Bless Your Spoon: The Marklin culinary heritage

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 21, 2023

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By Stephanie Williams Dean

A family’s culinary heritage can be honored through a well-told story. Part of the story includes holiday traditions and the passing on of old, treasured family recipes, and that’s how Betty Marklin tells it.

“We’re just down-to-earth people, we love family and family time at our table and want to pass it on.”

Betty has a culinary history that has come down through generations and many recipes were passed to Betty from her mother, Lillie. In turn, Betty passed them on to her children.

That’s how Betty defines Southern cooking — it’s the kind of cooking she does for family using old recipes from mothers and grandmothers. They’re the ones her children and grandchildren love. She knows just what her family loves most, like homemade mac and cheese and peach cobbler with homemade pie crust that her mother taught her to make. And like Betty, the recipes are down to earth. She uses what comes from the ground and garden — whatever’s in season.

Betty proudly claims to be a “Southern” cook, and she’s earned the right, having lived and moved only the short distance from Redland Road to Mocksville over her lifetime. “That’s as far away as I’ve gone, except for nursing school in Statesville,” she shared. And by any standard, that would qualify as 100 percent Southern.

Betty’s no stranger to joy — she finds peace in her kitchen knowing that her family’s going to get a good, well-balanced meal. Eating well means eating good nutritional foods, at least one green vegetable and meat with bread and a serving of a delicious dessert. Betty enjoys preparing foods the family loves most — her fried chicken, mac and cheese, meatloaf, and fresh green beans or peas. She always cooked three hot meals a day until her children were grown.

Joy is derived through preparation, especially when Betty has plenty of time to devote to it. To this day, she makes lunch every day for two of her children, Will and Melissa, and her husband, Johnny. In between work hours, each has 20 minutes to eat and they take turns. But that time is special as they get to see each other every day.

Good cooks know what they need to keep on hand. There are a few items Betty keeps stocked in her fridge. For one, milk. And Johnny drinks a Dr. Pepper each day. She keeps plenty of lettuce on hand for Melissa who enjoys salad. Her biggest challenge is getting everything done in time for lunch and making sure she hasn’t run out of anything. There’s no time for an impromptu grocery run.

“I don’t always get a pie made but we have fresh peaches.” She and Melissa buy a bushel of peaches and split them — Betty freezes hers so they can enjoy peach pies throughout the year.

The Marklin family grew up with Sunday dinners every week. But now the children are grown, have married and the grandkids are scattered. Yet still, the entire family, including daughter, Jeanie, gets together at least one Sunday a month. On Sunday, Betty gets a crockpot going while they’re at church. Most of the meal is prepared on Saturday, but mac and cheese has to be prepared on the same day it’s going to be eaten.

It was Betty’s mom, Lillie, who influenced her cooking. Her mama didn’t work publicly, but her daddy worked for Hanes knitting. Often, there’d be a pot of pintos on the stove with some cornbread when her daddy returned home from work. A typical supper menu might be chicken with vegetables, homemade light rolls, and a homemade dessert — and oh, biscuits and Karo syrup. Supper was always ready and on the table.

Raised in the era when mothers taught their children to cook, Betty’s mother taught her. “She showed me how to make coconut cake, biscuits, light rolls and pie crusts. I’d have the kitchen all to myself.” Pie is the one Southern dessert that Betty associates with home when growing up. Her family made jellies, canned green beans and froze corn. “We’d make fruit cakes at Christmas and soak them in grape juice. Then at Christmas time, we’d cut the cakes.”

For a while, the family had their own cow, named Daffy. The calf grew up, and Betty’s daddy would milk her every morning and night. “Mama would let the cream rise to the top, and we’d skim it off and make butter — all that has stuck with me — there wasn’t enough milk for a churn, so we’d put it in a jar and take turns shaking it to get the sour milk out of it.”

Like other families, when it comes to eating, the Marklin family has traditions. Take something special like cheesecake, for instance — New York style with cherry pie filling on top. Betty’s children choose their birthday cake, but usually, it’s not a traditional one. The cake most often requested is cheesecake — with a candle in the center.

The family celebrates Christmas Eve at Betty and Johnny’s home with a breakfast casserole, pancakes, and biscuits. They open gifts and afterward, everyone goes home to wait for Santa Claus. On Christmas Day, Betty and Johnny’s meals are enjoyed at the homes of their three children.

True happiness is found in gathering at the dining table — Betty feels it brings her family together.  “When the grandbabies were tiny and tired, I would put them to sleep and then come out and finish my meal and our family would eat and chat.”

Today, not much has changed except after eating, the grands go and play while the adults sit and talk for a couple of hours.

“It’s how you work things out and keep up with things going on — it’s such a special time. Cooking for your family brings you together. And if you cook something all your family loves, it’s a good idea to keep it on hand.”

With such a strong legacy of family togetherness, Betty relishes the old and new memories her family is making.

Betty’s Peach Cobbler

• 2 cups fresh sliced peaches

• 1 cup sugar

• 1/3 cup all-purpose flour

• ½ stick cut-up salted butter

Crust

• 3 ½ cups plain flour

• 1 cup Crisco shortening

• ½ stick softened, salted butter

• 1 tsp. salt

• 1 tsp. vinegar

• ½ tsp. baking powder

• 1 cup iced water

For the crust, put all ingredients in large bowl — use your hands to blend the Crisco in, and then add remaining ingredients. Make two balls of dough. The top crust is a smaller ball — roll out the larger dough ball. Sprinkle small amount of flour on bottom of dish before placing dough. Place rolled-out dough in bottom of a 13 x 9 baking dish. Place peaches on crust. Evenly sprinkle with sugar, flour and dot with butter. Lay small crust over the top. Bake in a 350-degree oven until brown. Also, a good recipe for a pie. (Betty Marklin)

G’mother Marklin’s White Mountain Cake

• 11 beaten egg whites

• 1 ½ cups softened, salted butter

• 2 ½ cups sugar

• 4 cups all-purpose flour

• 1 tsp. baking powder

• 1 cup cream or canned evaporated milk

• 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice

Lemon icing

• 1 cup whole milk

• 2 cups sugar

• 2 Tbsp. melted, salted butter

In a mixer bowl, beat egg whites until fluffy and set aside. In a mixer bowl, cream butter and sugar together. Add flour and baking powder while slowly adding milk. Add lemon juice and beaten egg whites. Mix well. Pour into a greased and floured tube pan. Bake in a preheated 325-degree oven for about 1 ½ hours or until tests done. For the icing, in a saucepan, melt butter over low heat and add sugar. Cook over low heat while constantly stirring. Stir in fresh lemon juice. Pour over cooled cake. (Rena Mae Ward Marklin)

Sunday Mac and Cheese

• 2-pound box elbow macaroni

• ½ stick salted butter

• 3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

• ½ tsp. salt

• ½ tsp. black pepper

• 1 cup whole milk

• 10 slices cut-up American cheese

• 12 ounces chunked Velveeta Cheese

• 2 cups whole milk

Cook macaroni as directed on box. Drain and set aside. For a rue, in a saucepan, melt butter. Add flour, salt, pepper and milk and stir until paste forms. Add cut-up slices of American cheese, Velveeta cheese cut into chunks, and 2 cups milk. Cook slowly until all cheese is melted and sauce is thickened. Combine sauce with the macaroni. Add more milk if too dry.

Sunday Cheesecake

• 2 cups Keebler Graham Cracker crumbs

• ½ cup melted, salted butter

• 2 Tbsp. sugar

Filling

• 32 ounces softened cream cheese

• 1 ½ cups sugar

• 2 Tbsp. cornstarch

• 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract

• 3 eggs

• 1 cup sour cream

• Cherry pie filling (optional)

For the crust, in a bowl, toss together crumbs, butter and sugar. Press mixture evenly over bottom and up 2 inches of the sides of a 9-inch spring form pan. For the filling, in a large mixer bowl, beat softened cream cheese until fluffy. Add sugar, cornstarch, and vanilla and mix well. Add eggs and beat between each addition. Mix well. Stir in sour cream, and mix well. Pour into crust and bake in a preheated 325-degree oven for 1 hour. Remove from oven and allow to cool. May add cherry pie filling on top, if desired. Refrigerate overnight.

Mama’s Yeast Rolls

• 1 package yeast

• 2 cups warm water

• 1 tsp. sugar

• 3 cups bread flour

• ½ cup sugar

• 1 tsp. salt

• 2/3 cup vegetable oil

• 3 cups bread flour

In a bowl, dissolve yeast in 1 cup warm water. Add 1 tsp. sugar and allow to stand 5 minutes. In a large bowl, place 3 cups flour. Add sugar, salt and yeast water. Add oil and flour. Knead mixture until smooth. Put into a greased bowl and allow to rise for 1 ½ hours. Punch down and make into rolls. Allow to rise. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven until golden brown. (Lillie Dunn West)

Betty’s Meatloaf

• 2 pounds hamburger meat

• ½ cup chopped onion

• ½ cup quick oatmeal

• ½ cup tomato sauce

• ¼ cup canned evaporated milk

• 1 tsp. salt

Topping

• ½ cup tomato sauce

• ¼ cup vinegar

• 3 Tbsp. brown sugar

• ½ cup chopped onion

In a mixer bowl, combine beef, onion, oatmeal, tomato sauce, milk and salt. Blend well. Place in a long loaf baking dish. Bake in a preheated 300-degree oven for 20-30 minutes. For the topping, in a microwavable bowl, combine the tomato sauce, vinegar, brown sugar and chopped onion. Microwave for 2-3 minutes. Evenly pour over meatloaf and return to oven for 15 minutes.

Mama’s Pound Cake

• 2 sticks softened, salted butter

• ½ cup Crisco shortening

• 3 cups sugar

• 6 eggs

• 3 ½ cups sifted all-purpose flour

• ½ tsp. baking powder

• ½ tsp. salt

• 1 cup canned evaporated milk

• 1 tsp. vanilla extract

• 1 tsp. lemon extract

Have all ingredients at room temperature. In a mixer bowl, cream butter, shortening and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, thoroughly beating between each addition. Add sifted flour, baking powder, and salt while alternating with milk and ending with flour. Mix well. Fold in vanilla and lemon extracts. Mix well. Bake in a large greased and flour tube pan in a preheated 325-degree oven for 1 ½ hours or until cake tests done. (Lillie Dunn West)

Betty’s Lasagna

• 1 pound lean ground beef

• 1 cup chopped onion

• 2 jars Prego pasta sauce

• 15 ounces ricotta cheese, divided

• 15 ounces shredded Mozzarella cheese, divided

• 12 pieces lasagna noodles (oven-ready)

In a skillet, cook ground beef and drain. Add chopped onion and cook 2 minutes. In a 13 x 9 baking dish, spread 1 cup of meat sauce on the bottom of dish. Layer the uncooked lasagna noodles on top of sauce. Evenly spread half the ricotta cheese over top. Evenly spread half the mozzarella cheese over top. Repeat layering of meat sauce, noodles, ricotta, mozzarella and end with remaining sauce. Evenly sprinkle top with mozzarella. Cover with foil that has been sprayed with nonstick spray. Bake in a preheated 300-degree oven for 30-40 minutes. Serve with tossed salad and garlic bread.