Guest Peggy Ehrhart plus #giveaway

Edith here, happy to welcome Peggy Ehrhart as our to guest. Be sure to read down for a triple giveaway!

The ABCs of Cooking

Like my sleuth Pamela Paterson, I’m an enthusiastic cook. And like enthusiastic cooks everywhere, I collect recipes: from newspapers and magazines, friends, and—lately—the internet. For decades they accumulated in careless stacks, and locating any given recipe required a hunt. Then I acquired an accordion file with a pocket for each letter of the alphabet, or most anyway. P and Q share a pocket, as do UV and XYZ.

            Now I was organized! Starting with a New Year’s resolution in 2019 I began the fun task of cooking something new or forgotten every week, working through my accordion file one letter at a time.

            Choosing a recipe can be a journey into the past. The very oldest is Strawberry Jello Pie, sent on a postcard by a friend so I could make it for a college heart-throb. The next oldest is A Man’s Barbecued Chicken, from my mom and destined for a different beloved.

            Exploring my alphabetical pockets is enlightening. Apparently I love baked things with apples, so over the years I’ve collected multiple recipes for apple pie, a recipe for apple trifle (from a neighbor in grad school), one for apple cobbler, and many for apple cakes, including Norwegian (with almonds!) and German. I included an apple cake I named “Autumn Apple Cake” in the first Knit & Nibble Mystery, Murder, She Knit. Tucked in among all the apple recipes, however, are dishes like Artichoke Salad and Lemony White Beans with Anchovy and Parmesan.

            As you can see, sometimes I file recipes based on a key ingredient, other times on the recipe title. That’s how Utica Greens, from the New York Times, ended up in the U pocket, rather than under G for “Greens.” The Times food section included the recipe’s backstory: it is served in Italian-American restaurants from Albany to Syracuse, but is not actually called Utica Greens in Utica. The name is welcome, however, because it’s my only U recipe.

            Some recipes don’t need to wait till their letter of the alphabet comes up. I make fruit cobbler every summer, and Peach Cobbler is such a favorite that it appears in Knit One, Die Two. I make Guinness Chocolate Cake every February for my husband’s birthday, and Carrot Cake every November for my son’s birthday. He will be 41 this year and I first made it when he was two. The recipe is on a card I picked up at Zum Zum, a long-gone restaurant chain where I often ate lunch in the late seventies when I was doing research at the 42nd Street library in Manhattan.

            During that same era I clipped from the Times an ambitious Danish Christmas feast, which my husband and I duplicated in 1978 in our humble newlywed kitchen.  

            After 45 years of marriage, my husband’s and my palates are pretty much in harmony. But tucked in the M pocket is a recipe for menudo, the Mexican tripe stew that he adores. He’s also been fascinated by buckwheat ever since we picked up a bag at a mill where it was ground. So the B pocket includes Buckwheat Pancakes, Buckwheat Galette, and Buckwheat Popovers. The eel recipe in the E pocket recalls the time a friend gave him a fresh-caught eel.     

            The winner for the fullest pocket is PQ, and not only because it contains two letters. There are just so many P possibilities: pork, potatoes, pistachios, pineapple . . . I could go on, but one picture is worth a thousand words.

Readers: What’s the first recipe you recall making? What’s one of your recipes that fills you with nostalgia? I’ll choose three winners for the book giveaway (US only) with a choice among four books: Murder, She Knit; Knit One, Die Two; Knit of the Living Dead, or an ARC of Christmas Card Murder (a November release). I’m including the two older books because they include recipes that I mention in “The ABCs of Cooking.” Here are blurbs for the books: Murder, She Knit is the first in the Knit & Nibble series and features the recipe for Autumn Apple Cake. Knit One, Die Two is the third in the Knit & Nibble series and features the recipe for Peach Cobbler. Knit of the Living Dead, Knit & Nibble #6, was just released. It contains two recipes. Christmas Card Murder is Kensington’s Christmas 2020 anthology, featuring novellas by Leslie Meier, Lee Hollis, and me. My story contains a recipe. I will pick the winners on Friday.

Peggy Ehrhart is a former English professor with a doctorate in Medieval Literature. Her Maxx Maxwell blues-singer mysteries were published by Five Star. Peggy now writes the Knit & Nibble mysteries for Kensington. Her sleuth, Pamela Paterson, is the founder of the Knit & Nibble knitting club in the charming town of Arborville, New Jersey. Visit her at

69 Thoughts

  1. The first thing I ever made out of necessity was burgers on the grill. My mother had just remarried and new dad said he’d man the grill. He produced some very professional looking HOCKEY PUCKS. I made a fresh batch of burgers and have been cooking ever since. I was twelve years old at that point.

    These days I cook for family and friends and the occasional private party.

  2. My mother was a caterer so I learned to cook at a very young age. I remember frying hamburgers for dinner when I was 5. The first “recipe” I tried to follow was for a cooked pudding (hundreds of years before instant pudding was available). Well, I did something wrong and it never set up. I did get better over the years. 🙂

    Would absolutely love to win a book in this series.

  3. I’m not sure I have a favorite recipe. I so rarely cook anything that nothing really springs to mind. Not that my lack of cooking keeps me from reading mysteries with recipes in them.

  4. Hi Peggy!
    Your recipe collection blows me away! You must never be at a loss for what to create in your kitchen.
    My mother was an excellent cook and baker. I’d always join her in the kitchen as a child. At 72 I can’t rightly remember my first favorite recipe but I still love to bake for my family.
    If I were lucky to win, I’d choose your debut of your series. Thanks for the chance!

    1. I learned to cook from my mother too and feel very fortunate to have had that experience. I can’t imagine mastering such a challenging skill on one’s own. (I guess YouTube has solved that problem now–and good for YouTube!)

  5. My first baking endeavor was making muffins. I don’t recall if they tasted any good, but I remember it was a fun process. And while I don’t particularly like cooking, I do enjoy baking if I’m in the right mood.

  6. My first recipe was chocolate chip cookies. My mom taught me and I helped her for a long time. It was the first thing I made on my own.

  7. Such a great idea to cook something new or forgotten every week! Making biscuits was probably the first recipe I followed – even though I used Bisquick. My mom encouraged all us four kids to be self-sufficient in the kitchen from an early age.

  8. The first recipe I remember trying to make was pie dough. It was so tough you could have used it for the soles of your shoes. Another recipe I made as a beginning cook was lasagna. It is still one of my families favorite dishes. Of course I made many dishes with my mother when I was younger. Her specialty was kolachky and balish as well as her German chocolate cake with homemade coconut pecan frosting. Thanks for the chance to enter your giveaway.

    1. Lasagna and German Chocolate Cake, two favorites of mine! I’ve made lasagna so many times I don’t use a recipe, but German Chocolate Cake is definitely somewhere in my accordion file. Under C? Or maybe G?)

  9. I’m pretty sure my first baking adventure would have been chocolate-chip cookies from the recipe on the back of the Nestle bag. For a long time I thought that was the only way to make them and I still think it’s the best.

  10. A woman after my own heart! One of my pandemic projects was to finally corral all of my recipes from various folders, recipe programs, my computer, well, you get the picture. I’ve made it a point to make one new recipe a week from the stack and it’s been a fun project.

    My mother was a gourmet cook and she liked to be alone in the kitchen. That said, she could not make custard to save her life. The first thing I made was something called Spanish Cream. It was lovely and successful. My comfort food is something that will definitely date me. Creamed tuna and peas on toast. Mom made it whenever I was ill and it still says home and love to me.

    1. I too have a weakness for creamed things on toast–the very last shreds of our Thanksgiving turkey often end up that way. But I never had creamed tuna. I do remember the mac and cheese and tuna casserole from my childhood though.

  11. The first recipe I can remember making is No Bake Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies – yummy and easy to make plus licking the pan was sure fun and made even clean up fun. The recipe that brings so many sweet memories to mind is my Mom’s Hungarian Coffee Cake. It was the cake I always requested as my birthday cake. It’s kind of like the modern monkey bread other than Mom’s was all homemade and twice as delicious. There are little yeast balls that are rolled in butter and dipped into a sugar, cinnamon and lots ground pecan mixture and then all placed in a tube pan. Each layer there is more of the nut mixture added. Love the aroma it gives the house while baking too. Although it’s still my favorite cake, now it also brings back sweet memories of my Mom. I still make it on occasion, but it lacks the special ingredient that Mom added – her love.

    Shared and hoping to be one of the very fortunate ones selected. Thanks for the chance!
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. Wow! Takeout menudo! My husband hasn’t made it in ages, but with all the variety of ethnic restaurants in northern New Jersey I’ll bet we can find it as takeout here, probably even easier than sourcing the tripe to make it at home.
      My husband came to like it while growing up in Sterling, IL, which contrary to what one might think of the Midwest in the 1950s, had a large Mexican population.

    1. They do pile up! When I sort through mine I find common themes, as I mentioned in the post. Besides the recipes with apples theme, I’ve been engaged in an ongoing quest for the perfect mac and cheese. Also pulled pork.

  12. Congratulations on the new book! I think half the fun is just collecting old recipes. When my grandmother passed away, I was given her cookbooks and recipes and it was so fun to look at how times have changed. She even had a recipe for divinity that she had copied in her high school home ec class, circa 1921!

    1. My husband has his mother’s Fannie Farmer cookbook, falling apart at this point and with favorite recipes annotated in that beautiful handwriting that women had back then. He learned to bake rhubarb pie from her, to use up a patch of rhubarb that appeared in their yard every year. He still bakes it but we’ve tried without success to grow our own rhubarb.

  13. I believe my first recipe on a card was Granola, I still have it and make it that way every time! The ink has faded to a magenta pink? and I can find it easily in my stash. First from a cookbook (Joy of Cooking was a wedding gift) was popovers! And my kids ask for them all the time. Speaking filing systems…mine is neither alphabetical nor seasonal, its by favorites! I use index cards in a slide in plastic page, but of course that was full years ago and now I just stuff recipes in the loose, and they are in a certain order and usually I know where in the pile I can find what I’m looking for. I have my grandmother’s recipe box and regularly use her pie crust recipe calling for ice water and vinegar!

    1. My husband is a great believer in using vodka for the liquid in pie crust. I think the idea is that it evaporates really really fast and thus the pie crust ends up that much flakier. Neither of us have ever tried vinegar though.
      And, yes, the Joy of Cooking! It’s the earliest cookbook I recall my mom having. She used to bring it in the car when she picked us up from school and browse through it while she waited at the curb for us to come out. Sometimes on the way home she would stop at the butcher shop for “a pound of ground round.” I remember that phrase so well–maybe because it rhymes.

  14. I used to bake bread when I was in high school. With 5 people in the house it never lasted long. I still use my mom’s recipe for turkey although she used to poke holes in it and I don’t. I think it stays juicier without the holes.

    1. I haven’t ever gotten into baking with yeast–it seems so intimidating! I did, however, try that sourdough idea that everyone was experimenting with to enliven their days indoors in the early days of virus isolation–capturing yeast out of the air and nurturing a batch of starter. It never actually looked alive and foamy like the instructions said it would, but I baked a loaf of bread with it. The result was quite dense, to say the least. My sweet husband claimed to like it and finished it off in a few days.

  15. My specialty in the kitchen growing up was baking cookies. My mother’s favorite cookie I made was Karo Lace Cookies which have to be rolled around a wooden spoon handle in the original recipe and can be filled with a whipped filling of your choice. My favorite recipe now is anything chocolate!

    1. These sound amazing–like a homemade version of those yummy Italian cannoli. Was the recipe on the Karo syrup bottle? If so, I’ll bet it helped sell a lot of Karo.

  16. The first thing I remember making was biscuits. They were pretty thin,😢 my mother always made a decadent dessert that had a couple layers, bottom was a chocolate mixture and the top was marshmallows and real cream. The top was sprinkled with crushed peppermint candy.

    1. I love layered sweet treats! Another is lemon bars with the shortbread crust on the bottom. That’s one of the first things I remember my mom making. I was not even school age yet, but I can still picture (and taste) them. They had something else on top of the lemon layer, something blue, which I guess was blueberries.

  17. My grandma didn’t bake much anymore by the time I came along. One of the few things she did was her Twix bars. When she found out how much I liked them, she proposed a deal- she would make me the bars if I’d come over and unwrap the caramels for her (her arthritis made that difficult). I wasn’t in school yet and we lived next to them so it was easy to run over and help. Just don’t snitch a caramel out of the already counted pile!

  18. The first thing I remember baking was my grandmother’s recipe for fudge cake. It includes sour milk and coffee and is especially yummy with peanut butter frosting. I like your recipe organizer – I think I would use it more than an online platform! Congratulations on the new book!

  19. The year I got married my mother gave me a cookbook and wrote a note to me inside, one of the sentiments being “A gift from the kitchen is a gift from the heart.”. She also gave me several of her handwritten recipes – one of which was her spaghetti sauce, most likely one of the first recipes I made. My most cherished recipe would have to be my grandmother’s fudge, which I was lucky enough to find among her things after she died. It’s fudge like no other and I’m always transported back to the Christmases of my childhood when I make it. I’m enjoying the Knit and Nibble series, by the way!

  20. I remember my mom making Danish pastry and stretching the dough over the whole kitchen table to make it thin. Also we loved whoopee pies.

    1. Your mother sounds like a very skilled baker! I use the ready-made puff pastry sometimes and can’t imagine rolling dough out by hand to create those thin and flaky layers.

  21. When I was growing up at home with my 5 siblings and my parents , we would make Tamales every year on Christmas Eve, it was an all day activity and we all did it as a family and it was alot of fun. My mom would always make us Menudo every New Years Eve also, she made it really good, but it is something that I have never been able to make , it never comes out good for me. 🙁 Thank you for the chance.

  22. I remember making egg noodles from scratch & sugar cookies with my mom. Then I was lucky enough to watch her make them with my childre

    1. I have made noodles from scratch a few times, but my most interesting recollection of home-made noodles is visiting Sturbridge, a restored 18th-century village in Massachusetts, and hearing a talk by one of the interpreters. He was dressed as an 18th-century inhabitant and in the room where we met him were things that seemed to be clotheslines with very small angular laundry items hanging on them. He asked if we could guess what they were and I was the only person who got it right: noodles!

  23. My earliest memories in the kitchen involve my grandmother–I don’t know if this counts as actually cooking, but rolling out and cutting pasta on the crank machine (this was well before you could find fresh pasta at the market), helping to shape meatballs (gross to an 8-year-old), drizzling glaze over biscotti… and of course cutting out and baking Christmas cookies. I still have that pasta machine, and over the years I think I’ve duplicated my grandma’s sauce. (Jarred sauce??? Sacrilege! I also have hundreds of cut-out recipes, not nearly as organized, many that seemed new and intriguing at the time: “Coconut Curry Shrimp,” “Tourtiere.” I love learning about ethnic and international cuisines. Love this blog!

    1. Rolling out and cutting pasta is definitely cooking!
      I find that if I read about food when I’m hungry, I often cut out recipes that seem interesting, but then they don’t seem so interesting–or at least worth the effort–when I look back at them when I’m not hungry.

  24. Mosticoli is my favorite and the first one I remember making. It’s my mom’s recipe and filled with love.

  25. Making ginger cookies with my grandma are one of the first baking memories I have. To this day, the smell and the act of rolling those balls in sugar makes the memories rush back. In the same kitchen, she taught me to make pan gravy when we would be over for Sunday dinner. I can still do it, impressing my kids with the lack of actual measuring! Thanks!

    1. Ginger cookies rolled in sugar sound amazing! And pan gravy is such a great way to capture those little yummies left in the pan after meat has been fried. I hate to let them go to waste.

  26. I made a lot of simple things in grade school and in 7th grade home economics. The first entree I really remember making was shrimp creole—we’re from Oklahoma, and we ate a lot of southern food, but that was the first time I’d had anything like that. Now I like all kinds of Creole and Cajun food.

    1. So do we! We have a wonderful cookbook we bought in Louisiana when we heard a Cajun band play. The leader was Queen Ida, an accordion player, and she was selling her cookbook that night as well. The recipes are interspersed with memories of her life growing up on a farm, and the dances and parties attended by people of all ages.

  27. I think the first thing I ever tried was peanut butter pie. I’ve not been much of a cook, especially since having a husband who enjoys his own cooking styled after his mama’s cooking, but I can follow a reasonably easy recipe. This is such a fun series and I’ve gotten behind – would love to catch up! Thank you for the opportunity!

    1. I too remember those 4-H cooking lessons, and those talented cook moms (always moms) who were so willing to give their time. I can’t remember what we cooked when it was my mom’s turn to host, but I definitely remember learning to make chocolate chip cookies in someone else’s kitchen.
      My mom always said she wasn’t a good baker, but she instilled in me a lifelong love of tomatoes, avocados, and green salads, which isn’t a bad thing. On the grimmer side, that was the era of Jello salads and I recall something with lemon Jello and pimento-stuffed green olives that was just dire.

  28. The first recipe was spaghetti sauce from scratch for my Girl Scout Cooking batch. I had watched my mother make it dozen of times. The tough part was she doesn’t use measuring devices. A little this, a little that.

    1. I’ve gotten very lazy and I buy jarred sauce now, Classico, which is decent. Then I personalize it with my own ground meat, some onion, and a few herbs.

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