Finch enjoys baking and collecting Depression glass, cookbooks

Jerilyn VanDeWoestyne
Courtney Finch of rural Geneseo enjoys baking and shows an autumn cheesecake she made.

Since finishing graduate school, Courtney Finch of rural Geneseo has more time on her hands, and she said she is trying to prepare more homecooked meals.

“I graduated in May with a master’s degree in education in interdisciplinary studies from Western Illinois University Quad Cities campus,” she said, adding she did her undergraduate work at the University of Illinois. “Working on my master’s degree was fun. With a master’s program you get to specialize your interest in extended education. I hope to always continue to learn.”

With a little extra time in her evening hours, Courtney said she is trying to cook more at home, something she has always loved to do. “I really like to cook. My mom is a good cook and I have learned so much about cooking from her and both my grandmothers,” she said.

Courtney and her husband, Corey, have been married three years. She is employed at Geneseo Communication in the marketing department and he owns Sasquatch Diesel Performance in Geneseo.

Her parents, Don and Carol Reiling of rural Atkinson, operated Hilltop Gardens, selling fresh produce from their farm for many years and Courtney remembers helping out with that business.

“My dad has downsized some but he still likes to garden and I get lots of produce from him and his garden,” Courtney said. “I planted pumpkins and gourds this year, but that’s about all.”

Remembering helping her mother do lots of canning when she was growing up, Courtney said she likes to can tomatoes and freeze sweet corn and applesauce.

“And I go to my Grandma Reiling’s for fresh rhubarb,” she said. “I’m pretty lucky to have all the fresh fruit and produce available.”

With great cooks on both sides of her family, Courtney said her paternal grandmother, Elvera Reiling, is a wonderful cook. “One of the favorite times in our family is when my dad and my Grandpa Reiling make homemade ice cream. It is always a special treat to have at family gatherings,” she said. “Especially with fresh strawberries from Grandma and Grandpa Reiling’s garden or with Grandma’s homemade chocolate sauce.”

Courtney’s maternal grandmother, the late Ellen Hanson, was also a big influence on her. “My Grandma Hanson always had so many entries in the Henry County Fair. She would cook and bake a long time getting ready for the fair,” Courntey remembers. “I remember sneaking with my cousins in her back bedroom, where she kept the goodies she was going to enter, and sneaking a taste. I’m sure she always knew we had been in there, but she never said anything.”

The Henry County Fair was a big event of the summer for her maternal grandparents, Courtney said, noting her grandmother would enter not only culinary items, but her collections as well, and her grandfather would enter produce. “There’s even a bench in my grandma’s honor at the art hall on the fairgrounds,” she proudly states, adding she remembers canning and freezing garden produce with both her grandmothers.

Courtney graduated from Galva High School where she was very involved with the FFA chapter, even being elected as Section president of the FFA. “I guess I got into FFA growing up on the farm and it presented a lot of leadership opportunities for me,” she said. “There are lots to choose from in FFA and I went to Washington, D.C. one year with a project. FFA was huge for me and allowed me to pursue my interest in ag.”

Courtney likes to find and try new and different recipes, especially when going to family gatherings. “It’s fun to try new things on family,” she said. “And we always trade recipes. There is always lots of good food when my family gets together.”

While she likes to share recipes, Courtney admits she does have a few secret family recipes that are not handed out.

Along with her interest in collecting recipes, Courtney also likes to collect cookbooks, especially old recipe books and cookbooks. “I have some cookbooks from both my grandmothers and I love to look through them. They are so interesting,” she said, adding her mother gave her a new Betty Crocker cookbook when she got married and she uses that a lot. “My favorite cookbooks are family cookbooks and church cookbooks.”

Courtney notes she does a lot of Internet searches for recipes. “My husband wanted a double crust strawberry pie this summer, so I went on the Internet and found a recipe for one,” she said. “I made it and he really liked it.”

Pies are a standard for her to make, according to Courtney. “Corey’s all-time favorite pie it apple, so I make that often,” she said. “He really likes anything apple.”

Making homemade pies since college, Courtney said she received a recipe for a pie crust from a friend at college and she has used that recipe ever since. “It is very good and I always have good luck with it,” she said.

Some of her favorite pies to make are fresh rhubarb (with rhubarb from her grandparent’s garden), pumpkin and pecan. “I probably enjoy baking more than cooking meals,” she said.

Meals can often be ones Courtney puts in the crockpot before leaving for work in the morning, and letting them cook all day. “I like to do things like pork roast in the crock pot. It is a favorite meal of ours and I remember my mom making it,” she said, adding she puts the pork roast in the crock pot with a package of dried onion soup mix, some kind of creamy soup and a little water. “I put it on all day and the house smells so good when we come home from work. It’s also nice to have the meal ready when I get home.”

A favorite quick meal that Courtney said she can prepare after she gets home from work is baked potato soup. “And it is even better the next day,” she said. “You garnish it with bacon and cheese, and you just can’t go wrong with that combination!”

New Year’s Day, Courtney and Corey always get together with friends for a soup day. “And I always bring the baked potato soup,” she said. “When it turns cold I guess we like that kind of comfort food.”

Courtney makes spaghetti sauce with homecanned tomatoes,  just like her mother does. “It’s probably better if you let the sauce simmer for a while, but sometimes I don’t have the time and it’s still very good,” she said.

Although she said she usually uses butter in her cooking and baking because, “it’s more natural and the flavor is much better,” Courtney said she occasionally substitutes applesauce or yogurt for the shortening when baking. “I make a chocolate zucchini cake that has no oil in it and it is so good,” she said. “The zucchini makes it a very moist cake.”

Courtney likes to keep her pantry pretty well stocked so when she gets ready to make something all the ingredients will be available, but laughs that since her parents live pretty close to her, she might make a quick trip to their home late at night. “Growing up, we went to town once a week,” she said. “I try to make a list of what I need, but I’m not great at that.”

If she is taking a dish somewhere, Courtney says she likes to dress it up a little, but otherwise doesn’t worry too much about presentation. “I have several pieces of Depression glass, and I like to use that to serve on,” she said, adding her favorite Depression pattern is Miss America.

“I like to look at auctions or at yard sales for the Depression glass and I like to go to antique stores.” Courtney said she buys because she likes a piece, not necessarily because it is valuable.

When preparing a new recipe, Courtney said she usually follows the recipe pretty closely. “Then if I like it and I want to make it again, I might add some ingredients to make it my own,” she said. “I like to try new recipes, as long as they aren’t too exotic.”

She still calls her mother for advice occasionally, though, especially if she needs to substitute an ingredient. “Or I’ll call her or my Grandma just to get ideas from them. We bounce ideas off each other all the time,” she said.

Her favorite appliance is her stand mixer because “You can turn it on and walk away for a while,” she laughs.

And she likes to collect vintage kitchen gadgets. “I love to find old things like egg separators. I think it’s fun because those items were useful at one point and I like to know someone used it at some time,” she said.

Courtney enjoys the challenge of cooking and mastering things like her Grandma Hanson’s homemade divinity. “My next challenge will be learning to make yeast breads,” she said. “I enjoy a cooking challenge because it feels like such an accomplishment when you succeed.”

Courtney Finch shares some of her favorite recipes.

Autumn cheesecake

Courtney Finch


1 C. graham cracker crumbs

1/2 C. finely chopped pecans

3 T. sugar

1/2 t. ground cinnamon

1/4 C. butter, melted


2-8 oz. pkgs. cream cheese, softened

1/2 C. sugar

1/2 t. vanilla

2 eggs


1/3 C. sugar

1/2 t. ground cinnamon

4 C. peeled and sliced apples

1/4 C. finely chopped pecans


Mix graham crackers, pecans, sugar, cinnamon and butter. Press onto bottom of 9” springform pan. Bake at 300 degrees for 10 minutes. Set aside.


Mix cream cheese, sugar and vanilla with electric mixer until well blended. Add eggs, mixing on a low speed until just blended. Pour over crust.


Mix sugar and cinnamon; toss with apples. Spoon apple mixture over cream cheese mix and sprinkle with pecans.

Bake at 300 degrees for one hour and 10-15 minutes or until center is almost set. Run a knife around the rim of the pan to loosen the cake; cool completely before removing rim of pan.

Refrigerate four hours or overnight.

Note: Temperature is for a dark, non-stick pan. Adjust to 325 degrees for a silver pan.

Baked potato soup

Courtney Finch

4 large baking potatoes

2/3 C. butter

2/3 C. all-purpose flour

3/4 t. salt

1/4 t. white pepper

6 C. milk

1 C. sour cream

1/4 C. sliced green onion

blanched carrots (optional)

blanched celery (optional)

shredded cheese

1 lb. bacon, cooked and crumbled

Bake potatoes until tender. Cool completely. Peel and cube, set aside.

In large saucepot, melt butter. Slowly stir in flour, salt and pepper until smooth.

Gradually add milk.

Bring to a boil and cook and stir for two minutes, or until thickened.

Whisk in sour cream.

Add potatoes, onion, carrots and celery. Garnish with bacon and cheese.

Garlic roasted asparagus

Courtney Finch

2 bunches asparagus

2 T. extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 t. Kosher salt

freshly ground black pepper

grated or shaved Parmesan cheese (optional)

garlic powder

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Trim asparagus. Spread spears in a single layer on a baking sheet.

Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with Kosher salt and pepper, and garlic powder. Roll to coat.

Roast asparagus until lightly browned and tender, about 8-10 minutes.

Shake the pan about half way through cooking to turn the spears.

Arrange on a serving platter, sprinkle with cheese and serve.