Aromas bring back memories of grandmother

NIAGARA, Wis. — In last week’s column, Arletta Johnson Meysembourg shared her memories of her mother’s Swedish cooking. It triggered my own memories of my grandmother’s kitchen on the farm. My grandparents were German farmers and had inherited a small family farm on the shore of Rush Lake, which was just outside of my hometown of Ripon, Wis. It was the last farm at the end of Radke Road, and I loved the fact that the road was named after them.

The aromas in my grandmother’s kitchen changed with the seasons. In the spring and summer, I always smelled a wonderfully clean combination of Fels-Naptha soap and bluing — the telltale scents of laundry days and spring cleaning. Despite the lack of indoor plumbing, my grandmother’s kitchen sparkled! There was not a hint of kitchen grease or a speck of dust anywhere, and the floor always shone. No dirt from the barn or the pasture was ever tracked into her kitchen, and there was not a whiff of pipe smoke as my grandfather had to enjoy that habit in the milk house.

In the fall, the smells of canning greeted us as my grandmother was busy “putting up” the harvest for the long winter ahead. As kids we knew where vegetables came from, and it wasn’t the grocery store. My grandparents had a huge vegetable garden and asparagus patch, and grandma canned everything. They allowed hunters on their land and only asked that they share some of the venison or duck that they shot. That meat also found its way into canning jars and onto the shelves of my grandmother’s pantry.

In winter, wood smoke was the aroma that greeted us as we entered her kitchen. By today’s standards, grandma’s kitchen was quite primitive. The cook stove was massive and dominated the kitchen. It was part wood burner to help heat the house and part gas stove and oven. The top was black cast iron with round lids that covered the openings through which the wood was added. My grandmother used black iron handles to move the lids back over the openings so she had a place to heat a kettle of water or a pot of coffee. The other side was a propane cook stove and oven.

Because of that cook stove, the kitchen was always cozy warm in the winter so was a natural gathering place for the family. They often sat around the huge farmhouse table and played cards or cribbage. Sometimes they listened to the radio. It was a very large radio that stood on the floor and was as big as a TV set. They did not own a television so that radio was their entertainment throughout the winter months along with reading the Farmers’ Almanac or the seed catalog.

Despite the very basic nature of that stove — no timers or clocks or Alexa to remind anyone to take out the cake — my grandmother’s meals were flawless. Her turkey was moist, venison tender and meatloaf to die for– she even made meatloaf gravy. One of her specialties was “mud hen” that she prepared in an enamel kettle. Every once in a while, she would bring a kettle of mud hen to our house in town, and it was always a welcome treat.

As delicious as her cooking was, her baking was heaven on earth — especially her bread. While I do have her recipe for a one egg cake (that calls for shortening the size of an egg), I regret that I never learned how to bake her bread. It was beyond anything available in the best bakery or grocery store in town. Our favorite meal was breakfast because of that bread. She had one of those old-time toasters that required the bread to be manually “flipped” from side to side over glowing hot wires. She patiently toasted slice after slice for us and smothered each piece with butter; it was better than any dessert.

But her desserts were also the best things we ever tasted. She made wonderful pudding of all flavors, and her pies were filled with wild berries picked on the farm — a mulberry tree grew right outside the back door. Despite our frequent visits to that tree, there were plenty of berries left for her pies. Her cakes always had hickory nuts on top of the frosting; every autumn grandma gathered the nuts from the grove of hickory trees just down the road from the farm house. Over the long winters, my grandparents shelled those nuts and put their meats in a big silver milk can in the cool air of the back porch. Anyone who knows anything about hickory nuts knows what a painstaking job that is. Unlike pecans or walnuts, the meats do not simply fall out once the shell is cracked open. Hickory nuts are quite literally “tough nuts to crack” and are multi-chambered; they stubbornly hang onto their meats requiring anyone wanting to eat them to have a tremendous amount of patience.

Grandma’s pantry was another world. An entire separate room in between the kitchen and the parlor, it held all of the ingredients that helped to make grandma’s cooking and baking so tasty. There were two bins that housed gigantic earthenware crocks — one stored 50 pounds of sugar and the other the same amount of flour. I remember thinking I could probably fit inside those crocks and imagined what it would feel like being surrounded by all that fluffy flour. The other side had cupboards with glass doors that held all of grandma’s pretty dishes. There were cups and saucers, plates and bowls in a variety of pastel colors. Some of her cut glass serving dishes I have in my hutch today. Pie plates and cake pans were also stored there.

But her cherished huge cast iron skillet — she called it a “spider” — held permanent residence on the top of the cook stove. And it was important, she told me, to never wash it; she cleaned it somehow, but never with water for fear of rust.

My grandparents lived through the Depression in large part because of their farm. They grew their own food, and nothing went to waste. They had a small herd of dairy cattle, and my grandfather planted and harvested all of their feed plus grew corn and wheat as cash crops. My grandmother raised chickens so farm fresh eggs were always available. They worked hard and lived simply. Recreation was sitting on the front porch after the work was done and visiting with neighbors and relatives.

Memories like these define my roots and have shaped my values. There is tremendous satisfaction in a simpler, slower pace of life without all the gadgets. I certainly appreciate my modern appliances; I would not want to go through all the work my grandmother did just to do laundry or clean up after cooking a meal. But my husband and I have a very low-tech household. To this day we do not own a cell phone — despite the urgings of my good friend who is an LPN and insists that we need a way to call for help. When we take a ride to a new place, we get out the paper maps — much to the dismay of our grandson. And when we go to the grocery store, we check the pantry and the refrigerator ourselves and make a list. Our appliances do not talk to us.

Most of the time, recreation is a night in front of Netflix (rather than a radio) or a quiet summer evening on the deck in front of the fire. Once a month we go out to dinner with friends… or we have friends over for a meal. I love to cook — after all, I had a great role model.






Scenes and sounds, 11:30 a.m Sunday through Saturday.

Sunday: Ring toss, 1 p.m.; dunking donuts, 2 p.m.; church, 2:15 p.m.

Monday: Room visits, 10 a.m.; brouhaha, 11 a.m.; line dancers, 1:30; ice cream social, 3 p.m.

Tuesday: Craft, 10:30 a.m.; reminisce, 1:15 p.m.; Kentucky Derby, 2 p.m.; evening visitor, 6:30 p.m.

Wednesday: Room visits, 10 a.m.; rosary, 10:30 a.m.; bingo, 2 p.m.; movie and popcorn, 3 p.m.; Thursday: reading buddy, 11 a.m.; bible study, 1:30 p.m.; Crystal Hogan, 2 p.m.; laundry day, 3:30 p.m.; Lawrence Welk, 5 p.m.

Friday: What’s cooking, 11 a.m.; bunko, 1:15 a.m.; Golden Throats, 2:30 p.m.; happy hour, 3 p.m.

Saturday: Meet and greet, 10:30 a.m.; daily newspaper, 11 a.m.; spinning records, 1 p.m.; bingo, 2 p.m.

Iron County 

Medical Facility

Crystal Falls

Exercise: 11 a.m., Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Sunday: One-to-one church visitors, 8:30 to 11 a.m.; Yahtzee, 10 a.m.; room visits, 9 to 11 a.m.; afternoon matinee with popcorn, 1:30 p.m.; Church of Christ, 3 p.m.

Monday: Crafts, 9 to 10:30 a.m.; room visits, 1 p.m.; VFW bingo, 2 p.m.; Sunshine Club, 2:30 p.m.

Tuesday: Book Club, 10 a.m.; Mass, 10 a.m.; travel film, 1:30 p.m.; current events, 2 p.m.; romance movie, 6 p.m.

Wednesday: Coffee social/travel club, 10 a.m.; getting pretty, 1:15 p.m.; men’s club, 2 p.m.; night bingo, 6 p.m.

Thursday: Puzzler, 9:30 a.m.; bowling, 10 a.m..; wild life film, 1:30 p.m.; Christ United church, 2 p.m.; happy hour, 2:30 p.m.

Friday: Crafts, 9 to 10:30 a.m.; room visits 1 p.m.; Wii fun, 2 p.m.; web browser, 2 p.m.; movie, 6 p.m.

Saturday: Price is Right/faces and places, 10 a.m.; geri-gym, 11 a.m.; intergenerational social hour, 2 p.m.



Wet your whistle, 9:30 a.m. daily.

Exercise, 10 a.m. daily.

Movie, 10:45 a.m. daily, and 3:15 p.m. Monday through Saturday

Popcorn Day, every Friday

Sunday: Just jokes, 10:15 a.m.; company’s coming room visits, 1:30 p.m.; Protestant church, 3 p.m.

Monday: Who, what, when, 10:15 a.m.; Bob Larson entertains, 2 p.m.; po-ke-no, 5:45 p.m.

Tuesday: Who am I? 10:15 a.m.; Lutheran church, 2 p.m.; movie and manicure, 5:30 p.m.

Wednesday: Remembering when, 10:15 a.m.; Golden Throats, 2 p.m.; flip five, 5:45 p.m.

Thursday: Crosswords, 10:15 a.m.; K bingo, 2 p.m.; crafts, 5:45 p.m.

Friday: ABC game, 10:15 a.m.; Catholic Mass, 2 p.m.; chips and chatter, 2:30 p.m.

Saturday: Current events, 10:15 a.m.; bingo, 2 p.m.

Maryhill Manor

Niagara, Wis.

Rosary, 8:30 a.m. Sunday through Friday.

Sunday: Catholic Mass, 9 a.m.; Family Feud, 10 a.m.; bingo, 1:30 p.m.; Protestant service, 2:30 p.m.; Christian fellowship, 5:30 p.m.

Monday: Bob Larson entertainment, 10:15 a.m.; nickel jokereno, 2 p.m.

Tuesday: Pictionary, 10:15 a.m.; resident council, 2 p.m.; bingo, 2:30 p.m.; Deal or No Deal, 6:15 p.m.

Wednesday: Protestant service, 9 a.m.; yoga, 10 a.m.; Crystal Hogan entertainment, 2 p.m.; bible stories, 3 p.m.; help your neighbor, 6:15 p.m.

Thursday: Catholic Mass/Stations of the Cross, 9 a.m.; Scattegories, 10:15 a.m.; help your neighbor, 2 p.m.; Whammo, 6:30 p.m.

Friday: Ball toss 10:15 a.m.; short stories, 10:30 a.m.; happy hour with Ron W., 2 p.m.

Saturday: Crafts, 10:15 a.m.; pamper and polish, 2 p.m.; movie and popcorn, 5:45 p.m.

Victorian Pines

Iron Mountain

Juice time, 10 a.m. Sunday through Saturday

Exercise, 11 a.m. Monday through Friday.

Shopping days: 10 a.m. Tuesdays and Fridays, must sign up.

Sunday: Bible study, 2:30 p.m.; refreshments, 3 p.m.

Monday: Bingo, 2 p.m.; birthday party, 2 p.m.

Tuesday: Ladder ball, 2 p.m.; refreshments, 3 p.m.

Wednesday: Catholic Mass, 2 p.m.; refreshments, 3 p.m. 

Thursday: Left Center Right, 2 p.m.; rosary, 3 p.m.

Friday: Bingo, 2 p.m.; refreshments, 3 p.m.

Saturday: Movie and popcorn, 2 p.m.

Florence Health Services

Florence, Wis.

Morning news, 6 a.m. daily.

Beauty shop open on Tuesday and Thursday.

Sunday: Bingo, 10 a.m.; Crazy 8’s, 2 p.m.; reminisce, 6 p.m.

Monday: Bingo with Bette, 10 a.m.; dyna stretch, 2 p.m.; one-to-one visits, 6 p.m.

Tuesday: chair exercise, 10 a.m.; rabbit visit with Heidi, 2:30 p.m.; room visits, 3 p.m.; reading, 6 p.m.

Wednesday: Uno, 10 a.m.; baking, 2 p.m.; social hour, 3 p.m.; Connect Four, 6 p.m.

Thursday: Pastor Jason, 10 a.m.; lunch out, 11:45 a.m.; manicures, 2 p.m.; one-to-one time,3 p.m.; reading, 6 p.m.

Friday: Catholic Mass, 10 a.m.; music with Larry J., 2 p.m.; happy hour, 3 p.m.

Saturday: Bingo, 10 a.m.; flippo, 2 p.m.; reminisce, 6 p.m.


Note: All centers ask for 24-hour advanced reservations for lunch. If you have meals delivered and will not be home, notify the Center.

Alpha-Mastodon Center


Meal at noon every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

Amasa Center


Open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Lunch at noon.

Bingo on Tuesdays.

Free meal drawing on Thursdays.

Breen Center


Meals Monday through Friday.

Pasty sale every third Saturday of the month — except on holidays.  

Cards and games available 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 2 p.m. 

Hostess on duty Monday through Friday.   

Treats and coffee, 8:30 to 11:30 a.m.

Center retail store is open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday; volunteers and donations are welcome.

Birthdays acknowledged every day.

Evening meals are on the first and third Thursday of the month. Salad bar opens at 4 p.m., with dinner at 5 p.m. Donations are $4 for those 60 and older and $5 for 60 and younger.

Crystal Falls Center

Head cook: Lucy Korhonen


Monday: Soup, salad, hot beef sandwiches, mashed potatoes and gravy, vegetables, and homemade dessert.

Tuesday: Soup, salad, pork chops, breaded fried potatoes, and homemade dessert.

Wednesday: Soup, salad, cabbage roll casserole, and homemade dessert.

Crystal Lake Center


The center is closed on weekends.

Monday: Woodcarvers, 10 a.m.; Mahjong in dining hall, noon; Les Artistes Art Club, noon; Bridge Club, 12:15 p.m.

Tuesday and Thursday: Pinochle, 12:30 p.m.

Thursdays: Two-person team cribbage from 12:30 to 3:30 pm.

Tuesday, Thursday and Friday: Billiards, 9:30 a.m.

Wednesday: Spinning Spools Quilters Guild, 1 p.m., crafters, scrapbookers and others also welcome; knitting and crocheting class, 1 to 3 p.m.

Friday: Smear, 12:30 p.m.

Last Saturday of the month: Music jam starting at 1 p.m. Admission is free. 

Dances take place from 7 to 10 p.m. on the second and fourth Fridays of the month. Admission is $6; coffee is free. 

The Photo Club meets 1 to 3 p.m. on the first Tuesday of the month.  

The kitchen is currently closed due to plumbing issues, and meals are being served at the Breen Center. Christine McMahon has information for all meals and can be reached at 906-774-2256, ext. 235. For transportation, call Buzzin’ Around Town at 906-282-0492. Rides are $3 for age 60 and older, and $3.50 for younger than 60. 

Transportation is available from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. 

Felch Center


Meals served at 11:30 a.m. Monday through Wednesday.

Bingo after lunch on the first and third Wednesday of each month.

A congregate jigsaw puzzle is done daily.

Aging and Disability Resource Center of Florence County, Wis.


Director: Tiffany White

Suggested donation for seniors older than 60 is $4 per meal. Residents younger than 60 must pay $7. Reservations and cancellations needed 48-hours in advance.

The ADRC can assist area seniors and those with disabilities with transportation Monday through Friday. Transportation reservation should be made with meal reservation.  

Fence Center/Town Hall


Meal at noon Wednesdays only. Reservations are requested. Cribbage and cards are available.

Florence Community Center/Town Hall


Home-delivered meals are available as always. Meal is served at 11:30 a.m. at the center on Friday only. 

The meal site is temporarily closed Monday through Thursday due to a staffing shortage. 

Tipler Town Hall


Serving lunch at noon on the second Thursday of the month.

Hillcrest Senior Dining Center, Aurora


Meal is served at 11:30 a.m. Monday through Thursday. Transportation arrangements can be made to and from the meal site.

Hermansville Center

Coordinator: Pam Haluska


Meal is at noon Monday through Friday. Suggested donation is $3 for age 60 and older and $7 for those younger than 60. Morning coffee is available daily.

Fifteen games of “fun bingo” are played each Tuesday and Friday, along with a 50-50 drawing.

Tuesday: Bingo, 12:45 p.m.

Wednesday: Cards played in the afternoon. Call ahead to see if a game will be going on.

Friday: Bingo, 12:45 p.m.

Monday through Friday: Walking in the gym, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. A treadmill also is available.

Enjoy friendly interaction with other crafters.

Iron River Center


Meals served 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday; a $4 donation is encouraged from those 60 and older, and a $5 payment is required from those younger than 60. Thursday meal, 3:30 p.m. soup, 4 p.m. salad bar, with dinner at 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Home-delivered meals are available — call 906-774-2256 and speak to Christine Tramontine at ext. 235 or Stephen at ext. 230. Menu for the week of April 8 follows:

Monday: Sausage gravy biscuits, peas and carrots, cranberry sauce, fruit and milk.

Tuesday: Fish, cheesy hash browns, green beans, fruit and milk.

Wednesday: Cheeseburger, potato salad, baked beans, fruit and milk.

Thursday: Lasagna, wax beans, breadsticks, dessert and milk.

Saturday: Dance, 6 to 9 p.m.

Niagara Northwoods Senior Cafe and Center

Meal site manager: Corrie Maule, 715-251-1603

Senior center director: Jill Anderson, 715-251- 4154

Noon meals served Monday through Thursday. Transportation is available to the meal site for those living in the Niagara, Wis., area. We welcome any senior groups who would like to use the meal site as a meeting place — join us for lunch and then stay for a meeting or social time. Wii games, cards, puzzles and board games are available to play. 

Other activities are in the works — suggestions are always welcome. 

Those who have not been at the meal site/senior center are invited to give it a try. Those who haven’t been here in a while are encouraged to come back.

Norway Center

Director: Susie Slining


Monday through Thursday: Meals served at noon, with salad bar. Soup also is available at 11 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Milk, juice, bread, fruit, tea and coffee served daily. Meal donation is $5. Reservation for the meal should be made in advance.

Two special-themed meals take place each month on Tuesday, with bingo, prizes and a 50-50 drawing.

Two evening meals offered at 5 p.m. on the first Monday and third Wednesday of the month, with bingo, prizes and a 50-50.

Monday: Center Board Meeting, 10 a.m.

Tuesday: CSFP Food Distribution, 8:30 to 9 a.m.

Saturday: Pasty sale, $5 each. All orders must be picked up by noon

Menu for the week:

Monday: Breaded fish patty on a bun with cheese slice, mashed potato smiles, carrots and onions, fruit, juice and dessert.

Tuesday: Welcome Spring Dinner — Chicken cordon bleu, seasoned rice, corn, soup and salad bar, fruit, juice and dessert.

Wednesday: Salisbury steak, mashed potatoes and gravy, brussel sprouts, salad bar, fruit, juice and dessert.

Thursday: Finnish pancakes, hash browns, sausage links, muffins, strawberries, orange juice, soup and salad bar.

Note: On Wednesday April 17 there will be a blood pressure clinic 11 a.m. to noon.

If Norway-Vulcan area schools are closed due to bad weather days, so is the senior center. If the schools are on a two-hour delay, the center remains open.  

Cards are played daily after the noon meal.

Craft and exercise classes: Mondays and Thursdays.

Ceramic and art classes: Wednesdays.

Puzzles always in the works.

A senior coloring class meets daily. All are welcome. Some materials will be provided.

Telephone reassurance is available for any senior who doesn’t get out much and would like a friendly daily phone check to see that all is well.

Note: File of Life packets available at the center.

Sagola Center


Meals: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, 11:45 a.m. Cards: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Commodities every other month and quarterly commodities are every three months. A puzzle table is available to enjoy. Volunteers are always welcome. 


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)