Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Life Lesson In Mom's Caramel Rolls

Yup. The caramel roll magic happens here. 
Since it's Saturday, I figure that we have all lived in anatomy and physiology land long enough this week. It's time to post something totally non-autoimmune related.
     I was talking with my mom yesterday, and as I hung up the phone, I was shaking my head in amazement. As usual. I really want to grow up to be just like her someday..... so today I'll try to explain why.
     Indulge me in a bit of reminiscing here. I know that everyone has great family stories to share and I'd love to hear them. I'll post them, too. Oh, hey! That would be fun. Send them to me!
     But back to Mom.....
     Mom is a petite 76 year old lady. It's hard to get a good look at her because she's one little blur of activity - always on the go, and always has a project. In spite of surviving breast cancer and a double mastectomy, a four-graft heart bypass surgery, and Parkinson's disease, this woman hits the ground running every morning. Literally.
     Mom and Dad have a large dairy and beef farm. Dad, who is 85 and still manages the farm, is the perfect match for Mom, but that's a story for another day.
     Mom isn't allowed to do what Dad describes as "man's work". She doesn't milk cows, or shovel manure, or work the fields. This rule was conceptualized in the first week of their marriage, 50 plus years ago. Dad was out in the hayfield baling hay, they were invited to go to their first party as a married couple, and Dad was running late. So eighteen year-old newlywed Mom in an effort to help Dad and to ensure that they arrived at the party on time, went out to the pasture, brought in the dairy cattle, put them into the barn, fed them, and milked them. She had also butchered, cleaned, and roasted one of the farm's chickens for a quick little supper which was waiting in the oven. Mom was just washing up the milking equipment when my Dad showed up in the milk house looking stunned.
     These two overachievers had to come to a compromise: Dad's domain was the farm, animals, and crops. He wasn't about to let his pretty new wife spend her time in the barn, even though she was fully capable of handling any of the chores. Except for raising six kids, which was without doubt a joint venture, Mom's domain would have to encompass everything else, and all these years later it seems to be working out pretty well.
     Mom keeps all the financial records and budgets for the farm business, which is a huge undertaking given the fact that Dad has three checkbooks and leaves them in various places and doesn't believe in debit cards or online banking accounts. She also likes to keep the buildings on the farm tidy: two large barns, two granaries, two calf barns, three large machine sheds, two houses and several other small outbuildings; so does a great amount of painting. With a big brush. On a ladder. And she's 76. She prefers white paint rather than the stereotypical barn red. With green trim.
     Dad bought her a heavy duty riding lawn mower and Mom's a demon when she gets behind the wheel. Anything even remotely grassy is fair game to be mowed by Mom, and any little patch of soil has the potential to be a flower bed. She loves petunias. She also loves her garden rototiller which she calls Tilly. Tilly has her work cut out for her since Mom has a garden the length of her house and cans at least 50 quarts of tomatoes, 50 pints of home made spaghetti sauce, and 100 quarts of the best dill pickles in Dunn County every year. She thinks that store-bought onions are pathetic, so grows her own alongside green beans, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, dill, squash, and broccoli.
     I solemnly swear - I am not exaggerating or fabricating these stories.  I can provide documentation and references, if necessary.
     But wait - It gets even better.
     Mom considers her domain to include her neighborhood and her church parish. Her own mother died relatively young in life, so Mom has befriended several widowed elderly women over the years. Each became a grandmother to us, and Mom cared for each until they died as though they were her own mother, even to the extent that she would stay at their bedside and provide excellent care so that they could die in their own home. Mom would have made a superb nurse. Actually, in retrospect, she is a superb nurse.
     In her spare time, har har *slapping knees here, I crack myself up*, Mom belongs to a bowling league in the wintertime and a golf league in the summer. She follows major league baseball on TV with great interest, since in her younger days, was a pitcher for a local women's softball team - think A League of Their Own era - and is proud of the fact that she once pitched a no-hitter. And although she will watch the Green Bay Packer football games occasionally, Mother thinks that Brett Favre really wasn't nice when he went to go play for those nasty Minnesota Vikings. Sniff. Such poor manners. Honestly.
     My favorite Mom and her church domain story involves a covert activity that happens every Saturday. Mom and Dad have befriended one of their elderly priests. Father H. is nearing 90, and although he has a housekeeper, he refuses to let this nice lady clean out his refrigerator. He has lived an extremely frugal life, and is reluctant to let anything even remotely edible leave his house. So while Father says the Saturday evening Mass each week, Mom sneaks into the parsonage and cleans out the refrigerator. She's convinced that if she didn't he would die from food poisoning eventually. And each week, she leaves a freshly-baked pie as her calling card.
     *eyes glazing over....* Mom's pies..........I need a minute to compose myself here. Breathe deeply, Julia. Mop up the drool. Step away from the recipe box, girl.
     Sigh. OK. I'm back.
     So my discussion with Mom yesterday, which inspired this post, revolved around her awesome mouthwatering melt in your mouth caramel rolls. One of my kids wanted Grandma's recipe, so I grabbed a pad of paper and a pen and called Mom.
     There's a couple of things about this recipe which capture the essence of my mother. First, Mom has a name for each of the recipes which crowd all five of her recipe boxes. This one is entitled Gladys L.'s Caramel Rolls. Now, I'm sure at some point in time, Gladys did indeed share a caramel roll recipe with Mom, after which Mom immediately changed just about everything. But since Gladys gave her the original, this remains Gladys' recipe. We should always give credit where credit is due, after all.
     Secondly, this recipe makes four, yes FOUR, 9"X13" pans of caramel rolls. Four dozen rolls. I asked her if the recipe could be halved, or quartered. Mom thought for a little while.
     "Well, I honestly don't know. I suppose you could......but I've never made less than a whole batch."
     She's never made a batch of caramel rolls that resulted in less than four dozen rolls. Yup, that says it all. That's my mom.
     Here's her logic: My mother never arrives anywhere without bringing a gift of great food, so she has lots baked and ready to go. The caramel rolls are only one of a zillion other delectable treats that are Mom's specialty. Also, Mom and Dad have a never-ending parade of visitors coming into their home, since everyone in the tri-state area knows that a plate of scrumptious pastries and a freshly brewed pot of coffee will materialize as soon as anyone drops by.
     So Mom divides up the rolls, packages them and throws them into her cavernous chest freezer. She can have a package in the microwave all warm and caramel-ly and on a plate before Aunt Betty and Uncle Eugene roll up the driveway and put their Buick in Park.
     At the peril of making this probably my longest post ever, I'm including Mom's, er, Gladys L.'s recipe:
Gladys’s Caramel Rolls
Makes four 9” x 13” pans, (four dozen) caramel rolls
3 pkgs dry yeast. Don't use rapid rise yeast.
2 TBS sugar
1 C warm water.
Combine in a very heavy duty mixer bowl. (If you don’t have a heavy duty mixer, get ready to work out those mixing muscles.) Let mixture stand until frothy bubbles appear.
     To yeast mixture add:
2 C warm whole milk
1 C warm water
6 C flour
Beat with mixer or wooden spoon until smooth.
     Then add:
2/3 C warm vegetable oil
2 beaten large eggs
6 TBS sugar
4 tsp salt
Beat until well blended.
     Then add:
3 C flour
Beat with mixer. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead in by hand:
2 C flour
Knead until dough is elastic, about five minutes.
     Place dough into an oiled bowl, cover, put in a warm - not hot - place. Mom runs a small amount of warm water into her sink and puts the covered bowl into that, making sure that no water gets into dough. Let dough rise until doubled. Punch down.
     Just before dough is finished rising, begin making caramel:
FOR EACH PAN OF ROLLS: (so if making a whole dough recipe you will need to multiply this by four - if you put it all in one pan this translates to about 2 cups of caramel per pan)
     I don’t know why Mom and Gladys wrote the caramel recipe this way. But multiply everything by four. Just do it. I never argue with my mother.
     In a large heavy saucepan, combine:
1 C brown sugar
1/4 C heavy cream
4 TBS butter
1 1/2 TBS white syrup (I know. I’m not sure one half tablespoon is a real measurement, but Mom eyeballs this one.)
1/4 tsp cream of tartar.
Stirring constantly over medium heat, bring just to a boil, and remove from heat. Cool slightly.
     After dough is risen and punched down, turn out onto surface and divide into four pieces. Roll each piece into approximately 9” x 13” rectangle and spread butter over surface. Sprinkle generously with white sugar and cinnamon. Roll each rectangle like a jelly roll, pinch to seal, and cut into twelve equal sized pieces.
     In each of the four 9" x 13" pans, pour 2C of warm – not hot - caramel sauce. Place twelve rolls evenly in each pan: four rows of three rolls each. Let rise until doubled. Will rise quickly due to warm caramel.
     Bake at 375 degrees for 20 - 25 minutes until rolls are golden brown. Flip pan over onto a foil covered tray immediately after removing from oven and scrape remaining caramel from pan onto rolls.

Devour. Don't burn yourself. And save some for the neighbors.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It seems you have a wonderfull mother, mmmh, I wish I can come to her house and say "hello" and try maybe one of the pie.... She should make a cooking book !!
I will send th ereceipe to my sister in law, she's loves caramel.

Have a nice sunday !!