Barbara Blackburn’s first kitchen experiments were straight out of the book. Her Betty Crocker cookbook had all the directions a Cheektowaga girl needed to turn Bisquick into a “pizza” topped with shreds of cold cuts and sliced onions.
Her blue-collar parents – father at Chevrolet Aviation, mom a bookkeeper at Millard Fillmore – encouraged her. “My parents always liked what I made,” said Blackburn, the Buffalo News August Cook of the Month. “My dad always said, ‘I got to have working man’s food.’ He didn’t like it if you called it by some fancy name, but he loved any dessert that I made.”
Like the doughnuts, “fry cakes with a little nutmeg,” that she made from a Women’s Home Companion recipe.
Cookbooks, and the scents of foreign lands they conjured up, became her window on the world. “I was taking foreign languages, and I always wanted to travel. So I would travel vicariously by cooking,”
Blackburn said. “I got this old cookbook, 1933, at a second-hand bookstore. It had all the countries, and I would make those recipes.”
She graduated from Cleveland Hill High School, part of the Class of 1960, marked by the devastating elementary school fire of 1954. She got her teaching degree from Buffalo State Teachers College, and was hired in Clarence.
But when she got her chance, she traveled for real, spending two years teaching in Oahu, Hawaii. She traveled to Europe three summers in a row. On another trip, she met her future husband in Lima, Peru. “His whole family was going to his brother’s wedding in Brazil,” she said of her husband Alan. “I was on a trip to South America that summer. He was going into the Air Force.”
Alan visited five times while she taught in Hawaii. They married in 1969. Then it was to Germany for three years, where Alan was trained as a meteorologist.
Blackburn returned to Western New York with her husband. With teaching jobs harder to find, she said, she stayed home to raise their son and daughter.
As the “Kitchen Wizard” columnist for the Metro Community News, Blackburn offered recipes and cooking advice for about 15 years beginning in the mid-1980s. She also wrote an Old West cooking column in “Old West” magazine, and when that folded, continued at The Tombstone Epitaph.
Her teaching skills and passion for cooking merged in 1983, when she began teaching community education classes on cooking. Blackburn has been teaching cooking classes since, expanding her horizons to include community colleges and the Chautauqua Institution, where she presented “Frontier Fare: Eating in America From 1863 and Beyond” earlier this summer.
In her spare time, she helps organize food-related events for SS. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Williamsville. “I think God wants me in the kitchen,” Blackburn said, “because every time I go someplace, I get to be head of some food thing.”
Now, Blackburn said, she strives to eat local, organic food when possible, including the abundant “weeds and flowers” harvested from her vast herb garden. “I hang up a lot of herbs, like our colonial forebears did,” especially sage, rosemary and thyme. “Not parsley,” she said. “That doesn’t dry well.”
She makes herb vinegars, putting tarragon sprigs and chives, with purple flowers, in individual bottles. Lavender sprigs go into jars of honey, which can stay in the pantry without spoiling, she said.
The dishes Blackburn chose to share reflect where she’s been.
The gingerbread is a German favorite, of course, though you might not see it topped with fresh peaches there. Then there’s the Polynesian pork, a Hawaiian touch.
There’s a tabouleh salad, honoring her Lebanese maternal grandfather, rife with some of those “weeds and flowers” she was talking about, but also decked with macadamia nuts – another Pacific Ocean nod.
“I just get these ideas,” said Blackburn. “I think about food all the time. It’s just natural, and I love it.”
2 pounds boneless pork, about
1 inch by 1/2 inch pieces,
with a little fat
1 small onion, chopped
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced ginger root
2 tablespoon water
1/4 cup peanut or vegetable oil
1/4 cup roasted sesame oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
In a blender, puree all but meat. Pour into a deep bowl; add pork and coat it. Marinate for at least 8 hours in refrigerator.
Thread the pork on small skewers, bamboo or metal. Brush with oil, and cook on a charcoal broiler, a hibachi, or in an oven broiler, to your liking.
Remember, the new pork can be eaten with some pink. However, this cook prefers it medium well.
1/2 cup bulgur wheat
3 medium ripe tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
3/4 cup finely chopped onions
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup flavorful olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint
1/2 cup macadamia nuts (optional)
Romaine lettuce leaves
Salt and pepper, to taste
Place the wheat in a bowl. Cover with cold water and soak 10 minutes. Drain in sieve or colander lined with cheesecloth, and squeeze dry.
Place it in bowl with the tomatoes, parsley, onions and lemon juice. Toss with fork. Before serving, stir in oil and mint. Mound the salad in a bowl or spoon it onto lettuce leaves.
To be different, scatter roasted macadamia nuts on top.
8 tablespoons butter, softened,
plus one for the pan
2 cups flour, plus 2 tablespoons
for the pan
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 and 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1 cup dark molasses
2 egg whites
1 cup buttermilk
Grated chocolate, whipped
cream and sliced peaches for
Preheat oven to 350. Prepare a 13-by-9-inch cake pan for baking, greasing with butter and coating with 2 tablespoons flour, tipping out excess.
Combine 2 cups flour, cocoa, baking soda and spices, and sift them into bowl.
In another bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until the mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, and add the molasses.
Stir in about z cup of the flour mixture. When it is well incorporated, beat in about v cup of the buttermilk. Repeat 3 more times, beating well after each addition.
Beat the egg whites until they are stiff. With a spatula, scoop the whites over the batter and fold them together.
Pour the batter into the pan, spreading it smoothly and evenly. Bake in the middle of the oven for about 25 minutes.
Decorate with grated chocolate or serve with whipped cream and some sliced fresh local peaches.