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Column dedicated to Ruth Plunkett

November 14, 2012
By ESTHER MCCOY - Food editor ( , Weirton Daily Times

Cookbooks I have saved throughout the years of the Herald-Star Cookbook Contest show that the event started in 1970, when Marge Bedortha, who had been the Herald-Star society editor since the mid-1950s, came back to work to steer that contest to completion.

At that same time, Ruth Plunkett, Weirton Daily Times society editor, was starting her own cookbook contest. It is to Ruth that this food column is dedicated.

She is now retired and has moved from her family home to a more convenient high rise apartment - convenient for her in size and convenient for her daughter, Kathy Schrader, as she can reach the apartment within two minutes.

Ruth remembers that the first contests were held at the electric company on Weirton Heights, where they had a kitchen that could be utilized. She had 10 categories for her contests, and judges picked eight dishes for finalists to prepare. There were cash prizes awarded, along with a grand prize, but Ruth is uncertain of the amounts after 42 years.

Locations shifted over the years and the last was the year the Herald-Star and Daily Times combined their contests. It was held at a vacant store location at the Fort Steuben Mall. Gail Wright, Herald-Star society editor, worked with her on this, and I came along as a helper.

I can recall that Ruth had crystal glasses for the judges to sip wine between courses to clean the palate. I'm sorry, but I never carried on that tradition. It sounds like a good idea though.

On Oct. 3, 2009, Ruth suffered a massive stroke, but if there is anyone who has great determination and spirit, it is the former society editor. And she has made great progress, despite small strokes that continued to occur. She says, however, "God has been good to me. I have most of my faculties back."

Ruth would love to hear from her Weirton friends. In the event that you want to send her a card, address it to 1180 Reissing Road, McDonald, PA 15057. She wanted to attend the taste-off held Nov. 8 at St. Florian Hall but was unable to do so. Four of her recipes have been typed and sent to me through the courtesy of her daughter, Kathy, and granddaughter, Michelle, and are appearing today.

And I would like to show off some of the judges doing their job at the 2012 contest that turned out very well. The cookbook comes out Nov. 20, and you will see that many new contestants were chosen as finalists and winners. Next year, why don't you give it a try?

The first recipe that Ruth Plunkett mentioned to me was her chicken loaf that put her on the map as a great cook.

Ruth's Chicken Loaf

5 cups chicken, cooked off the bones with a couple slices of onion

2 cups milk

1 cup chicken fat that has been skimmed off the water the chicken has been cooked in and/or margarine

4 large or 6 medium eggs

3 to 4 large stalks celery, sliced or diced

Salt and pepper to taste

4 cups cracker crumbs, (1 tube single soda cracker stacks makes 2 cups crumbs.)

Heat fat or margarine, chicken, celery and milk that has been thickened slightly by cooking with some cornstarch. Add cracker crumbs. Pour into loaf pans. Can be frozen at this point. Bake until golden brown in 350 degree oven. Moisten with broth left from cooking chicken before baking or freezing. Remainder can be used for gravy.

Here is a side dish that came from a Weirton Times Cookbook edition. The cook is not listed, but likely Ruth adopted this as one of her recipes for the holidays in the past. Since it is just called Yams, I am going to make up a more descriptive name.

Yam and Apple Streudel

29-ounce can yams, cut into bite size pieces

1 can apple pie filling

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/3 cup margarine

1/2 to 3/4 cup brown sugar

4 tablespoons flour

3/4 cup oats

Mix together oats, flour, sugar and cinnamon. Cut in margarine until crumbly. Arrange less than half of the pie filling into a greased 2-quart casserole. Spoon 3 tablespoons topping over apples. Add yams then the rest of the topping. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes.

This was a recipe submitted to the DT cooking contest by Joanna Mastroianni. Ruth must have felt it was a keeper to have held on to it so long.

Mock Pumpkin Pie

4 eggs

Large can pumpkin

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup brown sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 1/2 teaspoons allspice

13-ounce size evaporated milk

1 box yellow cake mix

1 stick margarine

Pour the combination of eggs, pumpkin, sugars, cinnamon, allspice and evaporated milk into a greased 13-by-9-inch pan. Mix cake mix with a stick of margarine like pie dough. Sprinkle on pie mix. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until knife comes out clean. Cool and serve with whipped topping or whipped cream.

This is canned candy fondant for Easter eggs but could be used to make smaller pieces of cream candy that have been dipped in chocolate. You could even add different flavorings and add nuts, chopped cherries or other fruit and give them for Christmas gifts.

Candy Fondant

2 cups sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup white corn syrup, she uses Karo

3/4 cup water

1 egg white

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Using a 3-quart pan with a lid, boil syrup until it makes a firm ball when dropped into cold water. Remove from heat and put lid on the pan. Let stand until it cools. In a deep bowl, add an egg white and 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar. Beat until stiff. Beat egg white on high while pouring a very thin stream of syrup into the beaten egg white. Beat until it cools and forms a peak. Use plastic gloves to form small balls, or in the event of Easter, form Easter eggs. Finish cooling after forming on wax paper. When cool, coat with melted cooking chocolate, milk or dark chocolate variety.

(McCoy can be contacted at

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