my cousin Shelly asked if I had the recipe for stroganoff that her Grandmother, my Aunt Helen Melat Steffee, used to make. Not only do I have it, but it is one of the few recipes I can make by memory. Aunt Helen first cooked the tasty stroganoff for me when I moved to the DC area for college in 1984. When I visited her on the weekends at her townhouse in Rockville, Maryland, the stroganoff was a recurring dinner staple.

This particular recipe was from a 1970s-era subscription deal from Better Homes and Gardens in which every month a packet of recipes would arrive in the mail (for the low, low monthly price of $9.95, or whatever that translates into 1970s dollars). The initial delivery came with a plastic container for the laminated recipe cards. She had a couple dozen recipes in that box, but there were only two recipes that I remember her making, one was the stroganoff and the other was a chicken and rice dish with peas and ham. The stroganoff was so good that I copied the recipe and began to make it myself. I really do not know how authentic it is to "real" stroganoff, but it is my go to recipe for it. The few times that I have ordered it at a restaurant have always left me disappointed.

So Shelly, here is the recipe... Bon Appetit!

2 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 lbs. beef stew meet, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tablespoons shortening (I use vegetable or olive oil)
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1 4 oz. can sliced mushrooms (I use fresh mushrooms)
1 tablespoon beef bouillon (I use beef broth in place of the water and bouillon)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
4 drops red pepper sauce (to taste)
1/2 teaspoon salt (to taste)
1/4 teaspoon pepper (to taste)
1/2 cup sour cream

Cooked egg noodles

Combine the flour and salt and coat the stew meat, set aside.
In a large skillet, heat half the oil and sauté the onions and garlic.
Once the onions become translucent and have softened without browning, remove from skillet and set aside.
Add the remain oil and cook the beef until browned on all sides.
Once the beef is browned, return the onions and garlic to the skillet and add the water, tomato sauce, mushrooms, bouillon, Worcestershire sauce, pepper sauce, salt, and pepper.
Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook until beef is tender, about 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally; add water if necessary.
Once the beef is tender turn off the heat and stir in sour cream.
Serve over egg noodles.

Friday, February 23, 2018

...while her name is still spoken: Great-Grandma Effie Hoffman

Photo was taken on Grandma Hoffman's 80th birthday
in 1969 at Grandma Melat's home in Oil City.
February 23rd is Great-grandma Effie Hoffman's birthday. I would not say that I knew her well, but she was most definitely a part of my growing up. When I was born she was 85 years old and she died when she was 93 and I was 17. I remember her as a quiet, thin, frail woman with a pleasant smile. Even though I always lived within 5 miles of her, I saw her occasionally throughout the each year, mostly at holidays and birthdays. This photograph of her with me, my sister Kim, and cousins Cordie, Lee, and Alecia is unusual for two reasons. One is that Grandma Hoffman was not known to be the warm, cuddly grandmother and there are not many (any other) picture of us with her. And two, I do not remember her laughing... my bet is Lee had something to do with that.

My earliest recollection of her was when I was around 5 or 6. I was spending the afternoon at Grandma Melat's home on Riverside Drive in Oil City and Grandma Hoffman, her mother, was visiting. The three of us were in the sunroom on the side of the house. Grandma Melat was sitting in her place on the red and green tweed couch at one end of the room and Grandma Hoffman was sitting in a matching chair on the opposite side of the room. I was playing on the floor between them with a teddy bear that had a blue satin ribbon tied in a bow around its neck. The ribbon came untied and I asked Grandma Hoffman to put it back on. Instead of tying it on herself she proceeded to teach me how to tie the bow. I don't remember how long it took me to learn the task, but when I left there that day not only could I tie the ribbon around the neck of that bear, but I could tie my shoelaces

Another memorable interaction with her took place just a couple years before she passed away. I had finished compiling a family history of her family and I had brought it up to show her daughter, my Aunt Ruth, at their house on Charlton Street in Oil City. By then Grandma Hoffman was frail and her only interaction with us when we would visit was a pleasant smile as she sat quietly with us in the room. At Aunt Ruth's encouragement, I put the book in her lap and knelt beside her. As I explained what the book was and flipped through the pages, she would tap the pictures on the pages with her finger, looking at me with a big smiling eyes, acknowledging that she recognized the faces of her family in the pictures.

With fond memories...

Friday, August 25, 2017

Woman's Suffrage Day (Aug 26th): Justice Bell comes to Cranberry in 1915

Justice Bell in Cranberry, PA in 1915
August 26th is Woman's Suffrage Day, commemorating the date the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified by Congress in 1920, giving all American citizens the right to vote. The village of Cranberry, Venango County, Pennsylvania, witnessed a moment of the Suffrage movement's history when the Justice Bell passed through in 1915. The Justice Bell or Woman's Liberty Bell was a replica of the Liberty Bell created to promote the cause of woman's suffrage. Mounted on the back of a modified pickup truck is was taken on the road to all 67 Pennsylvania Counties.

Cranberry residents hear from Woman Suffrage Speaker
At the time, my great-grandparents Jess and Lizzie Melat lived in Cranberry which is located on the main route between the county seats of Clarion and Venango County. Lizzie or Jess captured these photographs of the bell and a woman delivering a speech from the back of the truck to the residents of Cranberry.

According to Wikipedia, the Justice Bell was a replica of the Liberty Bell, but did not have the crack and the words "establish JUSTICE" were added on the top line of the inscription. As a symbol of how women were being silenced, the bell's clapper was chained to the side of the bell until women were permitted to vote. It was rung in Philadelphia following ratification and continued to tour the country. It is on permanent display in the Washington Memorial Chapel at Valley Forge National Park.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

...while his name is still spoken: Grandpa Reese

Ninety-nine years ago today, Grandpa Robert Reese was born in Oil City, Pennsylvania.  As I am thinking of him this very bright, very cold February morning, one thing that comes to my mind is that as he got older he would wear so many layers of clothing, including a down vest, because he was always cold.  I am smiling as I realize that I have begun layering my clothing and just yesterday was complaining about being cold
sitting in my house.  I haven't quite gotten to the point where I am wearing a down vest over my flannel shirt and long underwear will sitting in my living room, but I am thinking that it is only a matter of time!

Happy Birthday Grandpa Reese!

Take a look back at the blog entry I added in March 2010 titled Raising Robert...

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Remembering Grandma Melat

Grandma Melat's Flowers
100 years ago today on November 9th, 1913, my grandmother Kathryn Mary Hoffman Melat was born. But what has made anniversary truly amazing is that a plant that belonged to her has a single stalk of flowers in bloom in my home.  Why this is so amazing is that the plant typically blooms much later--in late winter or early spring--with a dozen or so stalks of 2-4 flowers each! I have never been able to identify the plant but is looks like an amaryllis--probably an old fashion version of the flower.  From what I have been told Grandma bought the plant for her in-laws, my Great-Grandpa and Grandma Melat, which would make the original bulbs over 50 years old.  When they passed away, Grandma Melat took the plant to her house which is where I remember it growing up.  Over the years the plant has been divided and shared, but I have several pots of the plant including the original.   Every time I pass by or water it I am reminded of her and while she passed away 23 years ago, today I am very thankful to have had many years with her around.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

David Smith--Proud to be an American in 1876

David Smith
As the 4th of July weekend draws to a close it seems appropriate to highlight a quote from David Smith, who is my 4th great-grandfather. The life of David Smith is a fascinating study that roughly parallels our country's first century.  He was born in 1781 in central Pennsylvania, the son of a veteran of the American Revolution, and died in 1880 at the age of 99 in Franklin, Venango County, Pennsylvania.

As a young man in the wilderness of central Pennsylvania, specifically the Penn Valley, just west of where State College is today, David was looking for adventure.  According to his obituary, David became aware of the expedition being planned by Merriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the uncharted territory of the Louisana Purchase in 1804. David was anxious to accompany them and he started on foot for St. Louis to join the party. While in Illinois, he learned of their departure, so returned to Pennsylvania.  However, "while on this journey, he visited Cincinnati when nothing but a stockade and a few log huts marked the site of that city, and he was where Chicago now stands when a large village of Indians lived and thrived there."

Married and with a family, David began looking for opportunity outside of Centre County, Pennsylvania.  David and several of his brother left the home of their youth in the winter of 1818, reportedly traveling by sled, settling in Rockland Township, Venango County.  He was a blacksmith by trade and an active participant in the civil affairs of Rockland.  Most notably, it is reported that he was a "strong supporter of the free school law and it was mainly through his earnest labor that the Township was adopted the free school system" which laid the ground work for a strong public school system in Rockland Township.

David was a successful land speculator and in 1833 purchased a large tract of land across the Allegheny River from Rockland Township in Sandycreek Township, where the modern village of Belmar is located.  That part of the Allegheny River was known as Smith's Bend.  Following the success near Titusville of Col. Drake's well in 1859, land speculation made "millionaires" out of ordinary farmers, first in the Oil Creek Valley, but that same wave quickly spread up and down the Allegheny River valley.  In 1865, David sold his property in Sandycreek Township to the Eastern Oil Company for a substantial profit, and at the age of 85 he retired in comfort to a home at the corner of 7th and Liberty Streets in Franklin.  There he lived out the rest of his life.

Perhaps one of the most fascinating stories attributed to David is that at the age of 96, he traveled to Philadelphia in the summer of 1876 to attend the Centennial International Exposition. According to the Centennial Exposition Digital Library website, the exposition was the first official World's Fair to be held in the United States and was designed to highlight America as a new industrial world power.  The Exposition was host to 37 nations and countless industrial exhibits occupying over 250 individual pavilions. The main pavilion building covered 21 acres and at the time was the largest building in the world. The Exhibition was immensely popular, drawing nearly 9 million visitors at a time when the population of the United States was 46 million. I cannot imagine what it must have been like for David to experience such a spectacle!  Quoted from his obituary, "this veteran of nearly one hundred years--almost as old as the Republic itself--delighted to wonder and view the results of advances made by the nation during his lifetime."   David was quoted as saying, "I was pleased with our country's progress.  I am not ashamed of being an American." 

Happy 4th of July!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Military Monday: Christopher Columbus Logan and James O. Barbary--One Blue and One Gray

For Cherie's great-grandmother Cordelia Logan Davenport, Memorial Day or Decoration Day, as she probably referred to it, would have made for interesting family conversation. While both of her grandfathers fought in the Civil War, one wore blue and the other wore gray—yep one was Union, the other was Confederate. The Blue Yankee was Christopher Columbus Logan and the Gray Rebel was James O. Barbary.

Christopher Columbus Logan
Christopher Columbus Logan, known as Lum Logan, was born in 1842 in Whitley County, Kentucky. He died there in 1920. Married three times, he fathered 18 children! His oldest child was born when he was 22 and his youngest born when he was 74. 

Lum served in Company F, 32nd Kentucky Infantry. He enlisted on 2 November 1862 and was discharged as a private on 12 August 1863. The 32nd was a guard and scouting unit and saw action one time in the defense of an attempted invasion of Kentucky at the Battle of Perryville—but that took place in September 1862, before Lum signed up. The Regiment lost 43 soldiers during its service, all to disease.

James O. Barbary was born in Virginia in about 1836. James apparently moved from Virginia to Knox County, Tennessee before 1860. A Virginian by birth James most likely had Confederate sentiments; however, eastern Tennessee, where he moved prior to the Civil War was an area of decidedly Union sentiments given that the plantation system and slavery were almost non-existent. In fact eastern Tennessee attempted to succeed from western Tennessee and remain part of the Union, but that attempt failed. James served in the Virginia Levi's-Barr's Light Artillery Battery, enlisting as a private on 15 May 1863 at Strawberry Plains, Tennessee. It appears that the unit James joined fought the Union advances in eastern Tennessee, but by the end of 1863, eastern Tennessee was back in Union control. James moved his family to Kentucky shortly after the war where his daughter Sarah married Lum Logan’s son John. James appears to have died in Kentucky by 1900.