Anna Gepson’s cooking blossoms from her rural food roots. Growing up in Fort Calhoun, Neb., Gepson honed her culinary skills at an early age and admits you can take a girl out of the country, but can’t take the country out of her cooking.
Married to Brent Vaughn for nearly 20 years, Gepson is a mobile pet groomer and says she has a “bi-petual” home in Prairie Village with two dogs and a cat. Gepson knows her husband and she live the high-life with down-home cooking that uses ingredients from their garden and tried-and-true recipes.
Q: How rich is the tradition of cooking in your family?
A: I had the best childhood ever, surrounded by family — grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins — on what I would call a gentleman’s farm in Nebraska. My father, Pete Gepson, worked as a pharmacist and while we didn’t rely on the land for our livelihood, we experienced farm living with cows, pigs, sheep, ducks, chickens and, of course, cats and dogs. I’m told my first word was, “kitty,” so I guess it’s no surprise that my life would eventually circle back around to having a garden and caring for animals.
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Q: Do your cooking and gardening skills have a Husker heritage?
A: Even though we grew up on an acreage, my mother, Patricia, had a giant vegetable garden. I also learned a lot from my grandma, Anna Cecilia Fitzgerald, as she would crochet and sew wonderful quilts. Of course, growing up on the farm, you also learn how to cook and were close to the source of our food. I can remember butchering chickens — and how our whole family would come together as we each had a role to play as the chickens were processed.
Today, Brent and I don’t raise chickens, but we have a vegetable garden and gooseberry bush to make my favorite pie. I can’t take credit for all the plants that grow outside my home, as Brent has a green thumb and makes everything look so beautiful. But, my tomatoes didn’t grow very well this year with all the rain and I’m not sure I will have enough to make our special mincemeat for the holidays.
Q: Mincemeat that is made with apples and raisins, I know. But green tomato mincemeat?
A: I have a recipe for Green Tomato Mincemeat that, ironically, I cut from the newspaper years ago. My mom said she used to make it when I was a kid, which is probably why I gravitated to the recipe I saw in the newspaper.
This recipe calls for apples, raisins and orange, while the green tomatoes take on the taste of the warm spices with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger and allspice.
I try to make the Green Tomato Mincemeat every year at the end of growing season, as it’s a great way to use up all those green tomatoes from the garden. It has become a holiday tradition in our house, because I usually make a big vat of the stuff in October and use it to make pies for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Q: So why share a recipe for fricasseed chicken with dumplings?
A: When I was 10 years old, I received a Betty Crocker cookbook for Christmas. I still have that cookbook, even though it is falling apart. When I was young, I perused the cookbook and decided I wanted to make Chicken Fricassee with Dumplings as my first meal.
Mom says I was enamored of the name of this “exotic” dish and she let me make it and serve it to my family in 1974 — all of whom are still living to this day, I might add. Originally, this recipe called for a cut-up stewing chicken, but I’ve modified it to using boneless, skinless chicken breasts, because the skin isn’t crispy after simmering in the pot.
I’m not a fancy cook, but I think it’s the simple things that stick with you, literally and figuratively.
Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. E-mail her at email@example.com to nominate a cook.
Chicken Fricassee with Dumplings
Makes 4 servings
For the chicken:
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons paprika
4 pieces boneless, skinless chicken breasts
¼ cup canola oil
1 cup water
1 onion, minced
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary or thyme leaves
For the gravy:
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups milk
For the dumplings:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons all-vegetable solid shortening
1/4 cup milk
To prepare chicken: Into a pie pan, whisk flour, salt, pepper and paprika together. Dredge chicken breasts with flour mixture, coating both sides evenly and set aside.
Warm oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat on stovetop. Add chicken to pan and brown on both sides. Drain fat and reserve for making gravy.
Deglaze pan with water, scraping the bottom of pan using a wooden spoon. Add onion and herbs to pan and cover tightly with lid. Turn heat to low and simmer chicken in liquid for about 20 minutes, or until cooked through.
Remove chicken to a plate and keep warm. Pour off liquid and reserve for making gravy.
To prepare gravy:
Over medium-high heat, warm reserved oil in saute pan. Sprinkle flour over oil and whisk until well combined to create a roux, or until mixture is lightly browned and bubbly. Whisk in milk and reserved liquid until mixture boils and thickens. Return chicken to pan and turn heat to low.
To prepare dumplings:
Into a medium mixing bowl, whisk flour, baking powder and salt together. Cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse sand. Stir in milk until a wet dough forms.
Drop by tablespoonfuls into sauté pan on top of chicken and gravy. Cook uncovered for 10 minutes to allow dumplings to set. Cover pan tightly with lid and simmer 20 minutes longer, or until dumplings are cooked through.
Per serving: 707 calories (37 percent from fat), 29 grams total fat (6 grams saturated), 78 milligrams cholesterol, 70 grams carbohydrates, 40 grams protein, 970 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.