Not flashy, but functional
Among the displays of beautiful china and elegant glassware at the recent Lions Club Tables Envisioned, one table stood out.
The display of Rugby’s Betty Dendinger’s probably would not win any beauty contests. It was not flashy, but functional. No brilliant colors, no beautiful symmetry, no delicate elements, no graceful curves.
Instead, it was long on eloquent simplicity. It spoke of an earlier time, an era of hard work done out of necessity, with a sense of duty, but also love in a pioneer family. A time of simple delights including homemade bread fresh from the oven.
Betty’s cherished collection of baking utensils has been in her family for nearly a century and was more about the food that went on the table than the table setting itself. It included a large heavy bread mixing bowl, nearly two feet in diameter, a tin measuring cup, an old cutting board, a large egg beater and a large blue enamel pan.
When Betty’s grandmother, Elizabeth Boger, died in 1917, Betty’s mother, Lydia, had to quit school to care for her father and her five siblings. At age 13 she became responsible for cleaning, cooking, clothes washing and baking for the family who lived on a farm west of Garrison.
Baking bread was a job that had to be done nearly every day and Lydia became an expert. Using her mother’s large bread pan she often made 20 loaves at a time.
“They had to do this nearly every day,” Betty said with amazement. “It was how they fed their families.”
When Lydia married Ray Eslinger in 1923 she took the bread pan to their new home and continued baking bread regularly. “She still baked many loaves each time,” Betty said. “I had five brothers and one sister, plus she always made sure her friends and neighbors received a loaf. I can remember the big bread pan sitting behind the door in the living room,” she said. “The lid would get higher and higher and then she’d punch it (the dough) down.”
As Betty got older her mother often made fry bread with hot syrup for noon lunch. “My younger brother and I so enjoyed that meal!” she said.
Betty’s memories include not only the wonderful aroma of freshly baked bread, but also the way she and her brother consumed it–spread with butter and wrapperd around a big pickle.
Included in Betty’s display was a white enamel coffee pot which was used daily in the Eslinger home. “I remember when I was about 14 or so I tried to impress a boy by making egg coffee,” Betty said. “I thought ‘I’ve seen my mother do this so I can do it, too’.” But instead of mixing the egg with the dry coffee grounds, Betty dumped it in the pot whole. The boy was unimpressed. “It was coffee,” Betty said with a laugh, “but it wasn’t egg coffee.”
The Boger and Eslinger families were of German descent and Betty still makes many family favorites such as kuchen and knoephla. “Mom always claimed I wasn’t paying attention when she cooked,” Betty said, “but I must have been because I still make all those (German) dishes.” She bakes kuchen at Christmas, and says hers is like pie, with a very thick filling. Knoephla, sauerkraut and spareribs are a big hit with her family also. “But they are a lot of work,” she said.
Betty doesn’t cook or bake in the quantities her mother did. “I remember her knoephla,” she said. “She’d make it and roll it into long ropes. She’d cut it with a scissors. I’ve never seen anyone cut knoephla that fast. We had knoephla all over the house…on the table, the cupboards, on the beds. Wherever she could put a dishtowel.” Kuchen baking was an equally large endeavor because her mother routinely made 20 or 30 at a time. “We had a lot of things with dough back then,” Betty remembers.
Betty plans to give her family heirlooms to her daughter, Kim Klein, when she no longer needs them. Kim admits to not being a bread baker, but says “I might have to learn now that I’m getting these.”
So the utensils will continue to be a valued part of the Dendinger family.
Even though they didn’t have the shimmer of stemware or the brilliant colors of china displayed on other tables at the annual Lions Club event, they have a beauty all their own. It’s a patina borne of loving use by hands providing sustenance for many generations.
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