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Cooking WIth Chimney Corners

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FRANKFORT, Mich.---More than time is measured at Chimney Corners Resort.
The homespun resort about 30 miles southwest of Traverse City celebrates its 75th anniversary this summer. Guests who eat in the resort lodge near Crystal Lake are dining from the legacy creations of Mollie Rogers, the daughter-in-law of the resort founders and mother of current owner Jim Rogers. Mollie is 88 years old. She's as sharp as a needle from one of the resort's white pine trees.

Don't miss an opportunity to sit down and have a chat. A session with Mollie at the corners would be like sitting with Conrad at the Hilton.
Mollie has authored six cookbooks with her unique ideas for shrimp jambalaya, baked chicken strata and Gazpacho, which she considers one of her specialties, especially on these scorching summer days:

4 really ripe tomatoes, quartered
1/2 lg. green pepper, seeded, sliced
1 small onion, chunked
1 clove garlic, smashed, peeled
3 T. wine vinegar; 2 T. olive oil.
1/4 tsp pepper; 1 tsp. salt; 1/2 c. ice water.
Chop vegetables with French knife, in blender or food processor so "you don't reduce everything to mush." Double or triple the recipe.

"When I started cooking there was no garlic or wine in the local stores," Rogers recalled during a visit in her cottage. "I probably did the first Greek salad and first spinach salad in the area because I read heavily. If that's what they were doing in New York and Chicago I could do that too. When bottled water first appeared it was in the laundry department.
"Who knew that you bought water, for heaven's sake?"
Its that kind of insight that makes Roger's cookbook so wonderful.

I loved her introduction of "Let the Celebration Begin!" Rogers writes, "Call the High School; they'll be glad to recommend a delightful young person who will add a smiley face to your gathering, and he/she'll wash dishes, afterward. Enjoy your own party, why don't you?"
I'm not so sure that will work for my parties on the west side of Chicago.

Save this Chimney Corners image for November.

Rogers cooked at the resort for almost 40 years before turning the operation over to her kids in 1980.
"In those days you did the American Plan (three meals daily)," said Rogers, who was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia. "There wasn't a resort business as such. There were what Mother Rogers called 'The Ladies,' retired school teachers, widowed mothers, grown daughters. We had 12 or so ladies and they had silver napkin rings and napkins. Everything was very lady like. That went on until after the war when people began to get cars. I remember if I went down to swim in Crystal Lake during the afternoon I would be the only one there. People didn't do that.
"I took the cooking over from my mother-in-law and found I really liked it and I was good at it."

Rogers said she would cook for 30 to 50 people in one sitting. "I invented the buffet (on Fridays with roast beef, chicken, pasta and whitefish from Lake Superior) we do now," she recalled. "On any given Saturday during the summer a resort changes 18 to 20 units. We had no idea how many people coming in expected to eat that night. I usually cooked for what my reservations were; 25 people or so.
"We decided there was only one way to do it; go in there at eight in the morning and start cooking a buffet, especially if you're given to this old kind of Midwest family cooking where you made everything including the salad dressings. I cooked something different every night."

There were 'localvores' back in the 1940s and 50s, according to Rogers. Except they didn't go by that fancy name.
They were resourceful.
"You went down to the docks, waded across a squishy little board and got the whitefish and lake trout from the guy who just came in off the lake," she said. "But Lake Michigan was not as reliable for fish as it is now. We'd get fruit and vegetables from a local farm lady." The resort also specialized in regional cherry pies and apple pies.

I came across her "Tutti-Frutti Sauce (Rumtopf)" of which Rogers wrote, "You couldn't call it a recipe; it's more of a life style...makes one feel like a thrifty farm wife all ready for a hard winter."
A Mason jar of this sauce includes strawberries, raspberries, pitted sour cherries, quartered plums, peaches and nectarines--mixed with a bottle of rum. This definitely gets things smokin' at Chimney Corners.

"There were less pies than fancy desserts," she said with a sneaky sweet smile. "Chocolate Pots de Creme (with chocolate chips and strong coffee!). Cherries jubilee (with a dash of brandy). Those were a little different."
Just like Chimney Corners Resort.

For more on Chimney Corners resort and to track down a fine 208-page copy of Mollie Rogers' "Chimney Corners Cookbook: Recipe and Reflections from Northwest Michigan" visit Chimney Corners.

Also zip back to my July 18 Travel column

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Dave Hoekstra

Dave Hoekstra has been a Chicago Sun-Times staff writer since 1985. His collection of Sun-Times travel columns, "Ticket To Everywhere," was published in 2000 by Lake Claremont Press. He was lead writer for "Farm Aid: Song for America" (Rodale Press, 2005) which commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Willie Nelson inspired effort.
He won a 1987 Chicago Newspaper Guild Stick O-Type Award for Column Writing. Hoekstra wrote and co-proudced the WTTW-Channel 11 PBS special: "The Staple Singers and the Civil Rights Movement," nominated for a 2001-02 Chicago Emmy for a documentary program/cultural significance.
He lives in Chicago.


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