"Homemade" is being redefined by each generation. Where one group sees it more as agriculture, another views it as the assemblage of store-bought goods. Technology has affected "homemade" — specifically, preservation practices.
As those practices have changed, so has food, and how we use it.
For Mona Rogers, people not only cooked "from scratch," they grew from scratch.
Rogers, now 91 and living in Mesa, was born in rural Safford and recalls early food-related chores far removed from today’s convenience-driven lifestyle. One chore was setting up the milk separator when her father returned from milking the cows. Another was gathering eggs from the henhouse. "Mama would give us three to four eggs, and we’d take them to the store and trade them for candy," she said.
Rogers belongs to a generation before hydrogenation, freezedrying, frozen food and irradiation — and before improvements in canning. She remembers her motherin-law Vera Rogers’ extensive garden that included vegetables, fruit trees and nut trees. The family kept livestock. Specific foods, she said, came first from the land and then from Vera Rogers’ kitchen.
Ice cream was a treat. The cream came from the family’s cows and fruit — strawberries, peaches or apricots from the garden. Macaroni and cheese with green chilies and chicken and noodles were other "made-from-scratch" foods.
"She’d make chicken and noodles for the quilting parties," Mona Rogers said. "She’d always tease the women that if they didn’t quilt a piece the size of a plate, they weren’t eating."
Dutch ovens were popular, as in many pioneer kitchens. Recently, grandniece Mindi Bailey of Mesa called for one of Vera Rogers’ recipes to use at a church gathering. Mona Rogers and daughter Deneen Rogers augmented the pioneer fare with another old family favorite — Dutch Oven Biscuits.
To Lenora McClellan, "homemade" means "not using a mix."
The 69-year-old Mesa resident takes a moment and says, "But I guess if I make a cake out of a box, I consider it homemade."
McClellan spent her youth on a Chandler farm. She shares some of Rogers’ early memories of cows, chickens and the foods they produced — but not, it would seem, aspects relating to homegrown produce. Cordelia Enloe, McClellan’s mother, did not keep a garden. Fresh vegetables were purchased from a stand or bought at the store canned.
"My mother wasn’t a gourmet cook," McClellan said. A roast was easy doings Sunday as it simmered in the oven while the family was at church. During the week, shortly after 5 p.m., the Enloes sat down to a meal that might include fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy.
"My mother didn’t do a lot of spicing," McClellan said.
And neither did McClellan when she married. She also continued other family food traditions as a stay-at-home mom. She used canned vegetables to create a green bean casserole. She kept foods simple: Chili, spaghetti and hamburgers were ready for the family when husband Roy got home.
"We always sat down together to have dinner," McClellan said, "and then the kids went off to their activities." And then there are the cookies. "My mother was a cookie maker, and I’m a cookie maker, too," McClellan said. It’s one area in which McClellan does not take shortcuts.
Kim Dever remembers her mother, Wanda Hunter, announcing that she was going to work. Dever was in high school at the time.
"My father asked: ‘Who is going to make dinner? Who is going to make dessert?’ "
Dever, now 42 and living in Gilbert, grew up in Alexandria, Va., the daughter of a government worker and, for at least part of her youth, a stay-at-home mother.
Wanda Hunter "sold Tupperware. She was a crossing guard," Dever said. And her mom played tennis. But Wanda Hunter always found time to make a hot meal at night.
"She loved cooking," Dever said. Meatloaf, spaghetti and meatballs, and stir-fry chicken were some of her favorite dishes. But Dever also remembers the "treats" that were appearing at the time, things like Eskimo Pies, Ding Dongs and different flavors of Hawaiian Punch.
Today, Dever is a mom employed outside the home, and her days as a teacher and coach can be long. But meals come together — with a little help. "I might stop and pick up some chopped beef and chicken at Joe’s (Barbecue in Gilbert) and then make a salad to go with it." Other options include meat from Honeybaked Ham or sandwiches from Subway. Again, she augments it all with simple, homemade sides.
"I do cook some Mexican food and Italian food," Dever said of weekdays when she has time. And she tries to cook a sit-down meal on weekends, a "round-eye" like her mom made.
Eighteen-year-old Whitney Buckway understands the concept of "homemade." But growing up with two working parents, it wasn’t practical.
"When my dad was home we ordered pizza and ate Taco Bell," Buckway said. When her mom was home, "We’d have spaghetti, but the sauce came out of a can."
Buckway grew up in South Jordan, Utah, and moved to Arizona five years ago. She lives in Gilbert. In the migration, her mother stopped working and kitchen use went up. Two to three times a week the family eats a home-cooked meal — chili, fettuccine alfredo or pot roast. Other nights, it’s everyone in the family for him (or her) self.
Sandwiches, fast food, canned goods — six people living under one roof means six different schedules.
"We usually eat together," Buckway said, "but we may not be eating the same thing."
Buckway learned something of cooking while in junior high and still makes the snickerdoodles learned then.
Other foods she prepares — macaroni and cheese, Rice-A-Roni, brownies, cheesecake — come from a box.
"I love cooking," she said. "But making time for it and cleaning up is a pain."
Holidays have always been an exception in the Buckway house as the family goes "all out." On Christmas morning, Fried Mush is a family tradition that dates back to Buckway’s Danish greatgrandmother. And it is something she can help with.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
6 ounces uncooked spaghetti 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese 2 eggs 2 tablespoons butter 1 cup mozzarella cheese 1 cup ricotta cheese 1 (12-ounce) jar prepared spaghetti sauce 1 pound hamburger 1 onion, chopped
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. 2. Cook spaghetti as package directs; drain and rinse. Combine spaghetti, Parmesan, eggs and butter. Press this mixture into a 9-inch pie pan and up the sides. 3. In a skillet, cook hamburger with onion. Drain. Grate mozzarella. 4. On top of the cooked spaghetti mixture, spread ricotta cheese and spoon meat mixture over that. Spread the spaghetti sauce and sprinkle grated mozzarella on top. Bake for 35 minutes.
Yield: 12 servings
4 cups yellow cornmeal 2 1 /2 teaspoons salt 10 1 /2 cups water
Procedure: 1. Combine ingredients in a large pot and cook over medium-low heat until mixture starts to boil. Turn to low and cook about 15 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit for 1 1 /2 hours. Place into a bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight. When ready to use, slice thin and fry in butter on medium heat until brown on both sides. Serve with syrup.
CHOCOLATE CHIP PINEAPPLE COOKIES
Yield: 64 cookies
1 cup shortening 1 cup brown sugar 1 cup sugar 2 eggs 4 cups flour 2 teaspoons baking powder 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 teaspoon salt 1 (12-ounce) package chocolate chips 1 small can pineapple bits 1 teaspoon vanilla
Procedure: 1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. 2. Cream together shortening, brown sugar, white sugar and eggs. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Combine well. Add chocolate chips, lightly drained pineapple and vanilla. Drop by teaspoonful on greased cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes.