I grew up a block and a half from my grandparents’ house in Yellow Springs, and I loved to stop by nearly every day as I walked home from school. Grandma Struewing really gave me the love of cooking because she was always cooking something really cool. The first thing I made with her was snickerdoodles. The name of the cookie was so funny that I thought she had made it up! But they were fun to make into little balls and roll in cinnamon sugar. They smelled so good while they were baking, and when they cooled they were chewy and delicious.
But my grandmother’s signature dish, the thing she was really known for, was her chicken and noodles. As a matter of fact, everyone in town seemed to love them. After my grandfather died, my grandmother started volunteering at the local senior citizens’ center, and soon she was pretty much running it.
To raise money they had a bazaar as part of the town’s sidewalk sale. Grandma would make two giant cauldrons of her chicken and noodles, and about 100 small loaves of her homemade whole wheat bread. She sold them in little Chinese carry-out boxes. She would always sell out very early. And of course you could also buy chances on the quilt that she and the other ladies quilted there at the center.
Grandma raised her nine children on a farm between Yellow Springs and Cedarville, the old Petticrew place, as it was known. They were tenant farmers, but there was a lodge and a swimming pool on the property that they were allowed to rent out. Grandma would tell me that many times she would cater the parties and family reunions at the lodge. She said sometimes she would kill, clean, and fry 100 chickens for the parties.
Grandma brought her chicken and noodles to every family reunion. I decided that I really needed to learn from her how to make them. So in her kitchen with her large brown earthenware bowl, on her chrome-trimmed Formica kitchen table, beneath the picture of the Last Supper, she taught me how to make noodles.
These were Grandma’s instructions: “Take however many eggs you want, add a half eggshell of water for each egg, and as much flour as it will hold.” Then, she’d roll and cut her noodles, spreading them out to dry with plenty of flour before boiling them in rich chicken broth. Sometimes she’d wait to cook them, leaving them to completely dry on clean newspaper.
I have quantified my amounts a little more than Grandma, and I cheat and make them in my food processor most of the time, although I do prefer to roll them out by hand just like she did.
Grandma’s Chicken and Noodles
Put in a bowl or food processor:
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
5 large eggs
Process until all comes together in a ball, adding a little more flour or a little water if necessary. Divide into 2 balls. Place each on flour-covered work surface and let rest for about 30 minutes. Then roll each out on a well-floured surface to about 1/8 inch thick rounds. Cut the rounds into quarters. Dust quarters with flour and stack. Then roll them up into a log and slice the noodles as wide as you prefer. Separate the noodles and let them dry for about an hour. At this point, you can cook them immediately, or lay them loosely in a shallow pan with the loose flour and put them in the freezer until you are ready to use them. (You can also dry them, but I would still keep them in freezer.)
The real trick to good noodles is good broth. Grandma cooked “stewing hens”. They needed to be cooked a long time but they had great flavor. Today I use a large chicken to stew. Chicken leg quarters also make very good broth, and the chicken fat makes them extra flavorful. Grandma sometimes added bouillon cubes for flavor but I try to avoid that because of the MSG. And if I’m just making a small batch, I simmer the bones of a rotisserie chicken for some good broth.
1 chicken, cut up
Piece of celery, onion
Salt to taste
Cover chicken with water and cook until done. Remove from broth and cool. De-bone chicken, then cut into small pieces. In a large kettle bring broth (about 2 quarts) to a boil. Drop in a few noodles at a time. Cook for 10 minutes, then stir. Simmer for 10 more minutes with lid on. Stir from bottom so they don’t stick. Check for seasoning, adding salt and pepper. Fold in cut up chicken and stir through the noodles. Keep on low heat for at least 15 minutes and they will be ready to eat.
Today chicken and noodles has become my very favorite thing to make just like Grandma. I make them for every reunion, and just about every party I have. And when I ask my grandkids what they want me to make for dinner, they usually say chicken and noodles!
Fran DeWine is a Cedarville resident, wife of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and guest columnist. Her next cookbook, Fran DeWine and Tina Husted’s Family Favorites will come out this summer.