Janice Paulter didn’t learn to cook as a child. She came from a big family and her mom and sisters did all the cooking.
One of those sisters became a nurse at the Kit Carson County Memorial Hospital in Burlington, Colorado. In the early 1990s, Paulter was newly married and her sister was selling a cookbook — “A Collection of Successful Operations in the Kitchen” — as a hospital fundraiser.
The punny title should have been enough, but Paulter had more practical concerns.
“When I got married, I did not know how to cook. And I thought, ‘Well heck, I’ve got to support the hospitals.’ So I'm looking through it and I'm like, ‘Man, I can do these!’ And they were pretty easy stuff and I enjoyed doing it.”
The recipes come mostly from hospital staff. “Not only the nurses but the maintenance person, the ward clerks, the office people,” she added. Doctors didn’t really contribute because there weren’t many MDs out there in the small eastern plains town at the time.
Many of the dishes are ground beef-heavy. The description Paulter would use is “no-nonsense,” which is a lot like her mother, who was also a nurse at the hospital.
“She was no-nonsense. We lived out in the middle of nowhere. You couldn't just run down the street to go get whatever. We had all our own milk. We had our own garden, beef, everything.”
Life on the plains in a small town within throwing distance of the Colorado-Kansas border isn’t like living in Denver. You use what you have because you can’t just run out to the store. Besides, even if you did have a market nearby, it “didn't have anything real fancy.”
“So these are pretty basic recipes with nothing fancy, no-nonsense,” Paulter said, using that word again. “It's like you get your dinner on in less than a half an hour because you got a hungry family to feed.”
Her mother contributed a recipe that Paulter still uses to this day. A mahogany red devil’s food cake that she has declared her “go-to cake.”
The first time she made it was as a kid. Her mom told her it was fool-proof. “Even you can do it,” she said her mother told her. But it didn’t turn that way. No one was sure what went wrong, but it became family lore. Decades later, one of Paulter’s sisters had a realization: Janice had used baking powder instead of baking soda.
It’s the kind of mistake between leavening agents that bedevils bakers from time to time.
After all these years, Paulter has gotten the hang of it. She’s lost track of how many times she’s made it. “And there has never been a time when I have made it where someone hasn't commented [on] how good it was.”
While Paulter’s still making the cake, her sister is still a practicing nurse. In the face of COVID-19, Janice worries about her.“But you know what? She's kind of a tough old girl.” Maybe that has to do with her meat and potatoes upbringing.
1 pkg. yeast
2 1/4 cup warm water
3 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. salt
3 tbsp. shortening
7 to 7 1/2 cups flour
Mix yeast in water until dissolved. Add eggs, sugar, salt and shortening in a large bowl; mix well. Add flour and mix; knead together. Let rise for approximately 2 hours. Punch down and roll out to approximately 1/4 inch thickness. Cut into 3x5 squares. Place filling mixture in center. Place another piece of dough on top and pinch together well. Place on greased cookie sheets. Let rise again. Bake at 350° until golden brown. Brush tops with melted butter.
1 1/2 lb. lean hamburger
1 small chopped onion
salt and pepper to taste
1 small to medium cabbage
1 to 2 tbsp. butter or shortening
2 cups water
Brown hamburger with onion. Season with salt and pepper; drain when browned. IN a separate large saucepan, cook chopped cabbage, butter and salt and pepper to taste in water. Cook on low heat until cabbage is tender. Stir in hamburger and drain. Ready to put into pockets now.
Medium size, peeled new potatoes
Place potatoes in a shallow pan. Sprinkle with salt, celery salt and paprika. Top with pieces of butter. Bake in 350° oven about 35 minutes to brown potatoes evenly. Sprinkle with parsley before serving.
Old-Fashioned Mahogany Red Devil's Food Cake
Mix together and set aside:
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
Mix together and set aside:
1 tbsp. vinegar
1 cup milk
2 cubes margarine
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1 cup hot water
1 tsp. vanilla
Blend in flour and milk mixtures. Blend. Add hot water and vanilla. Batter will be very thin. Bake at 350° for 40 to 45 minutes in large 9x12 inch pan. This also makes 3 round cakes.
*important handwritten note: Baking powder makes it a pound cake.
For our series “The Kitchen Shelf,” CPR News wants to know about other local Colorado cookbooks and we want your help. Whether your cookbook is collecting dust on a shelf or is a butter-stained countertop workhorse, take a picture of the cover and tweet @cprwarner or email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to share more of these family recipes and the stories behind them.