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Hidden Kitchens

The Thanksgiving Family Table

I am on day three of preparing Thanksgiving dinner and bored with the shuffle of ipod music so I turned to the computer for kitchen entertainment while cooking.  Then I remembered your Hidden Kitchens series on NPR and thought it would be a perfect accompaniment to my kitchen tasks.  While making the stuffing and apple pie I was listening to stories of civil rights cooks, candy made in prison and burgoo.  The one that hit home the most was the story of the forager Mr. Garro.  My grandfather, born in Spain, was very much like Mr. Garro and listening to this story made me nastalgic for grandpa and his foraging for mushrooms and berries and hunting pheasant and deer.  Then remembering my grandmother who's cooking was always wonderful and inspiring.  What a nice way to lead into the Thanksgiving family table.  Thank you for such a lovely series.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Dawn Polvorosat
November 22, 2006


Dear Kitchen sisters,
I thoroughly enjoyed your BioWillie story. I'm highlighting it on the Society of Professional Journalists' News Gems blog, which features the best in American journalism. You can check out at
Keep up the great work,
Jon Marshall     

Alaska's Hidden Kitchen

Hello Kitchen Sisters,

I just wanted to pass along what I, and others, think is a fascinating hidden kitchen. In Alaska everyone knows what subsistence is and most people who live here practice it to one extent or another. People still hunt and fish to fill their freezers every year here, we subsist on the land and waters, and the environment is intact enough and the population small enough that it is a viable way to feed our families. This is especially important in the Alaska Native communities in which susbsistence is both about food and cultural integrity.

Currently, I live in Sitka, a beautiful temperate rainforest town of about 8,900 people situated
on Baranof Island, hundreds of miles from a connected road in southeast Alaska. The community is comprised of an eclectic mix of people of Tlingit (Alaska Native), Euro-American, and Phillipine heritage. People here depend on the ocean, and its fish especially, for both commercial and personal subsistence. All five species of Pacific salmon, halibut, black and ling cod, shrimp, dungeness crab, and herring are the backbone of life and food. Everyone has their own version of brine for smoking their fish and most people eat the relatively unusual delicacy of herring roe, spawned from herring here every March during an exciting few weeks when the ocean waters
of Sitka turn turquoise from the eggs being laid on the shoreline. Fish are life here.

So, I know that Alaska is often the forgotten place on the map of culture in the U.S., but communities here are close knit and very colorful. I think this place would make an excellent hidden kitchen. And if it helps, our local NPR station, AKA Raven Radion, is our great link to the world and is a unique mix of all the music and cultural tastes of the community. Raven Radio is extremely well supported by the whole town, so you'd find a great partner in them if you came here to do a story.

Thanks for listening.
- Lisa

Grandmothers Kitchen

Dear Kitchen Sisters,

You've probably heard of this "Hidden Kitchen." You won't find it on a map, you can't get directions, no one can tell you how to get there, but it is THE most incredible Hidden Kitchen ever! It is my grandmothers kitchen which now only exists in my mind. It is a place of great warmth, love, generosity and understanding. Many a fine meal was served there but mostly
love was the sustenance of the day. Amazingly,after all these years it's still there........serving up fresh, warm memories on demand. I caught your interview on KERA (Dallas). Your work is wonderful. Thanks for helping me remember.

- Robert Coburn - Plano, Texas

Rutabager Lunch

Our family friend Keith Patterson has been cooking up "Rutabagers" every week for decades.  Keith calls his dish "The Elixir of Life" and claims it is responsible for his great health and vitality at the age of 85.
Keith lives in Nederland, Texas.  He grew up in the East Texas piney woods and moved to Southeast Texas to work in the Mobile Oil refinery. Nederland is the only Dutch-founded city in Texas but, it's richly flavored from all the Cajuns in the area as it lies about a half-hour drive from the Louisiana border and the Gulf coast. 
My dad and Keith have been friends for over thirty years. They became friends through their love of antiques (especially clocks), plants, pet birds, and good food.  They get together most every week for a rutabaga lunch and Keith often invites the church staff, he calls "The Revs", over to partake. One day the church preacher decided to try and cook the rutabaga dish at his home and his wife threatened him with divorce if he ever did it again. (Rutabagas are pungent.)
Like my dad says, Keith is one of the most alive men I know. He is full of incredible stories, hilarious coloquialisms, and a real love for life.  It must be the rutabagas.

- Ben Jones
Dallas, Texas

The Iron Range Food of Minnesota

My 98-year-old aunt recently moved to a dementia care facility but she was renown for her
apple strudel.  She used to make several for her family of brother's and sisters, 13 in all, and then went on to be a concessionaire at the Memorial Building in Hibbing, Minnesota. (During
the early years there, she developed and sold the first ice cream bar covered in chocolate and rolled in nuts.)  When I visited her 6 years ago, I photographed the process she used and wrote down her recipe. The Iron Range of Minnesota, where she is from, is a mix of cultures and has food specific only to that region.

Aunt Mary Collyard used a strudel recipe brought by her mom from Slovenia.  It begins with non-yeast dough that is rolled and shaped until it is "so thin you could read the newspaper through it." (You really could!)  It would drape over the table on all sides like a tablecloth.  Then she rubbed it with butter, covered it with toasted breadcrumbs, sugar, spices, and finally layered it with raisins and slices of apple.  It was then rolled and coiled and put in a very large pan and baked. Served warm or cold it was a delicious treat.

Another food item indigenous to the Range is porketta.  It is a boneless roast of pork cut so it could be rolled around a mixture of fennel leaves and chopped fennel, then coated with spices.  This is also served hot or cold and can be found at any Iron Range event. Thank you for the opportunity to share these foods that are disappearing from our culture.  My daughter is immersed in the culture and sociology of food.  She has often expressed a concern that someone needed to record the foods of America.  Thanks to the Kitchen Sister, someone has!

- Patricia Foote

Dutch Ovens

Dear Sisters: 
I hope you haven't left Texas before checking out The Lone Star Dutch Oven Society at We exist for the purpose of keeping Dutch oven cooking skills alive. We have many local chapters around the state that serve the purpose of teaching these skills. There is also fun, food, and fellowship at these (usually monthly) Dutch oven gatherings (DOGS). Once a year we have a "Big Dog" in central Texas where all the chapters get together.  Anything you can cook on top of and in a stove, you can cook in a Dutch oven. We share recipes and skills.  Nobody leaves hungry. One of the most valuable pieces of equiptment that pioneers took west with them was the Dutch oven. Colt wasn't the only "iron" to win the West!

- Cheryl McRoy

Mennonites Ovens

"Dutch Oven" is a restaurant run by Mennonites. All food is made from scratch. The menu is the Americana you remember from childhood. The staff wear small caps and full sleeves, according to their creed. Local people stand in line to wait for a table. It is located on North Carolina Hwy 118, between Grifton and Vanceboro. The immediate surroundings are farms and pasture, for miles around. The restaurant used to be known as Bakers Square, but Bakers Square relocated to New Bern. They share a building with a hardware store. The hardware store sells furniture crafted by Amish. Neighbors told us about the restaurant. This sounds like the kind of kitchen you have in mind for your show.

- Lloyd Arno

Hidden in the Home

Message: I would like to visit kitchens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, and other Texas cities mentioned on your July 20, 2006 show. It was so much fun to hear your discussing these "kitchens." I'm from Louisiana and lived in New Orleans during college. There were always private homes in residential neighborhoods where one could drop in for a meal. We loved it.

I have fond memories of going to the village next door with my mother to have lunch with my father in one of the widows' homes who provided meals. We dined in the garden on picnic
tables, under the shade of tall pine trees and took naps on the grass. Makes me feel all cozy inside!

-Dorothy Davis

Mississippi Memories

I'm a transplanted Northwesterner but was born and raised in the Mississippi Delta. My father was a small town doctor; he began his practice in the 1940's (I was born in Cleveland, MS in 1953, one of seven children). Many of my father's patients were poor and paid him for his services in home grown vegetables. I remember well waking up on a sweltering, humid, Mississippi summer morning, to find paper bags full of ripe corn, beans, tomatoes, turnip greens, cucumbers, green peppers, peas, and everything else imaginable. We ate our dinner at noon every day - hot plates of vegetables, cold bowls of salad, and piles of steaming rice. Supper was our evening meal. As my daddy used to say, "The Delta grows cotton and vegetables out of this world."

To this day, I'm a vegetable lover. I'm always amazed at how kids today don't eat vegetables. I passed on the habit to my own Northwestern-raised children and they know well how to steam turnip greens and flavor them with hot peppers and vinegar. And they know how to cook "two fingers rice" - this means you put your rice in a pot and cover it with 2 fingers-width of water, then boil it till the water is down to the level of the rice; turn off the burner, put on the lid, and let it sit for 15 minutes.

As children, we learned a more valuable lesson than just how to eat vegetables. My father taught us respect for the hard working farmers and we knew that they left the vegetables on our doorstep before daybreak, out of pride. We never saw their faces, but Daddy knew who they were.

- Margaret Fitzgerald Evans

Rainbow Kitchens

Message: Upon my very recent visit to a "Rainbow Gathering" in N.West Colorado I ate in many "hidden kitchens" and was reminded of your NPR broadcasts. THe "Rainbow Family" is a counterculture group of people who meet nationally once a year (as well as regionally and internationally throughout the year) to share in prayer for peace in national forests. THis year the gathering drew about 20,000 people all of whom were fed by these kitchens.

Food is donated and prepared in huge pots without modern stoves, ovens or running water. Kitchens build fires, earthen stoves and run water from the creek or dig and then boil and purify it. All kitchens are non profit and volunteer run and pretty darn amazing! Rainbow family recently helped feed many hurricane victims as well with similar set ups in parking lots. There is no formal "leader" or representation of the rainbow family but perhaps you could do some research and check out their website. Thought you might be interested.

- K.Lemos /Austin, TX

Muliigan Stew

I listened to our St. Louis NPR station this morning on my way into work and learned of your new series about hidden kitchens. . So you must hear about the mulligans I was used to at our family gatherings when I was growing up on a farm in Illinois near the town of Mascoutah, Illinois. My father and his brothers & nephews & son in-law (all the MEN of the family would meet at one of the family's farms to start cutting up fresh vegetables for a mulligan stew. In brief  "mulligan" - this was cooked in a big 50 gal or bigger cast iron pot (reminded me of what witches would cook their brew!)...While my mom & dad still lived on our farm, every fall dad would say:" it's time for a mulligan!" and he would set a date. My 3 brothers and the sons-in-law and perhaps a few of my uncles would also help!!!

The women were not included in preparing the mulligan. It was strictly a male-bonding time for the men folk...they would meet at dawn to start the wood fire under the kettle of water. First they would cook chicken, beef & sometimes even turtle meat if they could gig again from the Kalkaska River or one of the farm ponds in the family. When the meat was done it was taken out of the hot water & cut off the bones and chopped into small pieces or sometimes put thru a meat grinder and put back into the pot.the raw vegetables were added too.fresh heads of cabbages sliced into small slivers, raw potatoes into small cubes, fresh carrots & celery, cans of canned tomatoes, peas fresh or canned, raw onions, greenbeans, fresh or canned, lima beans, fresh or canned, and mostly any vegetable you can think of that would make the mulligan taste good.

Dad controlled special spice bags made of cheesecloth tied with a long string with a concoction of the secret recipe. It was always flavorful & good and by the time it was ready to eat. The meat & vegetables were cooked so well, you might see a hint of orange that resembled a chunk of carrot or a white small chunk of potato. It was a think this soup of well cooked vegetables & meat (very little fat) that was cooked for hours & hours is so delicious (we even fed it to the toddlers in the family because the meat was so finely ground or chopped!! as a little girl I remembered watching the men stir the kettle of mulligan with a big wooden paddle that resembled an oar for a rowboat!! if I was lucky they allowed me to stir a few times!! it was eaten with saltine crackers or the small salted oyster crackers.

My father is 85 yrs old and still makes 5-10 gallons for our family when we visit him on the holidays or his birthday but he now cooks it on top of the stove in his kitchen in restaurant size soup pots. Most of us kids like to put a little spot of his home-made ketchup in our bowl of mulligan...I like to eat crackers & cheese with my bowl and fresh radishes from the garden on the side. In the old days, the men drank their beer while they stirred the pot and believe me the stories were told around that pot. The women all brought a baked pie or cake or dessert! That was our meal...mulligan crackers, a glass of beer on the side and home-made pie or cake for dessert with our town the Mascoutah volunteer fire dept still cooks mulligan every fall as a fundraiser.

Believe me we do not miss the chance to g o down to buy a bowl of mulligan & a cup of beer. Most of the townsfolk wouldn't miss the event (the firemen still cook the mulligan, but use gas powered fires instead of wood fires nowadays; the women still bring their freshly baked cakes & pies. Just like our Friederich family used to do...the fire dept even sells the mulligan by the gallon if you bring your own gallon container. My husband & I wouldn't miss this fall community event! Hope you can visit this fall when the firemen have their annual event.

- Joanne Jun

Masonic Bikers BBQ

My parents belong to a Masonic lodge that schedules its BBQ during Daytona's Bike Week. The lodge is in a very small town and the lodge is near the intersection of two state roads. The intent of the club members is to entice the bikers, who come to Daytona from all over the country,
into buying the BBQ chicken as they pass by the lodge while touring the countryside with their friends. The wives bring desserts and sides (My mother makes an incredible lemon marangue pie). I thought that you might be interested in this type of very Americam tradition.

- Rob Overly

King's Candy

Dear Sisters:
I was and am ecstatic about your series—an exquisite respite from the daily war in Iraq, the pain and struggling of evacuees making their way back home: New Orleans, Pakistan, Africa.  I just wanted to say that I love the series and ask if Mr. Wilkerson is no longer making candy.  If and when he does again would you be so kind as to let those on your mailing list know about it?  I think it would be a perfect gift for those of us still fortunate enough to be able to give something to our friends and family at holiday time.  Thanks again for your work as artists and activists—reminding me that I need never feel hopeless and that a single person can forever make a difference.

Best regards,
Sharon Carpentier

Another Hidden Kitchen Story

Hello Kitchen Sisters,
It was fun to hear the radio spot about your hidden kitchen stories. I wish I could have contributed my own experience when I worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad as a welder in the repair shops in Holidaysburg PA. I was a young woman about 27, the rest of the 2000 workers were men. Part of the repair work on the railroad cars required driving hot rivets with an compressed air gun. It was a good skill that I learned from one of the old timers. The rivets were about 4 inches long  and an inch thick. They were heated to white hot in rivet furnaces, which were hand made miniature blast furnaces with an inside space about a foot or two cubed. Turned on, they were like a little view of hell, loud and screamingly fiery. Turned off, they eventually cooled off and served as - ovens. The men would bring in game wrapped in foil with lots of butter. Depending on the season they brought squirrel, rabbit, woodcock, quail, pheasant, or venison. It was an art to know how long to heat the furnace so that when it was turned off, the meat would cook slowly over 3 or 4 hours. What came out was fall off the bone tender, rich with butter, variously flavoured meat that I always looked forward to tasting when offered by the generous hunters. It brightened up the long days spent in that noisy grimy factory.

Betsy Wertz, Bedminster, PA

Gathering  Story

We’ll be on the road searching for new hidden kitchen  stories for our NPR Morning Edition series and we  want to hear yours. We hope you’ll come visit us and  if we’re not coming to your town SEND  US an email with  your hidden kitchen story.

Tell us, who is cooking on your  street  corner, in your neighborhood?  Who are the local  kitchen pioneers and visionaries?  Who glues your community  together  food?   What unusual or significant kitchens  should  we know about?  What kitchen traditions and are  disappearing  from your family, your neighborhood, the planet  and  need to be chronicled before it disappear or change beyond  recognition?

Notes from along the road - October 2005

Things are a little different around here  at the moment Kitchen Central.  Along with working on a new cycle of Hidden Kitchen stories for NPR's Morning Edition,  we are about to embark on our first nationwide book tour  for our first ever book, "Hidden Kitchens: Stories, Recipes and More from NPR The Kitchen Sisters.”

Memphis, Tennessee:
We chose  to start our book tour  in Memphis, Tennessee, because it is sonic ground zero  for
The Kitchen Sisters and the source of  much of the  inspiration of our earlier national collaboration, Lost & Found  Sound. Three of our most cherished pieces  are about  some of the sonic pioneers that come from there,  Sam  Phillips and the Memphis Recording Service: We Record  Everything, Anywhere, Anytime, R.A.Coleman’s Electronic  Memories,  and WHER – 1000 Beautiful Watts.

After we  had  made our travel arrangements it turns out that we had picked  the 50th anniversary of launch of WHER. So, our book  event  at Davis Kidd Book Store will also be a celebration  of  the women of the first all-girl radio station in the nation  in  October, 1955.

Read More > “What’s  New” from The Kitchen Sisters (pdf)

Memphis, Tennessee:

We chose  to start our book tour in Memphis, Tennessee, because it is sonic ground zero for The Kitchen Sisters and the source of  much of the inspiration of our earlier national collaboration, Lost & Found Sound. Three of our most cherished pieces  are about some of the sonic pioneers that come from there,  Sam Phillips and the Memphis Recording Service: We Record  Everything, Anywhere, Anytime, R.A.Coleman’s Electronic  Memories, and WHER – 1000 Beautiful Watts. After we  had made our travel arrangements it turns out that we had picked the 50th anniversary of launch of WHER. So, our book  event at Davis Kidd Book Store will also be a celebration  of the women of the first all-girl radio station in the nation  in October, 1955.

The Original WHER disc jockettes

Reunion of the WHER gals in NYC at the Museum of Television & Radio, 2000


Marge Thrasher and Wanda Martin, WHER discjockettes at the Memphis Book Reading 2006

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