ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JANET HAMOUS
“You either enjoy cooking or you don’t,” said Ross Baker of Peabody. “I’ve liked to cook for family and friends for over 30 years.”
So where did Baker get his love of cooking, growing up in an era when it was rare for men to do much in the kitchen?
“My mother, Vivien Baker, was a very good cook, and she gave us a lot of tips,” he said. “She was a country girl, and she used a lot of butter and cream. She loved to cook, so we all had wonderful food and copied her recipes.”
Baker’s wife, Rosalee, now deceased, also learned a lot from his mother and was an excellent cook herself.
“We split the cooking for years,” Baker said. “And we did a lot of entertaining.”
Indeed, the Bakers are known throughout Peabody for being gracious hosts.
In addition to entertaining friends and relatives, Baker gets a lot of cooking experience as a member of the board of directors for the Peabody Historical Society. The Historical Society frequently serves dinners in the Morgan House in Peabody, and board members do the cooking and serving.
“We serve meals for anywhere from 12 to 24 people,” Baker said. “It is always fun.”
He says he has picked up many of his skills from Peabody Historical Society President Marilyn Jones. Jones and her husband own the sheep farm and bed-and-breakfast south of town, and she is constantly experimenting with new recipes.
“Marilyn Jones has loads of recipes,” Baker said. “And I have also learned a lot from her about display and presentation. Presentation means a lot.”
Despite his name, Baker said he’s “not much of a baker.”
“I like to cook meats,” he said. “And I like simple recipes.”
If he can’t find a recipe to suit him, he just creates his own. Three of the recipes he submitted for this year’s cookbook are original.
Baker makes up many of the recipes he uses and frequently keeps them in his head. Historical Society members are always after him to write down his recipes.
Although he says he is a simple cook, Baker has a wealth of knowledge about cooking techniques and ingredients and their properties. He talks about “making a dressing” or “making a paste” the same way other people might say “boil water.”
Discussing the onion soup recipe he created, Baker said he includes the beef consommé because it darkens the soup and gives it a different tang. He understands flavor, and is one of those people with the ability to sample a dish and tell you exactly what it is missing.
Baker laments that certain ingredients are much harder to find these days.
“My mother used to cook a lot with lady fingers,” he said. “You can hardly find them anymore.”
Baker’s mother started several family holiday food traditions.
“She always served cranberry sherbet in a sherbet dish as a salad.” he said. “She also served scalloped oysters and creamed onions for holidays, and at Christmas time we would have suet pudding with rum sauce. Mother always had a beautiful table, too. We had a dining table that would seat 16.”
Preserving the family recipes and traditions is important to Baker. One of his brothers recently presented him with a special handmade gift: an album full of family recipes. Baker’s name is engraved on a gold plaque on the front of the album.
Having the family recipes organized and in one place will make it simple to pass them along to future generations.
Baker has passed on his love of cooking to his daughter, Ann Robinson, who lives in Wichita.
“She is a wonderful cook,” said Baker.
Like father, like daughter.
Recipes from the Baker kitchen
Refrigerated Chocolate Pie
(May be made a day ahead)
Cook until melted:
18 large marshmallows, cut up
5 small Hershey’s chocolate almond bars
1/2 cup milk
Let mixture cool, then add 1 cup whipped cream.
Bake a 9-inch pie shell. Fill with pie mixture. Refrigerate several hours or overnight. Shave dark chocolate on top of pie.
* * *
Egg and Olive Party Sandwiches
(Good for parties or with soup)
5 hard-cooked eggs
1 can ripe pitted olives
1 stick softened butter
2 jars (or 1 carton) pimento cheese
Spread on bread with crusts removed (wonderful with wheat berry bread). Make into sandwiches and cut into squares or triangles.
* * *
6 onions, diced
2 cans Swanson beef broth
2 cans Swanson chicken broth
1 can Campbell’s beef consommé
2 whole carrots (leave whole to simmer in soup)
3 stalks celery (leave whole to simmer in soup)
1 stick butter
lots of pepper
Sauté onions in part of the butter, mix in other ingredients and cook 1 hour. Serve with croutons and Parmesan or mozzarella cheese.
* * *
Baked Brussels Sprouts
2 cups brussels sprouts, slightly blanched
1 No. 2 can Italian whole tomatoes (leave whole)
1/2 a small bottle of Wishbone Italian dressing
Mix together and put in baking dish. Bake one-half hour at 325 degrees.
* * *
Stuffed Beef Roll
with Green Peppercorn Sauce
1/2 loaf white bread made into bread crumbs
3/4 cup onion
3/4 cup celery
Take two to three slices flank steak, round steak or sirloin steak, cut 3/8-inch thick and tenderized (ask your butcher to cut and tenderize the meat for you).
Spread dressing on meat slices. Roll lengthwise and tie with string. Put in pan and pour one can beef broth over the beef rolls. Bake one hour at 350 degrees. Prepare McCormick’s Green Peppercorn Sauce according to package directions and pour over meat when served.