There is something about the arrival of September that triggers an immediate Autumn mindset for me. It doesn’t matter if the temperatures aren’t cooperating and are still hovering in the 80’s. In my mind, Fall is here.
Living on the Eastern Shore, it’s a bigger stretch to try to envision crisp Fall days than when I was growing up in Duquesne. In Duquesne, by this time of the year, days were becoming noticeably shorter, and nights significantly cooler and crisper. The trees were only beginning to show their autumn colors, but there was definitely a change in the air.
We had a huge sycamore tree in our backyard on Thomas Street. My father made it his mission to nurture a tree that was only a few years old when they first moved into the house in 1951. I have pictures of that sycamore sapling with me sitting on the ground next to it when I was just a wee 19 months old. (You’ll notice my mom crouching behind the lawn chair in case I would keel over!) I spent my entire childhood at the same address and grew up alongside of that tree. It was as if God intended for that tree to be my organic playmate and playground as a child. When I was a kid, that tree was climbed; held swings; was home to a make-shift tree house; was a fantastic source for all things creepy and crawly such as occasional spiders, locusts and caterpillars; and of course, becoming a tree of life in the spring with numerous robin’s nests.
Perhaps the greatest metamorphosis that my childhood tree went through occurred every Fall. As the season changed, the sycamore produced huge amounts of brightly colored leaves that fell to the ground just for my enjoyment and benefit. My tree was the biggest Fall attraction in the neighborhood. No other kid’s tree could rival the amount of fallen leaves that my tree produced. I tried to estimate the size this tree grew to in order to fill a yard so full of leaves. Our house was 21 feet wide. The tree’s branches spread well beyond the ends of our house and practically into Ann Yasko’s and Joan Shedlock’s yards on either side of ours. I think it would be safe to estimate the spread to be in the neighborhood of 40 ft. wide.
I remember my dad creating huge piles of leaves in his attempt to clean up the yard each weekend during Fall. Of course, any pile created quickly became the target of our play. How he kept from losing his temper as we jumped into the piles and decimated any sense of order he had created, I’ll never know. Remember how much fun it was to bury yourself or a friend under a pile of leaves and then jump out!?! There was a certain crisp smell that the leaves had when you were buried deep in a pile. Eventually, we tired of all the jumping and all of the games we would play, and ended up helping Dad pack the leaves into paper grocery bags or into bushels. He’d load them into his car and would either take them to dump (less the bags and bushels) in the cemetery (St. Joseph’s), or over the hill behind his garage on First St. Many of our neighbors would burn the piles of leaves they raked in their yards rather than move them elsewhere. Dad never wanted to scorch the grass, so burning was out for us.
I still remember the smell that filled the air when someone was burning leaves in their yard. As acrid as it smelled, it immediately reminded you of Autumn was in the air. I even remember the sound that the leaves made as they blew across the brick streets of Duquesne. Passing cars and the fall winds would carry the leaves into piles next to the high curbs along Kennedy Ave. As kids would walk to the library or to the store for Mom, it was as if there was an unwritten rule that any kid passing one of those piles, had to jump into the middle of it and kick the leaves back into the street.
Around 5 or 5:30 each evening in the Fall, my mother would call me and my brother in for dinner. Dad would be home soon, and the days were getting shorter and dusk was coming earlier. We’d begrudgingly trudge in through the kitchen door, dirty faces, runny noses and all. Just to the right of our kitchen door, my dad had installed an exhaust fan. We didn’t have a stove hood over our stove, so the exhaust fan would propel any kitchen aroma outside for “public consumption.” For some reason, in the Fall, those cooking scents seemed to intensify. Perhaps it was the warm kitchen air meeting the chillier evenings outside. Nonetheless, by the time I reached the back door, the smell would immediately capture my attention and senses and draw me in.
My mom was not a gourmet cook. She WAS however a darn good hunky chef! Coming from a family of nine brothers and sisters who grew-up for a large part of their life without a mother, she had some awesome cooking skills. My Aunt Rose (Carr), who was the oldest female of my mother’s siblings did a fantastic job in preparing the Puskaric and Stepetic girls to raise a family and keep them fed! The meals weren’t fancy, but they tasted GREAT!
In 1989, the Duquesne Fraternal of Eagles 1087 Ladies Auxiliary published a cookbook titled “What’s Cookin’ in Duquesne.” I can’t remember where in Duquesne I purchased my copy, but it still is one of my favorite cookbooks to use. The recipes were contributed by the Ladies Auxiliary and have stood the test of time for years. Two of my favorite recipes in the book are representative of the meals that my mom or dad would prepare most often in the Fall, Stuffed Cabbage (of course) and Chicken Parikas. Dad called them “belly warmers.” As we approach the cool and crisp days of Autumn, I thought you’d like to give them a try, so I am posting the recipes and their contributors.
It would be GREAT if you have a favorite Fall recipe that you recall from your days in Duquesne, please, post it in the comments section and spread the flavor of Duquesne to everyone! Enjoy…………………….
3 Ibs. ground beef or combination of ground beef, ground pork, ground veal
1 cup rice
1 medium onion, diced
1 bag sauerkraut
Parboil cabbage by putting it in a pot of enough boiling water to cover the cabbage. Allow to boil until outside leaves become translucent *NOTE. Cool. Cut core from cabbage and separate leaves. Save any torn outer leaves for bottom of casserole. (You may have to return cabbage to pot to further cook inner leaves.) Pare off hard end of leaves. When you get to the small, hard inner leaves, chop and set aside.
Slightly parboil rice, about 1-2 minutes. Add rice and onion to ground beef. Add seasonings such as salt, pepper, fresh minced garlic or garlic powder, sweet Hungarian paprika and parsley. Mix well.
To stuff cabbage, lay cabbage leaf in the palm of your hand and place a heaping tablespoon of meat mixture in the center of the leaf. Start rolling from short side of leaf, then push sides into roll.
Mix together tomato sauce, soup, can of water and more spices as listed above. To start casserole, first put in a ladle of sauce and some left over chopped cabbage and outer leaves, then start placing rolls closely together. After first layer is filled with rolls, lay some sauerkraut and chopped cabbage on top and another ladle of sauce. Continue layering until everything is used up, ending with sauerkraut and sauce.
You will get about 30 cabbage rolls, but this will vary based on the size of the cabbage. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 2 – 3 hours. Cooking time will depend on the size of the rolls and casserole.
Contributed by: Susan Straub
*NOTE- Another option that is less “fragrant” would be to place the head(s) of cabbage in the freeze two days ahead of preparing the rolls. On the day before preparing, remove the cabbage heads from the freezer and allow to completely thaw. This process breaks down the fibrous nature of the cabbage, and allows you to simple core and prepare the cabbage leaves as if it were boiled.
1 tbs. butter
1 tbs. sweet paprika
Sprinkle of cayenne pepper
1 small onion
1 pint sour cream
Salt to taste
Take the butter and onion and set on medium flame to brown a little, then add cut up chicken in small portions and heat slowly till done. Take the sour cream, mix in 1 tbs. flour and stir into chicken when done. Do not boil; just stir lightly until thickened slightly.
Contributed by: Pam Whelpley