Oxtail soup: the rest of the story

By Ruth Patchett
Posted 5/18/20

Connecting with people during this time of social distancing due to the corona virus pandemic has been a challenge for many. Several are using FaceTime, Zoom and other means to do virtual meetings …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

E-mail or username
Log in

Oxtail soup: the rest of the story


Connecting with people during this time of social distancing due to the corona virus pandemic has been a challenge for many. Several are using FaceTime, Zoom and other means to do virtual meetings with friends and family. Many of us are now going to church this way, or to the doctor.

Recently, I read that old-fashioned letter writing has come back, for which I am happy, as nothing is better than re-reading a letter, or note, sent by someone special, in my opinion. I have made some new connections in the past few weeks concerning my oxtail soup story that appeared in the April 4 issue of The Prairie Press. Here is an update with the rest of the story.   

I received a very nice note from a former church member who moved to Lawrenceville. She explained how the article brought to mind recollections of eating oxtail vegetable soup with a dear, older friend in the Danville area. She wrote a lovely note, and it was especially nice to hear from her.

I also received a phone call from the Edgar County Locker and had a wonderful visit with Pat Padgett concerning the article. Though our names sound very similar, this was the first time I ever had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Padgett.  We found we had a good deal in common, besides oxtail soup, as he is familiar with the Effingham area where I was raised. We talked about meat and cooking, and he said to stop in as he had more to share with me. I hope to do that and maybe pick up something for grilling. We may have to wait to get the whole picture because of wearing our masks.

Now it’s time for the rest of the story. A few days ago, I was thrilled to receive a call from Jim Irwin, of Michigan, concerning my article on oxtail soup. He said it was such a joy to receive the letter and article I sent to him. It was his grandmother Mrs. Donald Irwin of Grass Lake, Michigan, who truly inspired the article.

She was the lady who took the time in 1964 to write to June Patchett, my mother-in-law, thanking her for the recipe of oxtail soup, which June submitted to a Home Economics Teachers Cookbook. Apparently, Mrs. Irwin made the soup and loved it. A couple of friends encouraged me, as well as Gary Henry of The Prairie Press, to try to connect with this family, and I wrote a letter hoping I would get a reply.

Fifty-six years is a long time, and I was not sure if anyone of the family still lived in the area. We all know how many family farms have disappeared over the years and luckily this was a sixth-generation farm family that is still there. Jim Irwin said he was amazed at the

similarities in our stories. His grandmother, Hedwig Maria Schmid, was born April 1, 1911, to German-speaking parents in the Jackson, Michigan, area. My mother-in-law June is also the child of German-speaking parents.

Hedwig became a teacher after attending Ypsilanti Normal (now Eastern Michigan University) and taught in several one-room schoolhouses and public schools. He said she became a pioneer in a special education program in southeast Michigan. June Patchett was also an educator teaching for 38 years and while never in a one-room schoolhouse, she was certainly familiar with a small school setting.

His email mentioned the family farm was established in 1836, a year before Michigan achieved statehood. His grandparents, Hedwig and Donald, met at a country dance near the farm and were married in 1937 living on the then already 100-year-old farm and raising four children. He sent a picture of the farm taken when The American Pickers television show visited there for a 2018 episode. His grandparents were married for 62 years with Hedwig passing in January 2004.

He went on to say she was a wonderful Christian lady, hosting weekly Bible studies in her home. He said she loved gardening and bird watching, which were two other similarities June Patchett shared. Her grandson could not praise her highly enough and ended by saying she was held in very high esteem in everyone’s memories.

His email and phone call were a thrill to me as much as it seemed to be for him and his family. It was so great to connect to someone I had only recently heard about, and it was evident by his profuse praise that Hedwig must have been an astounding person. She certainly made a lasting impression on her grandson and during these times of stress and strife to receive such a warm reminiscence of her really suggested to me what a fine person she was.

Of course, I could not end the story here. I asked him if there was a favorite recipe everyone in the family thought of when thinking about Grandma Hedwig. He said it had to be molasses cookies.

According to Jim Irwin, they were her signature cookie, and she stored them in a jar with a glass lid. He recalled the lid broke on the brown ceramic jar, probably because of overuse, and his grandfather made a wooden lid to replace it. He also recalled the story of Hedwig’s oldest granddaughter Sharon, who when then very young, calling them glasses cookies.

These cookies are very tasty when critiqued by the famous cookie connoisseur, Tom Patchett. Usually my husband, Tom, only wants me to make chocolate chip cookies but he said these molasses cookies were really good.

I used parchment paper instead of greasing the cookie sheet, and test baked one cookie first, as they will burn easily if the oven is not exactly correct. I needed to adjust my oven to 365 and make sure to only dip the top of the cookie in the sugar, or they will burn on the bottom.

Do stay tied to one another, even if not in person. We need to be open for new opportunities to perhaps collect a good recipe or make a new friend. Showing my age, just remember the line from the old Hill Street Blues television show, “Let’s be careful out there.”