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December 8, 2023

Plain Talk About Food | Our Little Red Ryder Wagon

I raised my little family in Watsonville on a lovely “piece of land” on Green Valley Road, oh, about 6 miles from town or so. Grandma and Grandpa (my in-laws) owned that property and they suggested we build our home next to theirs. One of the best suggestions that could have happened.

My kitchen window looked across the vacant lot between us, and I would watch grandpa and grandma go about their daily activities…they were part of us, and we were part of them.

There was a dirt path between our two houses with two towering oak trees overhead that we would walk under, so many times a day I couldn’t count, and the first 10 years or so, I would pull a little Red Ryder wagon behind me.  

Grandpa never threw anything away…his garage was full of “things,” so much so that when our house was built, we furnished it with a dining room table and chairs, a bed and mattress, and a pizza-colored couch from their old farmhouse in the ’40s that had been stored in that garage. We were grateful and happy.

The little Red Ryder wagon came from that garage as well. I spotted it one day and after grandpa cleaned it up and oiled its wheels, it became our wagon.

On Monday mornings, I would load up the Red Ryder and pull my freshly laundered clothes along that dirt path and hang them to dry on grandma’s clothesline. There we would sit on the two old rocking chairs I had purchased for 50 cents apiece at a garage sale, drinking grandma’s freshly boiled coffee, while my two boys played hide and seek between the sheets hanging from that clothesline.

When my daughter was born, I made her bed in that Red Ryder, pulling her along the path with my basket of clothes balanced alongside.  

During the warm summer months, I would pack a picnic lunch into the Red Ryder and my boys would take turns pulling that wagon along the path to grandma’s house, where we would sit under the huge oak tree, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. 

Grandma would bring out Kool-Aid for the kids and a pot of boiled coffee for the two of us. My little 3-year-old daughter would ride her tricycle up and down that dirt path…so simple life was then. Where did it go?

We owned one car, we never thought of owning two. I did my grocery shopping when the one car was not being used. We ate at home, never a restaurant until years later when the first Chinese restaurant opened its doors in Watsonville, I believe it was in the ’60s. A family of five ate for less than $10 in that Chinese restaurant; however, not often, for that $10 would buy 12 quarts of milk.

During the summertime, we would pack a picnic lunch and drive to Sunset Beach. Grandpa would wear a tie and hat and grandma would wear a hat and carry her handbag.

As the holiday season drew near, grandma and I would plan our dinners; grandma cooking the big “bird” and I would make the desserts, which always included my friend, Mary Whalen’s maraschino cherry roll cookies. These cookies quickly disappeared from the serving plate as soon as I set it on the table. Yours will too.

These cherry cookies, made ahead, will freeze beautifully. Bake them early and freeze prior to slicing. When ready to eat, remove from freezer and slice while cookies are still a little frozen. Tuck a sprig of Holly with red berries on the plate when serving. Beautiful presentation.

Maraschino Cherry/Date Cookies

Prepare ahead and set aside:

3/4 cup of dried dates, finely chopped and sprinkled with

1 Tbsp. flour

1 1/2 cups finely chopped Walnuts or Pecans

1 Jellyroll Pan approx. 11”x15” lined with a double layer of waxed paper and sprayed with Pam and then lightly floured.

In bowl, add and set aside:

2/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

In mixing bowl add:

3 med. eggs

3/4 cup gran. sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

Beat together until light and fluffy.

Lightly fold in flour, then dates.

Spread in pan to the edges. Mixture will be thin.

1) Arrange 1 row of cherries (10 per row) 1 inch apart and 1/2 in. from the pan edge.

2) Alternate cherries in a second row so the cherries are not directly across from each other, so when the cake is rolled up, the second row of cherries will be between the first row of cherries.

3) Repeat the cherries at other end of pan.

4) When baked, the cake will be cut in half, and you will have two rolls.

5) Bake in a 325deg. oven until cake is very light. If too dark, cake will not roll properly.

6) While cookies are baking, prepare another doubled sheet of waxed paper 20 inches long and sprinkle 2 Tbsp. of powder sugar over it, evenly.

7) When cookies are done, immediately turn out cake over wax paper. Trim off all edges of cake and cut cake horizontally through the middle, creating two cakes. Work quickly.

8) While cake is hot, start at cherry end and roll up jellyroll fashion and wrap in wax paper, twisting ends to seal. I place in freezer for two hours and then frost. Cookies freeze well and I only cut, at one time, as many as needed.

Frosting

2 Tbsp. soften butter

2 Tbsp. softened cream cheese

2 cups powdered sugar

3 Tbsp. milk or rum

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Mix well and frost cookie rolls then roll in nuts.  

Freeze or refrigerate.


Colly Gruczelak, a Ben Lomond resident, loves people and loves to cook. Contact her at [email protected].

Colly Gruczelak
Colly Gruczelak
Colly Gruczelak, a Ben Lomond resident, loves people and loves to cook. Contact her at [email protected].

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