Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A Taste of History

BY Chris Kardish

When William McKell’s uncle decided to leave Ireland on a trans-Atlantic voyage in 1830, the 21-year-old tagged along. A no-nonsense man who was fed up with life in Derry Hall, he would do well in America. After gaining the trust of some brothers who sold window glass and fine china, William agreed to extend their business past the Ohio Canal. But the canal was frozen over in the winter of 1832 and he only got as far as Chillicothe. Deciding to set up shop in that fertile valley hedged between the Scioto River and Paint Creek, William never looked back. Four years later, he married Phebe Scott Cook, an independently minded woman with an equally strong character.

One-hundred and seventy three years later, the couple’s grandson contributed this story of a Chillicothe settler along with a recipe for apple cupcakes to Rich Traditions: a collection of family recipes and memories, a project of the Junior Civic League of Chillicothe

Although the cookbook was inspired by the work of the Junior Civic League of Canton, this collection focuses on what makes Chillicothe Chillicothe, says Kristyne Ramsey, a music therapist, who spearheaded the project. “This is just about families; it’s about the people,” she says. “When you think about it, that’s where history really comes from. It’s a way for people to talk about where they came from, talk about stories of their families that haven’t been written down.”

The recipes, interspersed with the stories dating back to the American Revolution, were taste tested and approved by the women of the Junior Civic League. But while Kristyne swears by every submission, she’s not totally sold on the pineapple casserole.

“You’ve got your pineapple, and sugar, flour, and all so far so good,” she says, rattling off the ingredients while preparing for the bombshell. “But all of a sudden: sharp cheddar cheese, grated? With pineapple and cracker crumbs? I thought, ‘that sounds disgusting!’ And I’ve had more people say that was awesome. I haven’t done it yet. I’m a little scared.” Smiling mischievously, she says she’s saving that recipe for a family reunion. “I’m going to say, ‘who made that?’”

One story that Krystine will never forget, though she can’t remember who told it to her, exemplifies the “accidents” that define our lives.

“A family was on a train going through Chillicothe, and they saw—I don’t think they could read very well—but they saw the ‘C-H-I’ and thought ‘Oh, we’re here! They got off thinking this was Chicago and they just lived here. I’ll never forget that. They just lived here all of their lives but they were going to Chicago, that was their goal.”

The 20-year resident of Chillicothe insists that her own story would fail to inspire. “I didn’t put my story in here, because I thought it was kind of boring, but people are like ‘how’d you come from Canton.’ Well, um, I got married, and the gentleman had a job down here, and that’s why I moved down here, but now we’re divorced. People ask ‘why didn’t you move back to Canton?’ Why? I already started my career here. And I loved the area and I thought ‘I don’t want to go back to Canton.’ I love it here, so I stayed…I guess I can blame one good thing on my ex-husband: a good town.”

Like the unknown family originally bound for Chicago or William mcKell, held up by the winter of 1832, Kristyne never looked back. Her story, along with pineapple casserole, are every bit a part of Chillicothe’s history.

Pineapple Casserole

1 (20 ounce) can pineapple (bits), reserve juice

½ cup sugar

3 tablespoons flour

3 tablespoons pineapple juice from can

1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated

1 stick butter

½ cup round buttery cracker crumbs

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