Farber enjoys hosting two — or more — for tea

Jerilyn VanDeWoestyne
Mary Beth Farber, center, enjoys a tea party with her grandchildren Laila, 3, and Max, 5.

Mary Beth Farber of Geneseo enjoys spending time in the kitchen cooking and one of her  favorite ways to entertain family or friends is by hosting a tea party. Her tea parties are something she has become very well known for and something she does as often as she can and for any number of reasons.

“When my oldest daughter got married we had a bridal shower tea party and invited all her friends and their mothers,” she said. “It was great fun and gave us some wonderful memories.”

The menu for her tea parties may vary a  little, but one thing that is certain to show up on the serving table are scones, something else Mary Beth is well known for. “I usually take the scones to work for birthday treats and everyone seems to like them,” she said, adding she makes the scones in pie shapes and then cuts them into wedges.

The scones are also a Christmas morning treat. Scones, according to Mary Beth, are a shortcake-type confection with a crumbly texture and a delicate taste. They are a  luscious combination of flour, fat, baking powder, salt and milk. The difference between scones and biscuits comes from the shortening used — scones are made with butter rather than vegetable shortening — and the addition of eggs and sugar. Mary Beth says dried fruit, chocolate, spices and sugary glazes may be added for variety.

“People can be a little intimidated by scones, thinking they are difficult to make, but actually they are very easy and simple to prepare,” she said. “They’re not at all difficult.”

One of Mary Beth’s favorite parties to host are tea parties for her grandchildren, when the menu can take on a little different theme. “We might have peanut butter and jelly open faced sandwiches with Goldfish crackers,” she laughs. “And we might have orange juice rather than tea in the tea cups.”

Mary Beth’s family includes daughter and son-in-law, Mandy and Mike who reside in Iowa City with their children, Max, 5, and Laila, 3; son Adam of Geneseo; daughter Alicia who lives in Geneseo with her son, Lincoln, six weeks; and daughter, Anna, at home.

“The priorities at tea parties is to socialize. We have so much fun with them, whether the guests are children or adults,” Mary Beth said. “And if  you have a theme, that makes decorating easy.”

Mary Beth credits Geneseoan Margaret Klingler with teaching her so much about hosting tea parties. “She gives such wonderful tea parties and I have learned so much from her,” she said. “And I remember having tea parties with my mother. Tea parties give such wonderful opportunities for good memories.”

Some favorite tea party menus have included gazpacho (a cold soup made with garden fresh vegetables), maybe open faced sandwiches cut in different shapes with cookie cutters, fresh fruit and, of course, scones. The sandwiches may be chicken salad or cucumber and cream cheese, all served open faced.

“I serve the scones with homemade strawberry jam and fresh whipped cream,” she said, adding she usually uses a recipe for cream scones.

Mary Beth enjoys a simple visit with friends and family and says that is what tea parties allow her to do. “What I like most about tea parties is it gives us a chance to get reacquainted with each other,” she said. “We all love tea parties.”

Collecting tea sets goes right along with her love of tea parties and Mary Beth said she likes to serve food on tea sets that include a plate and tea cup. “It’s easy to serve that way,” she said. “Sometimes I will collect tea cups and luncheon sets from my friends when I’m having a tea party. That way everyone can have something a little different.”

Mary Beth said she hadn’t served gazpacho at a tea party until she attended High Tea at State Street Winery and Bistro in Atkinson. “The High Tea was absolutely wonderful there and we were served the cold soup and it was just delicious, so I decided that was something I could do at home also,” she said. “I now serve it  often.”

Growing up on a farm, Mary Beth says she remembers spending time in the kitchen helping her mother prepare meals. “My brothers were out doing chores and my sister is seven years younger than me, so I spent time learning about cooking from my mother. She taught me the basics,” she said.

Since she is one of 62 grandchildren on her mothers side of the family, Mary Beth recalls her grandmother didn’t have a lot of extra time. “But whenever we went there, we always had tea and cookies as a treat and I loved that,” she said. “I have wonderful memories of those times.”

Having been a 4-H member, Mary Beth also recalls taking many cooking projects to the county fair. “I did all the cooking demonstrations in 4-H also,” she said. “And that was good experience.”

Mary Beth’s lovely home is  the perfect backdrop for  any tea party. A charming sun porch in the back of the home looks out on a beautifully landscaped backyard sanctuary filled with perfectly tended annuals and perennials (in both sunny and shady locations), pathways, fountains, a tree swing and even a hammock to relax on. And a tea party would seem to be an event just waiting to happen.

“I love gardening, flower arranging and decorating,” she said. “In the spring you can hardly believe the different shades of green that grow up in the backyard garden.”

A favorite thing for Mary Beth to do is decorate her home and yard, for holidays and seasonally. “I love Christmas and I love to decorate for Christmas,” she said. “My goal is to have a decorated tree in each room of my home — and I usually accomplish that including one in the kitchen with all kitchen ornaments on it.”

During the Christmas holiday season, Mary Beth says she loves to make Belgian cookies using a Lukken iron on a gas stove, something she does with her aunt. “The dough is formed into little balls and then put on the stove in the iron. They are the best, most wonderful cookies and I’ve always done it with family,” she said. “Those cookies are pretty labor intense, but they are worth it.”

Mary Beth adds when her children were growing up, if they needed some kind of “heritage-rich” project, they would always do the Belgian cookies.

Christmas at the Farber home always includes lasagna on Christmas Eve followed by attending midnight Mass at St. Malachy’s Church.

Mary Beth says she loves when her family comes to visit and she likes to have their favorite food ready for them. “Adam loves a strawberry torte made with angel food cake and fresh strawberries,” she said. “In fact he likes it so much that we served that at his high school graduation party.”

Alicia, according to her mother, has a favorite hash brown casserole while Mandy is fond of a Greek tortellini salad.

“I also like to find new and different recipes and try them,” she said. “My favorite cookbooks are the St. Malachy cookbooks and Recipes and Recollections from St. Anthony’s in Atkinson,” she said. “I’ve gotten some really good recipes from those cookbooks.”

Although she says she has never had any formal training, Mary Beth received a gift of cooking classes from her daughter, Mandy, one year and she very much enjoyed that time. “Mandy and I did the class together and it was great fun,” she said. “It was on peaches and I learned a lot.”

According to her mother, Mandy is also an excellent cook. “She uses a lot of herbs and seasonings and is teaching me the best way to use them,” Mary Beth said, adding for her granddaughter’s last birthday, Mandy hosted a tea party which all the little girls loved.

Mary Beth works in the special education classes at Millikin Elementary School and says she loves what she does. “I really miss the kids during the summer vacation,” she said. “I love teaching and working at school. I just love to go to work and that’s a great feeling.”

A favorite meal for Mary Beth would probably be something like lasagna or Italian beef. “And I love to take things like that to someone who has had a baby, or maybe been in the hospital or not feeling very well,” she said. “You just put it in a basket with some bread and maybe some other goodies and you have a nice ‘feel better’ gift.”

If family is visiting, Mary Beth said brunch is something they all enjoy. “I used to do egg casseroles, but my kids got kind of tired of that, so now I do a French toast dish that we all love,” she said. “You make it the night before and refrigerate it.” Mary Beth adds she would probably also serve hash brown casserole, fresh fruit and scones for brunch.

Since she likes to cook seasonal items, summertime is the perfect time for enjoying all the fresh garden produce available. “I have a small garden, but I also like to go to the Farmer’s Market and I can get wonderful produce there,” Mary Beth said, adding it is a very satisfying feeling for her knowing she is using the freshest ingredients. “It makes me feel like an accomplished cook,” she laughs. “I like to grill fresh vegetables that are sliced and seasoned with a little olive oil. They are very good.”

Going mushroom hunting is something Mary Beth says her family likes to do. To prepare the mushrooms Mary Beth said she just dips them in egg and then rolls them in cracker crumbs and fries them in butter. “They are great like that and with a steak and a baked potato that is a great meal,” she said.

Because she says there is just no flavor like it, Mary Beth said she almost always uses butter in her cooking. “It makes a real difference in whatever you’re making,” she said, adding she remembers her mother would always make pie crust with lard. “And I still do that if I want a real flaky crust. My stepfather loves pie and he knows a good pie,” she laughs. “So if I want to impress him, I would probably do a lard crust..”

Presentation is extremely important to Mary Beth and she especially likes to have fresh flowers on the table. “I learned a lot about presentation from Margaret Klingler also,” she said. “I do things like put parsley on the plate to garnish and I really think doing things like that makes the food more appetizing.”

And she definitely takes note of presentation when eating at a restaurant. “One of my favorite restaurants is the Red Oak in Bishop Hill and I’m always impressed with the way they even serve their pie,” she said. “It makes you feel really special to be served something that looks so good.” Mary Beth says she always thinks about color  on a plate and tries to include all the food groups.

And there are definitely no paper plates on the table when Mary Beth is serving. “I like to use real dishes. I was raised where no loaf of bread was just laid on the table, it was put on bread plate or in a basket,” she said. “My family teases me about that all the time.”

If she has any advice to offer cooks, Mary Beth says to remember it doesn’t have to be a 25-step recipe that you use. “It can be very simple. In fact the simpler the better,” she said. “Difficult recipes scare people so keep it simple. Like with the scones, people are intimidated by them, but they don’t need to be.”

Mary Beth says she also uses stones often to bake on. “Or I use parchment paper when lining a cookie sheet and you can use the parchment paper over and over,” she said. “With a stone nothing burns, it gets brown, but it won’t burn.”

Mary Beth has many favored recipes, but her goal is to get them organized. “Most of my treasured recipes are in a grocery bag, but I know where every one of them is,” she laughs. “I like to have the handwritten recipe by the person who gave it to me, but some day I will get them organized.”

According to Mary Beth the most important part of food is the memories it evokes. She likes the challenge of cooking and says her favorite part is pleasing people and giving to others, whether it’s family or friends.

Mary Beth Farber shares some of her favorite recipes.

Cream scones

Mary Beth Farber

2 C. all purpose flour

1 T. baking powder

1/4 t. salt

1/3 C. butter, cut up

1 C. whipping cream

Combine first four ingredients; cut in butter with a pastry blender until crumbly. Add whipping cream, stirring just until moistened.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface; knead five or six times. Roll into 1/2” thickness; cut with a 2” round cutter, and place in lightly greased muffin pans or 2” apart on greased baking sheets.

Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with preserves and whipped cream.

Yield: one dozen.

Note: You can also pat dough into 8” circle; cut into eight wedges and bake according to directions above.

Fresh strawberry pie

Mary Beth Farber

1-1/2 C. flour

1-1/2 T. sugar

1 t. salt

1/2 C. oil

2 T. milk

Pat in pie pan and bake 10 to 12 minutes at 400 degrees.

1 qt. strawberries

1/2 pkg. strawberry Jell-O

1 C. water

1 C. sugar, or less

1/4 t. salt

3 T. corn starch

2 T. light corn syrup

Cook sugar, corn starch, salt, water and syrup.

Let boil until clear. Stir so it doesn’t get lumpy.

Remove from heat and add Jell-O. Cool.

Blend in fruit and pour into cooled crust and refrigerate.

Chocolate chip cookie

Mary Beth Farber

1 C. sugar

1 C. brown sugar

1 C. margarine, soft

1 C. oil

1 egg

1 t. vanilla

1 t. baking soda

1 t. cream of tarter

1 t. salt

3-1/2 C. flour

1 C. Rice Krispies

1 C. oatmeal

1 C. coconut

12 oz. chocolate chips

1/2 C. nuts

Cream sugars, margarine, oil and egg.

Add vanilla, soda, cream of tarter and salt.

Add flour, oatmeal, Rice Krispies, coconut, chocolate chips and nuts.

Drop on greased cookie sheets.

Bake 12 minutes at 350 degrees.

Baked chicken breasts

Mary Beth Farber

4-6 children breasts (remove skin)

Swiss or Monterey Jack cheese

1 can cream of chicken soup

1/2 C. milk

1-2 C. Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix

1 stick butter

Arrange chicken in pan. Layer with slices of cheese.

Blend soup and milk and pour over chicken and cheese.

Sprinkle stuffing mix over top.

Melt butter and pour over top.

Bake at 325 degrees for 1-1/2 hours.