Amy Knipp has a simple pioneering spirit when it comes to cooking and her community. Knipp and Eric, her husband of 24 years, are vested in her hometown of Independence, where they’ve raised their own children, Kramer, 22, and Jack, 20.
Amy grew up attending Independence’s Santa-Cali-Gon Days Festival, and the Knipp family has volunteered at the annual Labor Day weekend event for the past 15 years. “This is just a wonderful family event in a community that celebrates its heritage and its future,” says Eric, a member of the event’s steering committee. “Amy and I have our fingers in a lot of pots — literally and figuratively — and while she’s the day-in-day-out cook in our kitchen, I am a happy griller and taste-tester.”
Q: What exactly is Independence’s Santa-Cali-Gon Days?
A: This festival starts on Friday and goes through Monday and celebrates Independence as the origin of the Santa Fe, California and Oregon trails during the pioneers’ great westward expansion. This is the 45th annual festival, which is held every Labor Day weekend on the historic Independence Square.
There is so much history in this community, as President Harry Truman is Independence’s favorite son, and I grew up in the shadow of his statue and mystique. Eric and I have a home in historic Independence, and sometimes we reflect on the wagon trains that rolled over the land on which our house stands.
Q: Independence has a population nearing 120,000, but talking to you makes me feel like it’s a small town.
A: It is home to us and so many families. I am in the process of closing a boutique on the square to work for the Independence School District Foundation and am so proud to be a part of investing in the children of our community.
Independence is big into neighborly involvement and community pride. In some ways, I think we are all craving a return to the simpler life — to slow down and savor the company of family and friends. Eric and I always have a lot cooking, but we make time by having gatherings in our home.
Q: Are you a “meat-and-potatoes” Midwestern type of cook?
A: I like making meals that are no-fuss, no-muss. A meal Eric and I like to prepare for a crowd is his smoked salmon with grilled vegetables and this potato salad.
This recipe comes from my mom, Marilyn Wear, who still lives in Independence with my dad. Growing up, I never really liked potato salad because I didn’t care for the mustard and sweet relish taste profile. But this potato salad changed my mind. It is a delicious side dish that is like a cold version of a twice-baked potato with sour cream, cheese, bacon and green onion.
Q: Will you be making this potato salad for your Labor Day festivities?
A: I will be at Santa-Cali-Gon Days, and the key is to NOT eat before you come to the square. There are members of churches and organizations in Independence that make food for the festival. For many years, Eric worked with our son Jack in selling the Boy Scout troop’s smoked pulled-pork sandwiches.
There are hundreds of arts, crafts and food booths, with a carnival and live concerts at Santa-Cali-Gon Days. The thing I love about Independence is really showcased in this event: People are hard-working, and they have a love for their community. It is also wonderful to be surrounded by my extended family and have connections to people that go back generations. Independence brings you up with down-to-earth values.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Email her at email@example.com to nominate a cook.
Santa-Cali-Gon Days Festival
The 45th annual Santa-Cali-Gon Days Festival runs Friday, Sept. 1-Monday, Sept. 4, on Independence Square. For more information, visit santacaligon.com.
Red Ranch Potato Salad
Makes 8 servings
2 pounds red potatoes, scrubbed clean and quartered
1 (16-ounce) container sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 (1-ounce) package ranch dressing mix
1 1/4 cups crumbled fried bacon
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
2 bunches green onions, thinly sliced
Place potatoes in large Dutch oven and cover with water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then turn heat down to medium and simmer 20 minutes or until potatoes are just fork-tender. Drain and allow potatoes to cool completely.
In a small bowl, whisk sour cream, mayonnaise and ranch dressing mix together until well-incorporated. Set aside.
Pour cooled potatoes into large serving bowl. Gently stir in bacon bits, cheddar cheese and green onion. Pour sour cream mixture over all and gently stir until well-coated.
Cover bowl with lid or plastic wrap and cool in refrigerator at least 2 hours before serving.
Per serving: 434 calories (73 percent from fat), 35 grams total fat (15 grams saturated), 72 milligrams cholesterol, 17 grams carbohydrates, 14 grams protein, 529 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.