Dr. Douglas Kiburz believes food, recipes and family traditions are woven together like a fine antique tapestry, lacing years of stories together with fond memories of his youthful meals in De Witt, Neb.
Kiburz, a local orthopaedic surgeon, is a cowboy poet, a reader with Spofest and a member of the Trail’s End Committee. He is also master storyteller in his own right, often bringing to life anecdotes of his youth spliced with memories of recipes found in his great grandmother’s family cookbook, “A Basketful of Fort Family Favorites.”
Some of this reminiscing was spurred by tomatoes.
“It all started with the chutney,” he said recently.
His tomato chutney recipe is 250 years old. It came to America from England with the Rositer family. Eventually, it was passed down to his grandmother, Grace Kiburz, and then to his mother, Virginia Kiburz.
Last summer, when he and his wife, Connie, received an overabundance of tomatoes, they decided to try their hand in making the chutney; they were delighted with the outcome.
“This was the first year we made it. It was our first go,” he said.
The chutney recipe, good on beef, pork and salmon, brought back memories of life, food, recipes and stories of his family while growing up in a small town of 500.
“I call it the Queen of the Big Blue River Valley,” he said of De Witt.
Some family stories and recipes are remembered humorously and sometimes for the wrong reasons he added.
“Millie Kiburz was having a Sunday afternoon meeting of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in the parlor during Prohibition, of course,” Kiburz wrote recently in a note. “The afternoon was proceeding pleasantly enough when there suddenly seemed to be a massive assault on the gathering. What seemed like gunshots were being fired in close proximity — as the ladies hit the floor, a little scared and a good deal angry. The culprit, it turned out, was Uncle Harry’s home brew in the cellar, as a slightly new ‘recipe,’ it had too much fermentation and the bottle tops were blowing off.”
Kiburz remembers many years ago families had to be self-sufficient.
“Back then about every family was their own farmer’s market,” he said.
They ground meal with a horse, had a creamery and a smoke house, grew gardens and became hunters and fishermen. His family had their own fish pond too — fodder for another story.
“When I was one or two, they found me face down in that fish pond,” Kiburz said. “As it happened, a neighbor knew some form of CPR back then and fashioned a revival. My father teased me for years that I might have had a more promising future if I had not waterlogged my brain cells communing with fish.”
And then there’s the story of his grandfather, George, a “railroader” for the Burlington Northern. Everyone called him “Jersey,” Kiburz said, because he kept a Jersey milking cow in the back yard and he sold the milk for extra money.
“We still have one of the old milk bottles,” he said. “People did what they could to get by.”
Kiburz said his wife and mother are fabulous cooks but he more or less just dabbles with recipes.
“Connie is a great cook and great cooks know the real art of cooking,” he said. “I appreciate the real art if it.”
He recently helped his 81-year-old mother make pepper nuts for the holidays. While she placed the tiny cookies in neat rows on the parchment paper, Kiburz said he followed with the “chaos theory of dough placement.”
“That is, I just plopped the nickel-sized mini ‘cow pies’ randomly on the sheet and filled up the spaces ...” he said. “Just like when I was five. I like it when two of the pepper nuts melt into each other and stick together, like a double treat or Siamese cookiettes, similar to the unnatural surprise of finding a double-yoked egg!”
Aromas of family recipes wafting from the kitchen can bring back memories of “yesteryear,” as well as the old time-honored recipe cards.
“When I pull out a recipe that my mom or my grandmother wrote in their hand, it’s almost like they are there.”
The Kiburz ham loaf recipe belongs to his mother. And he likes to tweak the recipe by adding pineapple.
“Pineapple is not in the original ham loaf recipe, but goes with ham like a horse and carriage,” he added.
The apple salad as well as the asparagus-strawberry salad also belongs to his mother. A popcorn wreath recipe made during the holidays belongs to his grandmother.
“Grandma Kiburz made popcorn balls between baseball- and softball-size during the holidays,” said Kiburz. “It has morphed into a tradition of popcorn wreaths by putting three of the most addictive ‘food groups’ together — popcorn, nuts and M&M’s.”
This season the the Kiburzes made 75 wreaths for family and friends.
Kiburz said he appreciates how generational recipes have a way of binding families together.
“It has a way of keeping memories alive and appreciating our ancestors while maintaining the chain and passing the tastes, smells and anecdotes along ...”
He soon plans to have his family’s recipes, photos and stories preserved with Bob Milner of Captured Memories, in Sedalia, who makes personal history videos.
“Families have many treasures, but the greatest has to be the recipe boxes and books and sometimes well-kept secrets passed from one generation’s celebrated cooks to the next,” he added.
2 pounds lean pork, ground
2 pounds smoked ham, ground
2 cups graham crackers, crushed
1 1/2 cups milk
Mix together, form loaf, and bake for one hour at 350 degrees.
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup vinegar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons mustard
Kiburz tweaks this recipe by adding pineapple.
Recipe from Virginia Kiburz
Pepper nuts (corns)
2 cups molasses
2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon anise oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda (dissolved in water)
9 cups flour
Mix together and make into nickel-sized dobs and bake at 350 degrees on a greased cookie sheet for eight minutes.
Recipe from Grace Kiburz
Virginia Kiburz’ apple salad
3 to 4 apples depending on size, apple crisp work well
Grapes cut in half
2 to 3 oranges
1/2 cup walnuts, approximately
1/2 cup dates, approximately
2 to 3 bananas
4 to 5 celery lengths
Mix all ingredients together.
1 carton whipped topping (prefers Cool Whip)
1/2 cup Miracle Whip, approximately to taste
2 tablespoons sugar
A few drops of vinegar for zest
Mix dressing into fruit/nut/celery mixture
Recipe from Virginia Kiburz.
Two heads of asparagus — steam until crisp (six to seven minutes) and immediately immerge in ice water. Arrange cold asparagus on platter and top with sliced strawberries; sprinkle with blue cheese and then drizzle with dressing.
Poppy seed dressing:
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon poppy seed
1 1/2 teaspoons sesame seed
3/4 teaspoon onion, grated
1/8 teaspoon paprika
1/4 cup oil
Mix in blender and refrigerate at least one hour before pouring on top.
Recipe from Virginia Kiburz
6 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled and diced small
(To peel tomatoes — dip in hot water then cold. That makes skin removal easy)
2 pounds onions, diced
1/3 cup canning salt
3 tablespoons green apple, diced
3/4 quart apple vinegar
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Cook until well done. Makes 11 pints.
This recipe was brought over from England 250 years ago by the Rositer family. It has been passed down from Grace Kiburz to Virginia Kiburz to Connie and Doug Kiburz. It’s a spicy condiment for any meat and a unique appetizer poured over cream cheese with Prime Choice sauce.