Sunday, June 22, 2014

"The Walton Family Cookbook" (from the 70's TV show, The Waltons) - Ralph Waite's Old-Fashioned Pot Roast with Potatoes (Father's Day)

Date I made this recipe:  June 15, 2014 (Father's Day)

The Walton Family Cookbook – Inspired by the Top-Rated Television Series created by Earl Hamner, Jr. by Sylvia Resnick
Published by Bantam Books
© 1975
Recipe:  Ralph Waite's Old-Fashioned Pot Roast Favorite with Potatoes – p. 71-72

Folks, timing is everything.  When actor Ralph Waite, who played John Walton, Sr. on the hit TV show The Waltons passed away earlier this year, I pulled out this cookbook intending to make his pot roast recipe but then one thing led to another and I never got it done.  But then Father's Day was upon us and I thought "How perfect!"  My dad was a pot roast kind of guy, he would have been 90 this year, five years younger than Ralph and in many ways, my relationship with my dad mirrored that of John-Boy Walton with his dad – oldest child, aiming to please yet following a path all our own.

I grew up watching The Waltons which ran from 1971 to 1981 and like John-Boy Walton, I wanted to be a writer.  Actually, I used to go around the house mimicking John-Boy's Virginia drawl:  "I want to be ay (as in the later "a") rye-tur [writer], daaaaadi [daddy]!"  I want to be a writer, daddy!

With this in mind, I moved to Minneapolis after college to hopefully begin my writing career (that never happened) and when I told people I wanted to write, thought I wanted to be more like fictional character Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore) from The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  I guess it was that move to the Twin Cities that prompted that remark.  (Truth be told, Mary was okay but Rhoda was my favorite.  That said, I did not aspire to be a window dresser.) Now, I loved this show as well but even though it premiered the year before The Waltons, I was fixated on John-Boy.  There was just something about him and that show that attracted my attention although I have to say that his character often irritated the heck out of me.  So thank goodness for the rest of the Walton children and Grandma and Grandpa and those hilarious Baldwin Sisters, god-fearing women who never drank except to partake of their late father's "recipe," also known as moonshine!  Well bless their hearts....

But although the supporting characters, especially grandma and grandpa, were great and fun, the glue that held everything together was "Mama," Olivia Walton, played by actress Michael Learned, and "Daddy," John Walton, Sr., as played by Ralph Waite.  In the series, John Walton, Sr., runs the family lumber mill and manages to keep his wife, all seven kids and two grandparents clothed, fed and secure from the ravages of the Great Depression and WWII.  My dad, born just before the Depression, was the same type of guy, the one who just kept it all together, worked hard but definitely enjoyed family time.  (By the way, my grandmother went to live with my dad's sister after my grandfather died, much like the Walton's grandparents).

Although my dad was a wildlife research biologist by trade, he was also a good writer.  In addition to endless research journal articles, he also penned a memoir of his time on Iwo Jima during WWII and also wrote a published a book, Hiawatha's Brothers, about the flora and fauna of Michigan's Upper Peninsula where we lived.  He also wrote a history of the wildlife research station where he worked and a couple other small articles.

Like John Walton, Sr., my dad could be kind of hard on me.  The first paper I ever wrote in college for a Composition 101 class was singled out by the instructor as being one of the best (and yet, she tore into it later on) and so I was quite chuffed until my dad read it and said "Well, it's written at about a 5th grade level...but it's good.  Not a bad start."  Well, of course I was crushed but I was a good writer.  Did I write scientific research papers, demanding a higher level of writing?  No.  Did my work qualify for inclusion in The New York Times? It did not.  Did I care?  Nope—not as long as I kept racking up those "A's!"  In the end, writing at a 5th grade level is pretty much the industry standard for business – not too low-brow, not too lofty...just right (or is that "write?")

As these things go, I did land a writing job of sorts as my first job in Minneapolis as a Savings Correspondent for a local Savings & Loan Association.  My job was to rewrite their standard letters to make them better (i.e. "Thank you for opening an account with us!") as well as pen the difficult ones such as "Dear Mr. Jones, We are very sorry that we have temporarily misplaced your $10,000 deposit but rest assured...."  It was actually a fun job and I got to be a little creative.  I do believe this counts as a writing gig so that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

And so while I did not follow John-Boy Walton's path of becoming a newspaper writer, I am not too shabby when it comes to writing about cookbooks.  It ain't Pulitzer-worthy but who cares?

With that, let's explore this pretty easy and delicious recipe for pot roast, made in honor of my late father and the late actor, Ralph Waite, better know as John Walton, Sr.

"Goodnight, Daddy...."

Ralph Waite's Old-Fashioned Pot Roast Favorite with Potatoes – serves 6-8
For the pot roast
1 clove garlic, peeled
3- to 4-pound boneless chuck or rump roast of beef
Salad oil
2 T seasoned salt
¾ cup water (more, if needed)
1 bay leaf (optional)
6-8 new potatoes, peeled and halved
For the gravy
2-4 T. flour
½ cup cold water
1 ½ cups liquid from roast (after skimming off fat) – add water if necessary
1 T onion soup mix

Rub garlic over meat.  Coast well with flour and brown slowly in a heavy pan or Dutch oven using small amount of salad oil.  Sprinkle with seasoned salt, turn and do the same on other side.  Lower flame to simmer and add water and a bay leaf.  Cover with a close fitting lid.  Cook for 2-2 ½ hours.  (Ann's Note:  I cooked it for 3 hours until it was absolutely tender).  During the final 45 minutes of cooking add potatoes that have been lightly salted.  Sprinkle roast and potatoes with paprika and add more water if necessary at this time.

To make the gravy, in a small pan blend 1-2 tablespoons flour with cold water, stirring carefully to dissolve any lumps.  Stir in pan juices, add the remaining flour and continue stirring until the flour and liquid are completely blended.  Add onion soup mix and cook over a low flame until gravy thickens.  (Ann's Note:  This was way too thick for my tastes so I tried to dilute it with more water and it didn't make much different.  But it is tasty if you like gravy with your beef.  My dad would have eschewed the gravy in flavor of horseradish!)

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