A New Year’s Tradition

by Sandra Merville Hart

I didn’t like black-eyed peas as a child. My dad didn’t seem especially fond of them either since my mom only served them once a year.

Yet my dad insisted that everyone at the table eat at least one bite of black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. It had been more than a tradition when my dad was growing up. He’d been taught to believe that eating this side dish at the New Year’s supper brought good luck.

While he may not have believed it totally, the tradition had been ingrained in him. He made certain that someone remembered to buy a bag of the dried beans or a can to serve each year.

Every year, that is, until what was to be the final Christmas for him and mom.

That year, he seemed to sense that my mother would not see another Christmas. He called his two children that lived hundreds of miles away and told them to come home for Christmas. His other children were already in the area.

That Christmas, the weather cooperated with mild temperatures. We were all together for about a week. My mom hadn’t been going out for much more than doctor appointments for months, but we managed to get her out for the daily festivities.

With all the grandchildren and in-laws gathered, it felt like a gift to celebrate the holidays together. At one point, my parents and all four of their children found themselves sitting around the dining room table together. It had been many years since that happened. No one wanted to move. It was such a gift, one that never happened again.

No one remembered to buy black-eyed peas for the New Year’s meal. My dad seemed a bit concerned but took it in stride.

The following year ushered in one nightmare after another. There were several deaths in the family, including both my parents.

Do I believe those tragic events had anything to do with not eating that traditional dish? Not at all.

Still, in honor of my dad, I serve black-eyed peas to all who eat at my table on New Year’s Day.


Pecan Pie Recipe

by Sandra Merville Hart

When my daughter asked me to bring a pecan pie for a family dinner, I had to search for a recipe. I can’t clearly remember making one, but, if I did, it was before she was born. 😊

I chose one from my old Fannie Farmer’s cookbook.

Pecan Pie

3 eggs, slightly beaten

¾ cup sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 cup dark corn syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla

8 ounces whole pecans

Prepared single crust pie dough

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Place the bottom layer of pie dough into your pie plate and prick with a fork several times along the bottom and sides. (I bought prepared pie dough to save time.)

Blend together the eggs, sugar, salt, corn syrup, and vanilla in a medium mixing bowl.

Arrange the pecans around the bottom of the pie pan. It’s okay to fill in with broken ones on the bottom layer because no one will see it.

Then pour the filling over the pecans. Next, arrange another layer of unbroken pecan over the filling.

Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes. Then lower the heat to 350. Continue baking for 35 minutes.

This delicious pie earned compliments from all who ate it. The gooey filling with 2 layers of pecans had a nice nutty flavor. A slice of the sweet pie was my breakfast the next day.   

Let me know if you try it.



Revised by Cunningham, Marion and Laber, Jeri. The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, Alfred A Knopf Inc., 1983.

Apple Pie Recipe

by Sandra Merville Hart

I decided to change my apple pie recipe because I wanted to cook the apples ahead of baking. I used parts of my old familiar recipe and changed others—just in time to share at our family Thanksgiving meal! It was risky but everyone liked it.

Apple Pie

5-6 tart apples such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored, and cut into large slices (a generous 4 cups of apples)

4 tablespoons butter

1 cup sugar + 1 teaspoon sugar, divided

3 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Prepared 2 crust pie dough

1 beaten egg

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Combine 1 cup sugar, flour, and cinnamon into a large mixing bowl and mix thoroughly. Add the sliced apples. Gently toss the apples into the sugary mixture until they are well-coated.

Melt the butter in a large cast iron skillet over medium heat. When melted, add the apple mixture. Stir often as the apples cook. As the fruit cooks, it releases juices that thicken in the bottom of the pan. Cook until the apples begin to soften, about 10 – 12 minutes.

Pour the apple mixture into a bowl and allow to cool.

Place the bottom layer of pie dough into your pie plate and prick with a fork several times along the bottom and sides. (I bought prepared pie dough to save time.)

Pour cooled apples onto the prepared pie plate. Cover with the top layer of crust and fold it under the bottom layer. Using your thumbs, press the ends together to seal and to make a fluted edge.

Brush the top layer with the egg and sprinkle on about a teaspoon of sugar. Using a knife, make slits for the air to escape.

Bake 45- 50 minutes or until golden brown.

As I said, I took this to a family Thanksgiving meal and hoped for the best.

I needn’t have worried. The delicious pie was a hit. It was a little sweet, but not overly so. Six apples were the right amount of fruit. The filling was thick and didn’t spill out over the plate when slicing it.

Let me know if you try it.


Blackberry Shrub Recipe

by Sandra Merville Hart

I write historical novels and it’s always fun to find a recipe for something that folks ate or drank in days gone by that most modern folks have never heard about. Blackberry shrub is one of those drinks.

The recipe in my 1877 cookbook is actually for raspberry shrub and was shared by Mrs. Judge West. My character in my newest release, A Not So Convenient Marriage, discovers that her husband enjoys blackberry shrub and makes it for him.

This recipe makes a concentrate that you add to a glass of ice-cold water. I added four tablespoons of the concentrate to a glass of water. I don’t advise drinking it without diluting it. 😊  

It’s amazingly quick and easy to prepare. Wipe up any spills immediately as the fruit may stain the counter.  

To make one pint of shrub concentrate:

Rinse 1 pint fresh blackberries and drain. Place drained fruit in a medium mixing bowl. Pour in 1 pint of apple cider vinegar and give it a gentle stir. Let it stand a few minutes.

With a slotted spoon, take the blackberries out of the vinegar and put them in a quart-sized Mason jar (or 2 pint-sized jars.) Then pour the vinegar (it will now have a purple tinge) over the fruit. Close the lid on the jars and let it stand overnight.

The next day, strain the fruit from the liquid and discard it.

Pour the liquid into a saucepan. Stir in 1 pint of sugar and boil on medium to medium high heat for 10 minutes.

The shrub will have the consistency of a light syrup. Pour it into a clean pint-sized Mason. Allow the concentrate to cool before putting on the lid.

Mrs. West doesn’t say to store it in a cool place, like a refrigerator, but I believe it tastes better cold. It should be good a few weeks.  

I added four tablespoons of the syrup to icy cold water. (You can add more to taste.) It’s a light flavor of blackberry with snappy taste from vinegar. I liked it as a variation from soft drinks and so did my husband. I also took it to a family movie night and they enjoyed the novelty of the drink.

I always try to make the recipe as the historical cook did. Next time, I’ll allow the fruit to steep inside the vinegar for three or four days to enhance the fruity flavor. I will also mash the fruit when making the syrup to enhance the blackberry flavor.



Compiled from Original Recipes. Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping, Applewood Books, 1877.

Cheese Ball Recipe

by Sandra Merville Hart

I remember when you often were served cheese balls at parties. It happens less often these days and it seems that appetizer foods run in cycles just like clothing fashions. 😊

I was asked to bring an appetizer to an author gathering and went over several possibilities before settling on a cheese ball. This is my sister’s recipe. My family still loves it when we go to her house for a party and see this appetizer on the counter.


2 8-ounce packages of cream cheese (rectangular blocks)

5-6 two-ounce packages of Buddig beef, divided

¼ cup finely chopped onion

2 dashes Worcestershire sauce

1 clove of garlic, minced (optional)

Club crackers (or your favorite crackers)

Take the cream cheese out of the fridge and let it set on the counter 20 to 30 minutes before beginning preparations so that it softens.

Chopped 3 packages of the beef and put it in a medium-sized mixing bowl.

In a separate larger bowl, place the cream cheese. Knead it a few seconds with your hands to soften it.

Add the beef, onion, and garlic (I didn’t add the optional garlic) to the cream cheese and mix together. I find it easier to mix the whole thing with my hands but perhaps that’s because my grandmother mixed everything with hers.

Form it into a ball and set it back in the bowl.

Chop up 2 packages of the remaining beef and place in the bowl previously used. Roll the cheese ball in the meat to cover. I had to use my hands to get the last bit in place.

If it’s not covered enough for your taste, chop up the final package of beef and add it to outside layer of the cheese ball.

Cover with plastic wrap, place in an air-tight container, and chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours or until ready to serve. I was traveling and made it four days in advance.

It lasted over a week and continued to taste delicious. It’s nice and meaty with the beef mixed on the inside as well as coated on the outside, making it a more filling snack.

My friends were excited to eat this appetizer and went back for more, complimenting me on its flavor. Leftovers made a quick and easy side for lunch.

Serve on a decorative dish with your favorite crackers. I chose club crackers for my guests because lots of folks tend to like them. Choose your favorite as a variation.

This is always a hit. Thanks B. for sharing your recipe with us!

Pakistan Casserole

by Sandra Merville Hart

Another one of the dishes my husband makes that has become a comfort food to me is Pakistan Casserole. He got the recipe from a co-worker before we were married. It quickly became a go-to recipe for him because it’s easy to prepare.

I use long grain brown rice which takes about 45 minutes to cook. In my opinion, this enhances the flavor of the casserole. If you use minute rice, it will be much quicker. It’s your preference—and, let’s be honest, it probably depends on the amount of time you have to get the meal on the table. 😊

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.


1 lb. pork sausage (ground beef or ground turkey are nice substitutes)

3 cups cooked rice

1 can Cream of Chicken Soup

6 slices American cheese

¼ cup of shredded cheese

Prepare the rice per the package’s instructions.

Brown the sausage in a skillet, crumbling it as it cooks. Drain.

In a separate bowl, combine the cooked rice, sausage, and soup.

Select a large casserole dish (mine is 13×9) and spray it with cooking spray.

Spoon in about 2/3 of the mixture. Cover it with a layer of American cheese. Then put the remaining mixture on top.

Sprinkle about ¼ cup of shredded cheese (more if you prefer) over the top. Bake for 20 minutes or until the cheese melts.  

The flavor of the sausage is toned down a bit by the other ingredients, making this a kid-friendly meal. It’s also filling. The adults in our family also enjoy this dish.

If you make this dish using minute rice, it can be out of the oven in about a half hour.

For variation, try substituting the sausage for ground beef or ground turkey. This will also make the dish less spicy for those who prefer milder flavors.

Hamburger Mac Recipe

by Sandra Merville Hart

One of the dishes my husband makes has become a comfort food to me. Maybe it’s because of the macaroni and cheese. Maybe it’s because it’s a filling supper with a side vegetable or salad. Or maybe it’s because my husband takes over the preparation for supper!

It could become a comfort meal for your family too so I’m sharing my husband’s recipe that he created long before we met as a quick and easy meal.


1 lb. Ground beef

1 box of macaroni and cheese

1 cup of shredded cheese, divided

Prepare the macaroni and cheese per the box’s instructions.

Brown the ground beef in a skillet. Turn off the heat. Drain it and then return the cooked ground beef to the skillet.

Sprinkle about ¼ cup of shredded cheese over the cooked meat and stir.

Add about 1/3 of the prepared macaroni and cheese and combine. Then add the rest in increments, stirring to combine the mixture.

Sprinkle ½ cup of shredded cheese over the top. Turn the burner on low, cover, and heat the mixture until the cheese melts—about 3 to 5 minutes.

Pour the mixture into a bowl. My husband adds more shredded cheese at this point to the top, up to ¼ cup.

This is a kid-friendly meal. Little ones who like macaroni and cheese but shy away from eating a hamburger often enjoy this meal. It’s more filling that macaroni and cheese alone and they get some protein.

Most of the adults in our family also enjoy this dish.

It’s easy to prepare—and can be ready in under 30 minutes on those nights when the children have dance or soccer practice or swim lessons. 😊

Cinnamon Cake Recipe

by Sandra Merville Hart

Something I enjoy doing as an author of historical novels is searching through old recipe books for the time period that I’m writing. I include those dishes in my novels. “Spies of the Civil War” is my series that released in 2022. Cinnamon cake is one of the staples baked by our talented baker hero in Byway to Danger, Book 3. Our heroine works as his assistant. 😊

A basic recipe for cinnamon cake in an 1877 cookbook, Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping is courtesy of Miss M.E. Wilcox, Selma, Alabama.

Mis Wilcox didn’t provide any measurements for ingredients, which is common for cooks in the 1800s. I’m sharing what I used to make her cinnamon cake. My pre-school granddaughter helped me.

Start with making sponge.

Mix together 4 cups of flour and 2¼ cups of scalded milk that cooled to lukewarm.

Dissolve a packet of yeast in ¼ cup warm water and let it stand for about 5 minutes before adding it to the dough. Knead this into the dough. It will feel soft and elastic.

Cover the dough with plastic wrap. Set it in a warm place and allow it to rise until doubled in size, about 45 to 60 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Knead the dough again and then roll it on a floured surface until about ¾ inch thick.

Prepare your baking pan with shortening and flour or use cooking spray. (I used a 13 x 9 pan.) Arrange the dough in the prepared pan, gently pressing it to even the layer.

Miss Wilcox used slices of butter, sprinkles of cinnamon, and then sugar but didn’t provide measurements.

I took a little artistic license on this part and melted 4 tablespoons of butter and spread it over the top of the dough.

My granddaughter mixed 2½ teaspoons of cinnamon with 1 cup of sugar. We sprinkled it over the top. I think we could have used about ¼ cup less, but she got on a bit of a roll with the cinnamon sugar—a sweet one! 😊

Bake at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes.

My family enjoyed the delicious cinnamon flavor. If you like cakes very sweet, then 1 cup of sugar is the right amount. If not, ¾ cup of sugar should be plenty.

The cake itself has the sponginess of a bread, which isn’t surprising since that’s how the dough is made.

Also, it’s easier to eat this cake holding it in your hand.

I’d love to hear if you try this recipe.


Compiled from Original Recipes. Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping, Applewood Books, 2011.  

No-churn Chocolate Ice Cream

by Sandra Merville Hart

It always thrills me to find recipes for something I never dreamed of making. I don’t own an ice-cream maker and thought I’d have to purchase one before making homemade ice cream. Imagine my surprise at finding a no-churn recipe. And it’s easy to make!

I followed the Food Network’s recipe for No-Churn Chocolate Ice Cream. Click on the link for the recipe.

One of my grandchildren (the other watched his favorite show 😊) was thrilled to make this ice cream with me early in the day to be ready for an afternoon treat, as it requires 5 hours in the freezer before serving.

It’s amazingly quick and easy—and fun with a little one helping you and sneaking a lick of chocolaty fingers. 😊

I followed the recipe except I sprinkled a layer of milk chocolate chips in the middle and on top (about an ounce of chips in total) because I love chocolate-chocolate chip ice cream.

It turned out creamy and delicious! I could taste the cocoa, giving it an enhanced chocolate flavor over most frozen ice creams.

I lined my loaf pan with parchment paper. After the ice cream was frozen, the parchment paper was turned down to cover the ice cream in the freezer. Another option is to choose a container with a lid from the start, which is what I will do next time.

Additional add-ins—crushed cookies in a middle layer; M&M baking bits in a middle layer and on top; or gummy snack treats or sprinkles as decoration on top.

A fun summertime treat!


“No-Churn Chocolate Ice Cream,” Food Network, 2022/08/08 https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchen/no-churn-chocolate-ice-cream-3364669.

Ice Cream Cake

by Sandra Merville Hart

My sister has a summer birthday and she told me how much she enjoyed making an ice cream cake with her young grandchildren, aged 5 and 2.

It sounded like so much fun that I decided to do the same with my grandchildren around the same age. The best part is you can modify this recipe and choose your favorites.

I asked her if she froze the cake between adding layers and she didn’t—but they must have worked quickly. I didn’t freeze the cake before adding the second layer of ice cream but I will next time. That’s the suggestion I’d make for you if you’re using 2 different layers of ice cream.

Below is the list of ingredients I used for our ice cream cake. Change them for your family’s preferences. 😊


Fudge brownies—make from scratch or use a mix

½ gallon chocolate ice cream

½ gallon cookies and cream ice cream

10-12 Oreo cookies, crushed


Chocolate ganache—9 ounces unsweetened chocolate and 1 cup heavy cream

Use a springform pan to layer this dessert.

Bottom layer—prepare a brownie recipe and cook it in the springform pan. Allow it to cool.

Next, prepare the chocolate ganache. Set aside to cool for about 10 minutes.

On top of the cooled brownie inside the springform pan, scoop in a layer of chocolate ice cream.

Next, spoon on a thin layer of ganache.

On top of the ganache, sprinkle a layer of crushed Oreos.

Freeze all this in the pan for about half an hour.

Next, add a layer of cookies and cream ice cream.

Top it with sprinkles.

Freeze until ready to serve.

This was a little messy with young children but it was worth it. What fun! Their creative side came into play and, well, let’s just say the sprinkles ended up in a heap. I didn’t mind at all.

When it came time to serve the cake, I allowed 30 minutes of thawing time. It was too hard to slice, so I’d suggest removing it from the freezer an hour ahead of time.

Delicious! As if it could be anything else with 2 kinds of ice creams, fudge brownies, Oreos, ganache, and sprinkles!

What a great summertime activity with the kids! Be prepared for a bit of a mess and have fun with it. Creating a cake using flavors your family will love is half the fun.

Suggestions for alternatives: Instead of brownies as a bottom layer, substitute with large chocolate chip cookie layer.

Substitute the crushed Oreos with your favorite cookie.

Substitute one of the ice cream layers with chocolate mousse.