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Spruce Hill Lunch recipes revisited

Carlen McClure answers ultimate request for recipes with new cookbook

April 9, 2008
By Jane Cannon Mort, Sentinel lifestyle editor,
It’s been two years since Carlen McClure owned and operated the Spruce Hill Lunch near Port Royal, but the down-home, from-scratch country cooking she was famous for lives on.

For 30 years Lunch customers asked McClure for her recipes. Since her “retirement” from the restaurant business, she continues to cater and host monthly brunches at her home. “So many people who come say, ‘You have to do a book,’” McClure says. “They ask me for recipes and I’m always writing them out.”

So McClure decided to write them out one last time, and compiled the cookbook, “Favorites of the Lunch.”

“People asked me years ago to please put my recipes in a book, but I didn’t have time,” McClure says. “I knew that I wanted it to be different than other cookbooks.”

What makes this cookbook different are the personal touches of Carlen McClure that are sprinkled throughout the book.

Inside the front cover, a biographical sketch states that “The best part of Carlen’s life is her family.” It lists “people” and “nature” among her greatest loves. Those sentiments are clearly evident in notes supplies with almost all of the 66 recipes in the book. Those notes will make the cook feel as though Carlen is in the kitchen, visiting as a friend, while helping to prepare the dishes.

Page one and page four of the cookbook are McClure’s favorites.

The first page contains “Carlen’s Favorite Recipe,” and a sweet illustration by Mifflin County artist Jeannine Brought. The recipe was written by Carlen when she was just 5 years old. “Those were the days — nothing to do but make mud pies,” she says with a sigh. And that’s exactly what the recipe is for — mud pies.

Page four is in memory of McClure’s grandmother, Frances Dysinger McClure, with whom she spent a lot of time during her childhood and who greatly influenced her cooking style.

“Grandma always said if you wanted something to taste good, you have to put something good in it,” the book states (after warning readers who may be looking for lowfat or low-salt recipes that they’ll have to figure that out on their own).

“The hardest thing to do was to break down the measurements,” McClure says. “For most of the things, I didn’t follow a recipe.

“When you make dishpans of potato salad or 20 quarts of chili, you just do it by knowing how much is enough.”

The most fun part of writing the cookbook was writing the notes at the end of the recipes, McClure says.

Her very favorite comes at the end of the recipe called “Carlen’s Meatloaf.” (See it elsewhere on this page.”)

The cookbook offers recipes in six categories — Soups and Stews, Salads and Dressings, Meats and Main Dishes, Vegetables, Desserts and Miscellaneous.

Before getting to the recipes, though, there is a page devoted to Broth for Soups, and well as a page containing directions for “My Mother’s Filling.”

McClure’s signature dishes are her slow cooked meats, from which she derives broth that she freezes, along with extra portions of chicken, pork or beef.

Cooking in quantity is the key, McClure indicates, to having the ingredients handy for home-cooked meals in a moment.

“Why do you want to do four chicken breasts when you can do 15? When you have your meat done, everything’s done,” she explains.

The cookbook elaborates: “Cooking roasters full of meat at one time gives your broth a rich, full flavor and you’ll have enough meat for a main meal, and soup. For instance, with the chicken (my favorite), you can have roast chicken, chicken salad, pot pie, soup and enough left to freeze for many other chicken dishes. You can do this with all the meats; use your imagination.”

The recipe book is available from McClure for $12. She is hosting a book signing from 4 to 7 p.m. on April 17 at her home at 816 Main St., Port Royal. At this time, she is not sure if the cookbook will be available at other locations. Call McClure at 527-9910 for more information.

In the meantime, here are some sample recipes from “Favorites of the Lunch” (McClure’s notes are in italics at the end of the recipes).

Carlen’s Potato Salad

10 pounds potatoes —cooked

I prefer red potatoes with the skins on, cut in small pieces before cooking

Mix together in one bowl:

6 hard boiled eggs — chopped

2 large onions — chopped

8 ribs celery — chopped

In second bowl, combine:

1 (32-oz.) jar Miracle Whip salad dressing

8 ounces yellow prepared mustard —or more

2 tablespoons dijon mustard

2 cups sugar

When potatoes are cooked, drain, dump into dish pan. Break up with a fork, pour dressing over hot potatoes, add the eggs, celery and onions. Chill.

My mother (Edna McCahan McClure) learned this recipe when she worked for Mary Coldren at Coldren’s Nursing Home, prior to being Brookline.

Salmon Patties

2 cans salmon — drain and debone

3 cans tuna

Celery — chopped

Onions and peppers — chopped

Salt and pepper

Fine seasoned bread crumbs

3 eggs

Mix all ingredients and form into patties, sprinkle both sides with bread crumbs, fry till golden brown.

Serve with a mixture of ketchup and horseradish or tartar sauce.

I like the taste of tuna mixed with salmon. Salmon patties were one of the favorites at The Lunch. Doris and Jay Armstrong always came for salmon patties.

(Steve’s Favorite)

Brickle Pie

1 (8-oz.) package cream cheese

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 cup milk

1 (6- or 8-oz.) package brickle

8 ounces whipped topping

Graham cracker crust

Buy crust or make your own. (When you make the cheese cake, make extra.)

In deep bowl, combine cream cheese, sugar and milk (use electric mixer). Add 3/4 cup brickle and fold in whipped toping. Pour into graham cracker crust.

Freeze at least 4 hours. (I make them ahead.)

Steve (Carlen’s son) always requests this dessert. I rarely made this for The Lunch — everyone wanted my mom’s pies.

Fact Box

Carlen’s Meatloaf
5 pounds fresh hamburger
2 large onions (softball size) — chopped
1 envelope french onion soup mix (dry)
Salt and pepper
Applesauce equivalent to 5 to 6 eggs
6 round rolls —crumbled
Assemble all together, form a loaf, put into roaster
Add 6 cups water
(Don’t pour water over meat, just around the edges.)
Cover with foil and lid, bake at 325 degrees for 3 hours; take off foil, but put lid back on, finish baking till top browns. (If you let the lid off, watch closely.) If you aren’t making gravy, strain the broth and freeze for soup.

This recipe was requested over and over. I always served it with buttered potatoes with fresh parsley and homemade applesauce. If there was any left over, it made great hot meatloaf sandwiches.
If you don’t have time to bake a meatloaf, make the same recipe, form into patties and fry.
When I went to Spruce Hill Lunch in 1976, there were no daily specials on the menu. My very first special was called Fried Meatloaf Patties with homefries and homemade applesauce — it cost $3.95. That Friday night, a lovely family came for supper — Dick and Bonnie Becker and their three little boys, Rick, Jeff and Mike. We became friends that night. They ordered extra applesauce and went on to make their home in Juniata County.
Meatloaf was always a favorite at The Lunch ... The Beckers were also favorites of The Lunch .. and are still favorites of mine.



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