Searle’s food travels from her garden to the kitchen

Jerilyn VanDeWoestyne
Barb Searle of rural Geneseo enjoys spending time in her garden.

Barb Searle of rural Geneseo has just finished planting her annual vegetable garden and is anxiously awaiting the time when the tiny shoots peek through the earth.

She has always had a summertime garden and said she enjoys spending time outdoors working in her garden and flower beds. “My garden is in  now — I just finished planting last week,” she said, adding her garden includes such vegetables favorites as lettuce, spinach, radishes, green beans, beets, peppers, tomatoes, cucumber, zucchini, summer squash, asparagus and sweet corn that her husband plants in the field.

Barb said she plants lots of cucumbers and takes numerous pints of homemade lime pickles to Colona United Methodist Church dinners. “I probably took at least 50 pints of the pickles to the church dinners last year,” she said. “I do the lime pickles for the church dinners, it’s kind of a long process to make them, but people seem to like them.” Barb said her mother-in-law taught her how to make the time-consuming lime pickles.

“There’s pickling lime in the pickles,” she said. “For us, I usually do just bread and butter pickles. I do probably 75 pints of those pickles a year.”

Barb said she really enjoys canning and freezing fresh produce. “It’s the pioneer spirit that I think I like about it,” she said, adding her mother was born on a homestead in Round Up, Mont.

Barb and her husband, Rod, reside in rural Geneseo and will celebrate their 55th wedding anniversary this June. Their family includes a son and daughter-in-law, Bruce and Carolyn Searle of Indianapolis, Ind; two daughters and sons-in-law, Kathy and Steve Peterson of Madison, Wis. and Julie and Phil Ostream of Iowa City, Iowa; eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

“That’s why we have such a big house,” Barb laughs. “We have five bedrooms and we just bought a trailer that we will pull with the pickup. We plan on doing some traveling in it and I’m looking forward to that — and visiting our family is on our list of travel destinations.”

Barb said she learned about cooking from her mother, who was especially a wonderful baker. “My grandmother was also a great cook. We have a lot of good cooks in our family,” she said.

Growing up in Barstow, Barb said her mother was the school cook there. “I would watch her cook and she was always good at letting me in the kitchen to help cook and learn,” she said. “And I tried to do the same thing with my children.”

Barb remembers being a 4-H member, with lots of cooking projects. Later on, when her children were involved in the same organization, she was a 4-H leader and also a Girl Scout leader.

She has never taken any formal cooking classes, admitting she is pretty much a self-taught cook.

“My method has usually been a trial and error way of cooking,” she laughs. “I’m lucky, my husband will eat anything. He is not a picky eater at all.”

Besides canning pickles during the summer months, Barb said she cans lots of tomatoes, chili sauce and salsa. “And at least half my zucchini crop goes into zucchini bread,” she said. “I give lots of the bread away.”

The Searles also have a gooseberry bush (“which is very thorny”), a cherry tree and Barb usually picks blueberries to freeze. “We like fresh things,” she said.

Barb said she really likes to do it all — cooking or baking. And if she is entertaining, whether for family or friends, she always wants to do it all herself.  “When someone asks what they can bring for the meal, I usually don’t let them do any of it. I like to do it all myself,” she said. “I like to plan it myself and make the entire meal. Then I know what goes together.”

Presentation is very important to Barb. She thinks about the color and texture of the food she is serving. “Presentation is important, but what I really focus on is the taste. I want the food to taste good. That is the most important thing,” she said.  “There are certain foods that I like to put together. Like fruit with pork or pork with sauerkraut. And I always have a fresh salad with a meal.”

An easy supper at the Searle’s might be pork loin with roasted sweet potatoes. “The flavor of the sweet potatoes, rather than white potatoes, with the pork is really good,” Barb said. “And then I might serve a cabbage salad with raisins, one of Rod’s favorite salads.”

Barb said she would probably roast the pork loin in a 400 degree oven and roast the sweet potatoes right along with it.

“I’ve roasted all kinds of vegetables and they come out so good,” she said. “I’ve done cauliflower, peppers, sweet potatoes, carrots, and broccoli and they are very good roasted, just by adding a little salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil to the raw vegetables. I’ve learned to put a layer of aluminum foil in the bottom of the roasting pan for easy cleanup.”

Many times, Barb said, she simply roasts whatever vegetable is in her refrigerator crisper.

Barb said, when cooking, she uses olive oil often, something she never used to do. “I really do like it now, I guess it’s an acquired taste. I was used to using butter, but now I use the olive oil — it is a healthy fat,” she said.

If her family is coming, Barb said a favorite meal is prime rib from Weber’s Meats. “The last time I made that, I think I served oven roasted potatoes with it, a fruit salad, a vegetable salad and home frozen sweet corn,” she said. “And, of course, we always have to have pie for dessert.”

Pies are something Barb enjoys making and it is a favorite dessert for her family. “I love to do pies. I’ve been doing a lot of rhubarb pies right now and putting them in the freezer. We have a rhubarb patch that is well over 100 years old,” she said, adding apple pie is another family favorite.

Barb admits she is a fairly organized person. “I’m definitely a list maker — oh my, I make lots of lists,” she laughs. “Since we live so far out of town, I have lots of lists so I can combine my errands when I do make a trip to town. I just grab my list and make several stops in one trip.”

Since she doesn’t want to run out of supplies, Barb said her pantry is always well stocked. “I don’t want to run out of food when I’m entertaining. I want it to be a bountiful table,” she said. “I’m usually ready for entertaining. When you live in the country you have to be prepared. You can’t just run to the grocery store for one thing.”

Barb said she is also pretty good at substituting to get by. “Just recently, I had a recipe that called for sour cream, but I didn’t have any, so I made some,” she said.

Barb and Rod are very active members of Colona United Methodist Church.

“We have quilt day every Wednesday at the church and we serve a lot of church dinners,” she said. “I taught Sunday school for years. I don’t teach any more, but I do attend an adult Sunday school class that Rod teaches.” Barb shares that her church is an active church. “That’s where a lot of my friends are,” she said.

She is also a member of Daughters of the American Revolution and works with veterans’ home projects through the DAR.

“Quilting is something we do year round at church and I also do a lot of quilting at home. I know I’ve made at least 40 different quilts,” she said, adding she pieces the quilt blocks by machine and then does the quilting by hand. “My mother and several aunts all quilted. We quilted before it became so  popular.”

Barb is also very interested and involved in genealogy, belonging to several genealogical organizations. “It is so much fun. We’ve traveled around the country working at it and it’s like a big puzzle that you want to put together,” she said. “It’s fun to go to county courthouses looking for records of family members.” She is also a volunteer at the Geneseo Historical Museum. “We show people around the museum. I can’t believe all the wonderful treasures people give to the museum.”

Baking and  making cookies and candy, is something Barb has always enjoyed doing. “At Christmas I make hundreds of pieces of candy to give as gifts for family and friends,” she said, adding she makes five or six different kinds of caramels, fudge and chocolate creams. “Then I will make maybe six or eight different kinds of cookies and I also make homemade fruit cakes. In fact, I just got the last of the fruit cakes out of the freezer recently.”

Barb said her favorite cookie and candy recipes are from old family recipes, some she has “tweaked” a little. “The simplest things can sometimes be so good,” she said. “Last year I melted almond bark and added some crushed lemon drops to the melted chocolate and it was so good.

Very simple, but very good.”

Besides family recipes, Barb said she clips recipes from magazines and newspapers and the recipes usually end up in folders in a basket located right at hand in her kitchen. “I have lots of recipes in folders in a basket and the folders are labeled with appetizers, breads, desserts, etc.,” she said. “I even have a folder for odds and ends. I guess they are semi-organized.”

Barb likes the challenge of cooking, admitting that it definitely can be challenging sometimes, especially when trying to think about something new to serve. “I like to plan menus and then follow through on them,” she said. “I really enjoy pleasing other people. It’s a way to show your love.”

Barb Searle shares some of her favorite recipes.

The great green salad

Barb Searle

1 med. sized bunch of fresh broccoli

3/4 C. green salad olives

1/2 C. oil

1/2 c. wine vinegar

1/2 C. white vinegar

1 t. salt

2-3 t. garlic powder

1 t. fresh ground pepper

Wash and cut broccoli into bite sized pieces - do not cook. Combine with the rest of the ingredients, cover and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours. Right before serving you may add raw cauliflower pieces and onion rings.

Note: You can put this on a bed of lettuce.

Hot spiced fruit

Barb Searle

1 can pear halves, drained

1 can pineapple slices, drained

1 can apricots, drained

1 can mandarin oranges, drained

maraschino cherries

1/2 C. butter

1 C. packed brown sugar

1 t. ground cinnamon

1/8 t. ground cloves

Arrange fruit in a glass two-quart baking dish. Melt butter and stir in brown sugar and spices. Pour over fruit.

Bake in a 325 degree oven for 30 minutes. Serves 8.

Very good with ham.

Berries and cream pie

Barb Searle

4 C. fresh red raspberries (you may use frozen, do not defrost)

2/3 C. sugar

4 T. flour

1/4 T. salt

1/2 t. cinnamon

1 C. whipping cream

Place berries in an unbaked 8 inch pie shell.

Mix the rest of the ingredients and pour over berries.

Bake at 400 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes. You may also use fresh sliced peaches.

Note: “This is a favorite of my daughter-in-law.”

Sour cream raisin pie

Barb Searle

9 inch baked pie shell

1-1/2 T. cornstarch

1 C. + 2 T. sugar

1/4 t. salt

3/4 t. nutmeg

1-1/2 C. dairy sour cream

3 egg yolks, slightly beaten

1-1/2 C. raisins

1 T. lemon juice

Soften the raisins in hot water for five minutes and drain well.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In saucepan blend cornstarch, sugar, salt and nutmeg. Blend in sour cream, then eggs, raisins and lemon juice.

Cook over low heat, stirring constantly. Bring to a boil and cook for one minute.

Pour into baked pie shell and top with the following meringue.

3 egg whites

1/4 t. cream of tartar

6 T. brown sugar

1/4 t. vanilla

Beat egg whites and cream of tartar until foamy. Beat in brown sugar, one tablespoon at a time, until stiff and glossy. Beat in vanilla.

Put meringue on top of pie filling in pie shell and bake 10 minutes in 400 degree oven, or until brown.