Holiday Cookbook: Marnette Hatchett

Marnette Hatchett lives in a farmhouse southeast of Goessel in the same place her great-grandfather homesteaded when he came over from Russia. She carries on the family tradition of good cooking that has been part of the house for many years.

“I can’t remember not cooking,” Hatchett said. “We lived on the farm, and my mom helped my dad with things in the field, and I cooked.”

She learned a lot from her grandmother and her mother.

“My grandmother was an excellent cook, and I learned by osmosis,” Hatchett said. “They were both women who tried different kinds of things.”

She inherited her love of herbs from them.

“I remember there was always summer savory, parsley and green onion tops that they added to dishes,” Hatchett said. “But their gardening was practical, and things like herbs were just mixed in with the vegetables and other plants.”

Hatchett has a garden where she grows some of the vegetables she uses in her cooking.

“I always grow a few potato plants so we can have fresh creamed potatoes,” she said. “And this year I planted two tiny rows of green peas, because I remember going into my grandmother’s garden and picking peas.”

She also has a large herb garden and grows a wide variety of herbs. This year she dried lemongrass and is looking forward to having Lemon Cream Tea some snowy winter day. To make this tea, she steeps the lemongrass in hot water, then adds cream and sugar.

Hatchett said her cooking and eating habits have changed significantly since her husband, Ron, suffered a heart attack several years ago.

“I used to love to put lots of butter and cream on things,” she said. “Now the only oil I use is olive oil. I used to deep fat fry; now we grill and bake and steam.”

Out of the necessity to cook differently, Hatchett has discovered new techniques and foods. Ron’s Bruschetta is one of the dishes they eat regularly now. She has also discovered a favorite new way to cook vegetables.

Hatchett said: “I slice vegetables into a stone dish and drizzle them with olive oil, cracked pepper and salt. Then I just bake them at 450 degrees until they are lightly brown, usually about 12 to 15 minutes. I turn the vegetables half way through baking. This is delicious with asparagus, potatoes and onions.”

Hatchett loves to experiment with food and doesn’t hesitate to make substitutions in recipes to use ingredients on hand. She pulled out of the oven a hot loaf of banana/cranberry bread, an invention born out of having only one banana for the bread and some cranberries in the pantry.

Where some cooks might despair, Hatchett gets creative. She is one of those cooks who use “a little of this, and a little of that” rather than following recipes precisely.

“I can follow a recipe, but I don’t do it a lot,” she said. “Sometimes I have put things together that didn’t turn out so well.”

Her biggest cooking “flop” was unrelated to her practice of experimenting in the kitchen.

“It was one of my first Thanksgivings as a newlywed,” she said. “We invited my husband’s parents, and I was going to fix quite an elegant meal. I made Cornish hens, and I stuffed and cooked them individually.

“When we sat down to eat, my husband said, ‘I just can’t eat this naked little bird.’Those were the last Cornish hens for us,” Hatchett said with a laugh.

Hatchett has a large collection of cookbooks including many antique books.

“I have quite a few cookbooks,” she said. “I used to pick them up at auctions.”

She pulls out a weathered volume of The Kansas Kook Book put out by the Newton Kansan. It is not dated, but the advertisement inside the front cover shows a three-digit phone number.

She finds the old cookbooks interesting reading, although not always practical for today’s use.

“They call for things like a teacup full of flour,” Hatchett said.

When she was growing up, holiday dishes at her house followed the Russian-Mennonite tradition.

“Christmas dinner was usually ham or ham and sausage,” Hatchett said. “And then there was always pluma mooss, a fruit soup with plums and raisins that you can eat cold.”

And, of course, there were always peppernuts.

“There are lots of versions: hard tiny crunchy ones, ones that are like soft cookies, ones with nuts, other with fruits,” she said. “Every family has its favorites.”

Hatchett’s personal favorite is a black-walnut peppernut. For years, she and her nieces have had a special peppernut-baking day during the holiday season.

Another Christmas tradition in her family is baking New Year’s Cookies.

“If I am unable to make them, I find someone who has,” Hatchett said.

In addition to her full-time job at Prairie View in Newton, Hatchett is a fiber artist, doing weaving, spinning, dyeing, traditional rug hooking and almost any fiber craft. She is known throughout the fiber-art circles as a wonderful cook.

When Marnette Hatchett calls other artists to come by for a day of work, she often tells them she’ll “have the soup kettle on.”

That’s all the convincing they need.

Recipes from the Hatchett kitchen

Black-Walnut Peppernuts

1/2 cup butter

2 cups sugar

1 cup sour cream

3 eggs

1 cup black walnuts, chopped (you may substitute English walnuts and 1-2 tsp. black-walnut extract)

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon soda

4 cups flour

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well. Add sour cream and mix. Sift dry ingredients. Add to butter/sugar mixture. Knead thoroughly. Add nuts. Store dough in tightly covered container in the refrigerator overnight or longer. Work with small amounts of dough on well floured board, rolling into thin ropes. Hold a 2- to 3-inch strip of dough over greased baking sheet. Snip off small pieces of dough with kitchen shears dipped in cold water, dropping pieces onto pan. Bake at 400 degrees for seven minutes, watching closely.

* * *

The Best Ice Cream

4 eggs beaten

21/2 cups sugar

4 cups cream

5 cups milk

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons vanilla

Mix and freeze in ice cream freezer.

* * *

Fruit Muffins

2 cups flour

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup milk

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 egg

6 tablespoons margarine, melted

1 cup fruit of your choice

Combine milk, egg and margarine. Stir in dry ingredients and fruit. Spoon into greased muffin tin and sprinkle with sugar. Bake 25 minutes at 400 degrees.

* * *

Ron’s Bruschetta

Buy or make a loaf of crusty French or Italian bread. Slice and lightly butter each slice and sprinkle with seasoned garlic salt.

Grill bread.

Top with sliced cherry tomatoes, thinly sliced onions (or your choice of vegetables or meat) salt and pepper.

Drizzle with olive oil and top with feta cheese.

* * *

Easy Cream of Potato Soup

Cube potatoes and cook with a little onion until tender. Mash some of the potatoes. Add fat free cream. Make a flour and water paste to thicken soup. Add corn, precooked bacon, or cheese if desired.

* * *

New Year’s Cookies

2 cups milk

1 cake yeast

1/4 cup warm water

1/4 cup melted shortening

11/2 teaspoons salt

1/4 cup sugar

2 eggs

3 to 31/2 cups flour

1 cup floured raisins (may substitute cranberries)

Scald milk and cool. Dissolve cake yeast in warm water and add to the lukewarm milk. Add shortening, salt and sugar. Beat eggs and add. Gradually sift in flour, beating well. Add floured raisins. Let rise 30 minutes. Stir and beat a little, let rise again until double. Drop by teaspoonfuls into hot fat and fry until browned.

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