Food with meaning: These family recipes tell a story

Food with meaning: These family recipes tell a story
Lumpia are a traditional Filipino-style spring roll. Lillia Callum-Penso

The holidays mean lots of different things to people, but usually threaded throughout the season is food. Perhaps it is a dish you crave, or perhaps it is a dish you don’t, but behind both are no doubt memories and stories that are now, themselves embedded in the meaning of the season.

Here, are a few recipes that mean something to people around the Upstate.

Lumpia

Growing up, Christmas would not be the same without certain Filipino foods. We would have our normal huge spread of pancit (noodles), fried fish, and Lechon (roasted pork), but the star of the table, and what brought me the best memories of Christmas, was my mom’s lumpia. It was a simple recipe but loved by so many. 

Each year, my mom would make lumpia for friends and family until she was inundated with requests. She ended up having lumpia parties to keep up with the requests for the special occasion! Family and friends (even my dad who didn’t like to cook) would sit around the table and make hundreds of lumpia together while catching up, telling stories, and just enjoying each other’s company. These little parties became a little tradition that helped kick start the Christmas season for our family!

-Theresa Fischer

Ingredients

1 package lumpia wrapper (approximately 50 pieces)

3 cups cooking oil

1 egg beaten (egg wash)

Sweet chili sauce for serving

Filling ingredient

1 ½ pound uncooked ground meat of choice (beef, pork, chicken)

2 pieces onion, minced

2 carrots, minced

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 stalk celery minced

1 12-ounce can of water chestnuts, minced

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper (or to taste)

1 ½ teaspoons salt (or to taste)

Method

Combine all filling ingredients in a bowl. Mix well.

Cut the stack of lumpia wrappers in half diagonally to make two triangles shape stacks then separate sheets for individual wrappers.

Scoop about 1 to 1 ½ tablespoons of filling and place over the bottom part of the wrapper (longest end). Spread the filling about two inches long and an inch wide. Fold the bottom point over the filling, then fold in the edges to create an envelope shape (like you are rolling a small burrito). Roll the wrapper toward the top point. Brush the top point with egg wash and finish the roll to seal the end.

Perform the same step until all mixture is gone.

Heat oil in a cooking pot. Deep fry lumpia in medium heat until it floats (about 1-2 mins) per side. Egg roll should be a golden-brown color. Note: If it starts to cook too fast or burn, reduce heat.

Remove from the pot. Lay on a plate covered with a paper towel to let excess oil drip. Serve. Share and enjoy!

Butter Chews

My sister made this recipe one day, and I fell in love with it. It isn’t for the faint of (sweet) hearts.

It’s similar to a Charleston Chew. I decided I needed to know how to make it. So, I found the recipe and began my butter chew journey.

My grandma was visiting once when I made them. She tried them and told me she didn’t like them; they were too sweet for her. When I woke up the next morning, over half the plate was gone! Needless to say, I was upset. I questioned my grandma about them, but she stuck to her story of saying she didn’t like them. But we all know she ate them since she slept in a room right off the kitchen. Now every time I make them, we have a laugh over it. And now I think I need to make them for the holidays!

-Kimberly Summers

Ingredients

1 package (16 ounces) of light brown sugar

1 stick of butter (8 tablespoons)

2 cups of all-purpose flour

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract

Method

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9 x 13 baking pan.

In a pot, mix the brown sugar and butter together as the butter melts over medium heat. Stir frequently.

Once melted, remove from heat and let cool slightly. Mix in one cup of flour and one egg. Stir until well mixed with the brown sugar. Repeat with the next cup of flour and egg.

Continue to stir until everything is well mixed and mostly smooth. Then add two teaspoons of vanilla and stir in. Add more vanilla if you like, to your taste.

Pour mix into prepared baking pan. Bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until the knife comes out clean from the center. Let cool for 10-15 minutes then slice and enjoy.

Swiss Meringue

Katie Chaney shares Swiss Meringue and a special moment with her daughter, Neva.

This recipe holds a special place in my memory because of how it’s made.

Neva, my 17-month old daughter, has grown up alongside me in the kitchen recipe testing for my bakery, Hester General Store. I truly believe she has a handle on how each appliance in the kitchen works. For example, she sprints when she hears the mixer starting up. She knows that whatever is on the end of that whisk hook is going to be hers when I click it off.

That’s where the Swiss meringue comes in. I’m a sucker for meringue – I love its versatility for being an easily slatherable pie topping (don’t forget to torch it!), yet also think it makes a fantastic cake icing. This meringue is cooked first, then whipped until glossy, stiff peaks form. It’s one of Neva’s favorites.

…and I have caught my mom sneaking into leftover meringue straight from the mixing bowl after a big bake. She could eat it by the spoonful!

-Katie Chaney, Hester General Store

Ingredients

4 egg whites

¼ teaspoons cream of tartar

3/4 cup granulated sugar

Pinch salt

Method

Bring a medium pot filled with about 2 inches of water to a simmer over medium-low heat. Set a medium bowl over the pot, add all the ingredients, whisking to combine. Heat, whisking constantly until the mixture reaches 160F.

Remove the bowl from the heat and continue to whisk or transfer the heated mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment. Whip the mixture on medium-high speed until it reaches medium peaks, 3-4 minutes.

Roger Clinkscales’ Favorite Sausage Balls

One of my Dad’s favorite treats around the holidays was sausage balls that my Aunt Rhonda would lovingly make for him each year. She’d show up to our family Christmas celebration with a large freezer bag full of sausage balls for him. He’d hide them in the back of our freezer and take out a few at a time to microwave for weeks after.

They were also my favorite, so I remember as a kid sneaking a couple at a time from his stash in secret. He’d always jokingly get irritated when his favorite sausage balls would mysteriously disappear so quickly and pretend he didn’t know how they went so fast.

My dad died suddenly in December of 2014. The first few Christmases after, my Aunt Rhonda would bring a bag for me and give me a tight hug and let me know she missed him too. She gave me her recipe a couple of years ago, so now every time I’m missing my Dad during the holiday season, I’ll make her recipe. It’s an easy recipe that many families probably make but it will always be so special to me.

-Christen Clinkscales

Ingredients

3 cups Bisquick

2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, shredding a block by hand is always better but pre-shredded works too

1 roll of sausage (I personally like to use half a roll of sage sausage and half a roll of spicy)

Method

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Combine all the ingredients by hand or in a mixer. But be careful not to overmix.

Roll mixture into about 1 ½-inch balls and place on a baking sheet about an inch apart.

Bake for 25 minutes.

And to enjoy them for weeks at a time like my Dad, wait until they cool, place them into a freezer bag, hide them in the back of the freezer, and savor them a few at a time after nuking them in the microwave for 20-30 seconds.

Grandma Nancy’s Pierogi recipe

When we initially started doing this it was about my mother-in-law teaching me and my daughters to make something that she loved making with her grandmother. So it was a fun activity that we did together and we set aside the night before Christmas Eve every year. We called it Christmas Adam – one of my daughter’s friends called it that because their friends loved to join us.

So it was just something to teach my girls about how to make some traditional Polish food, and they’re amazing.

My mother-in-law passed in June of 2020, and now it’s even a little bit more special because we’re honoring her and the tradition that she taught us.

-Wendy Lynam, Topsoil Kitchen & Market

Pierogi making at the Lynam house, from left Jack Lonergan, Clark Phelps, Katie Lynam (unpictured Mary Lynam).

Ingredients

2 cups flour, plus extra for kneading and rolling dough (can sub gluten-free flour)

½ teaspoon salt

1 large egg

½ cup sour cream, plus extra to serve with pierogies

¼ cup butter softened and cut into small pieces

Butter and onions (optional) for sautéing

Ingredients for filling of your choice (potato & cheese filling recipe below)

Pierogi Dough

To prepare the pierogi dough, mix together the flour and salt. Beat the egg and then add all at once to the flour mixture. Add the ½ cup sour cream and the softened butter pieces and work until the dough loses most of its stickiness (about 5-7 minutes). You can use a food processor with a dough hook for this, but be careful not to overbeat. 

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 – 30 minutes or overnight; the dough can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.  Each batch of dough makes 12 – 15 pierogies, depending on size.

Method

Potato, Cheese, and Onion Filling

Peel and boil 5 large potatoes until soft (red potatoes are especially good for this). While the potatoes are boiling, finely chop 1 large onion and sauté in butter until soft and translucent. Mash the potatoes with the sautéed onions and 4-8 ounces of grated cheddar cheese (depending on how cheesy you want them) adding salt and pepper to taste.

Note: You can fill pierogies with pretty much anything you want, though potato and cheese is the most common.

Prepare the Pierogies

Roll the pierogi dough on a floured board or countertop until ⅛ inch thick. Cut circles of dough (2 inches for small pierogies and 3 ½ inches for large pierogies) with a cookie cutter or drinking glass. Place a small ball of filling (about a tablespoon) on each dough round and fold the dough over, forming a semi-circle.  Press the edges together with the tines of a fork. You can also use your fingertip dipped in water to trace the edge of the dough and form a “glue” and press the edges closed by hand.

Boil the pierogies a few at a time in a large pot of water. They are done when they float to the top (about 8-10 minutes). Rinse in cool water and let dry (do not stack until dry).

Sauté chopped onions in butter in a large pan until onions are soft (optional). Then add pierogies and pan fry until lightly crispy on each side. We serve with a side of sour cream, horseradish, and with kielbasa for a traditional Polish meal.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

For Sarah Moore, family recipes are rooted in her family’s British and French-Canadian roots. The food lover cooks often and has many recipes that now have become staples around the holidays, but one has a funny backstory.

Sticky Toffee Pudding, while a British recipe, was one she had to dig a bit to find in her family history. Moore discovered the traditional British dessert while watching an ice cream competition show on the Food Network almost 15 years ago (she can’t remember exactly). Contestants had to create a new flavor of ice cream, the prize for which was getting their flavor in stores, Moore recalls.

“One of the flavors that ended up winning was Sticky Toffee Pudding,” Moore said setting the stage for her recipe.

Moore and her mom had a tasting party of the winning flavors and sticky toffee pudding was the resounding favorite.

Thus, began Moore’s foray into finding a recipe. She turned to her British-born grandmother, but the recipe had somehow fallen out of the rotation when the family moved to the United States.

The search for the recipe became a quest that finally ended when Moore got a sticky toffee pudding recipe from another family member in England.

After converting the measurements from metrics, Moore now has what she considers a perfect recipe for the traditional British soaked cake dessert.

“There are just some recipes we make, and it feels like a hug,” Moore said. “This is absolutely one of those recipes. Like you’ve just stepped into your grandma’s house and she gives you one of those oh my gosh, I haven’t seen you in six months hugs.”

-Sarah A. Moore, Pimento, and Prose

Ingredients For the cake

12 ounces dates, pitted and roughly chopped

2 ½ cups water

2 teaspoons baking soda

3 ¼ cups sifted all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

8 Tablespoons (1 sick) cold, unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1 2/3 cups sugar

4 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla

For the sauce

2 ¼ cups light brown sugar

7 Tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup half and half

1 teaspoon brandy(optional)

¼ teaspoon vanilla

1 cup cold heavy cream

Method

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 13×9-inch baking pan with parchment. (I use 2 8×8 pans).

Combine the dates and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn off heat and gradually stir in the baking soda (it will foam up) and set aside.

In a bowl, combine flour and baking powder.

In the bowl of a mixer, cream butter until fluffy. Add sugar and cream together. While the mixer is running, add eggs, two at a time, then the vanilla. Mix to combine. Add 1/3 flour mixture and 1/3 dates, and mix until combined. Repeat with all four mixtures and all dates until incorporated into a batter.

Pour batter into baking pan and bake 40 minutes until firm and set in the center.

Let cool in pan. Once cool, turn onto a baking sheet and peel off parchment.

When ready to serve, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Make the sauce: Combine brown sugar, butter, half an half, and brandy in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and boil for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and add vanilla.

Pour sauce evenly over the top of the cake (if you have extra, serve it in a small pitcher for guests to pour over). Bake until sauce is bubbly and cake is heated through (about 5 minutes).

While the cake is baking, whip heavy cream into soft peaks.

Cut cake into squares and serve with extra sauce and whipped cream.

Matzah Ball Soup

There are some recipes that just make you feel connected to your family, and for Jackie Shapiro Brooker, matzah ball soup is one of those. The founder of Off the Grid Greenville learned to make the soup, which she calls “the Jewish penicillin” from both her grandmother and mother and now says she makes a version that combines both women’s versions.

Jackie Shapiro Brooker calls matzah ball soup "Jewish penicillin."

Growing up, Brooker’s family would make the traditional Jewish soup for Friday night dinner and for every holiday, but after moving to Greenville, the avid cook and food lover lakes it much more often.

“It brings me back to being with my family,” Brooker said. “So even when I’m in Greenville without my family here, I feel connected to them when I have those traditional foods.”

Usually, Brooker makes her soup, which combines various veggies, chicken, and herbs along with matzah balls, once a month in the winter months, or when someone is sick. She always makes enough to share.

“I think it goes back to the old Jewish philosophy of Tikkun Olam – healing the world,” Brooker said. “I want to nurture people and help people.”

Ingredients

Organic chicken

Onion quartered

Handful of carrots

1 Parsnip, peeled and quartered

Water

Half bunch dill

Half bunch parsley

Salt and pepper

1 box matzah ball mix

Method

Put chicken, onion, carrots, and parsnip in a stockpot and cover with water. Twist bunches of herbs and put them on top of the chicken and veggies at the top of the pot. Season with salt and pepper.

Bring to a boil and skim off any fat that rises to the top. Simmer for two hours.

While the broth simmers, make matzah balls according to package directions. Simmer in flavored water.

Once cooked, strain broth and remove some of the herbs and bones from the chicken.

To serve, make a bowl with a couple matzah balls, chicken, veggies, and broth.

Lillia Callum-Penso covers food for the Greenville News. She loves the stories recipes tell and finds inspiration in the people behind them. When she’s not exploring local food, she can be found running, both for pleasure and to keep up with her 6-year-old twins. Reach her at lpenso@greenvillenews.com, or at 864-478-5872, or on Facebook at facebook.com/lillia.callumpenso.

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