By Mary Niedenfuer
September 12, 2006
From a plaque in my mother’s kitchen: “I’m not a fast cook, I’m not a slow cook. I’m a
Natural cooks have always impressed me. They are the ones who instinctively
know what ingredients go well together, how a dish should taste, and how best to cook it.
They can casually fling a great meal together using six ingredients from the depths of the
I know that natural cooks would claim it merely comes from practice, but I think
such talent also involves a love of cooking and an adventurous spirit.
My own beginnings in cooking were abysmal. For one thing, as a young tomboy,
I preferred to be outside weeding the garden, cutting or raking the lawn, bathing the cat--
anything but indoor chores, including kitchen duties. My first attempt at cooking, using
my father’s instructions, produced a gravy that clung to the spoon. Held upside-down.
My father ate it nonetheless. After all, he was the guy who notoriously put a frozen
pudding pie in the oven.
Over the years I began to take more interest in building my cooking repertoire. I
was good at French toast, except for the one morning at my boyfriend’s (now husband’s)
apartment when his father showed up unexpectedly. Upon hearing his voice at the door, I
panicked and darted into the bathroom, forgetting about the French toast in the skillet.
After what seemed an eternity, I heard him say, rather obviously, “I see you like your
French toast well-done, too.” He made a hasty exit and I emerged to find four pieces of
carbon on a plate.
Then there was the time I made dill onion bread only to have the bowl flip the
rising dough into a sink of soapy water. A quick rinse and it actually got raves.
One of my prouder early cooking experiences was making pumpkin bread from
scratch—and to me, back in the 70s, scratch meant practically milling your own flour. I
bought a pumpkin, and lacking any sophisticated kitchen utensils as well as common
cooking sense, peeled and cut fresh pumpkin into the smallest chunks I could manage. It
was tedious and difficult work, but this was, after all, scratch. The fresh chunks went into
the batter and the batter into the oven. What came out was surprisingly dark, heavy, and
incredibly moist, the best pumpkin bread I’d ever had or have made since. After proudly
sharing it with Steve’s family at dinner that night, I mentioned how it was made and
heard comments from his sisters about my unusual method—that the pumpkin is usually
cooked before adding it to the batter. Another thing my mother never told me.
Through the years, I’ve done okay in the kitchen, sometimes producing near-
masterpieces, and occasionally needing to quietly give the dish a decent burial. Autumn
inspires my best cooking and W.C. Fields my favorite cooking philosophy. Says he: “I
cook with wine. Sometimes I even add it to the food.”
Watch a natural cook in action and sample his work TODAY (Friday, Sept. 15) at
the St. Joseph Farmers’ Market Harvest Festival. Roger Sorensen will be using recipes
and ingredients submitted by market growers to fling masterpieces together. Don’t miss it
or any of the other attractions: live music by Cannery Row and Emmett Doyle, pottery
demo by Lisa Carlson, children’s activities and petting zoos, and much more, including a
bounteous market reflecting the autumn harvest. There will also be more free iris
Then try my pumpkin bread recipe—and I dare you to use fresh pumpkin chunks.
Mary Elizabeth’s Pumpkin Bread
1½ cups brown sugar
½ cup oil
1 cup pumpkin (if using fresh and uncooked, I suggest shredding it or chopping in food processor)
1¾ cup flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cloves
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon allspice
1/3 cup water
Preheat oven to 350°. Add sugar to oil, eggs and pumpkin. Add to flour and spices; then
add water. Pour batter into greased bread loaf pan lined on the bottom with waxed paper.
Bake for one hour. Bread is done when toothpick pulls out cleanly.
Correction to Monk’s Pesto recipe from last week:
Include lemon juice with the first four ingredients when you blend or process them. This will ensure that
bright basil-green color.
Mary Niedenfuer is an employee at the College of St. Benedict and a former St. Joseph City
Council member. She is currently a member of the St. Joseph Farmers Market Board of
Directors. She can be reached by emailing email@example.com.