After years of collecting cookbooks, browsing magazines for recipes and experimenting, Ruth MacMullin said cooking is one of her favorite hobbies.
"I've got tons of cookbooks and I love trying new recipes," she said. Other hobbies for the 77-year-old are gardening, flower arranging, decorating for Christmas and staying involved with the lives of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
MacMullin and her husband, James, moved to Norwalk last spring from Bay Village. Two of their daughters, Lois Conry and Katie Barnes, live in Norwalk. Daughter Jean Sandifer lives in Tampa, Fla. Six of their grandchildren live in Norwalk and the seventh lives in Bellevue.
They have 11 great-grandchildren.
Ironically, MacMullin said, she learned about cooking from her father and grandfather. Instead of a shop with power tools in the basement, MacMullin said her father had a full kitchen in the basement.
"He'd be down there all day Sunday and then come up Sunday night with wonderful cakes and things," she said. "I had boyfriends coming over and they'd call to see if my dad was home. They were coming over to eat as much as they were coming to see me."
Her grandfather was 80 when she was born, but remained independent and did all of his own cooking until he died at 96.
"My grandfather got me started on pancakes," she said. MacMullin remembers when her grandfather would have her and her sister over for pancakes often.
"He made buckwheat pancakes and called them jimmy johns," she said. "They were wonderful."
When she found today's featured recipe in a food journal years ago, she knew she had to try it. Now toasted pecan pumpkin pancakes with poached pears are a family favorite, especially during the Christmas season.
"They're good hearty pancakes," she said. "And you can switch the pears with other fruits pineapple, Stouffer's scalloped apples or even use warm applesauce."
She also has a recipe for carrot pancakes. MacMullin said the carrots have the texture of nuts and even seem to taste like nuts.While she still loves pancakes, she said she often doesn't prepare them for breakfast. She likes them more for brunch or lunch. On most days, she doesn't eat breakfast and her husband likes to head to McDonald's for biscuits, sausage and gravy.
"It's a family joke," MacMullin said. After he came home from the hospital recently still on oxygen and with a warning from his doctor to stay home until a home health-care aide showed up to help him, she awoke to find the car gone and her husband's oxygen tank sitting unused. She knew where he'd gone so she just helped him hook up the oxygen again when he returned from getting his McDonald's fix.
MacMullin said her comfort foods of choice are pancakes, mashed potatoes and cottage cheese.
She is known in her family for her cheesecakes and cakes. She said one grandson-in-law calls her "the queen of desserts."
MacMullin said she enjoyed fixing full meals also. Some family favorites are homemade gyros, Hungarian goulash with noodles, beef stew and Coney dogs. But she said there has been a lot of experimentation along the way to her specialties.
MacMullin said the worst food she ever prepared was the first meal she made as a bride.
"I'm sure my husband Jim thought he'd never get another meal outside of a restaurant," she said. "It was terrible."
The chicken breasts were tough and she put too much garlic on them, MacMullin said. Now she's glad she didn't let one bad experience stop her.
MacMullin has a simple tip for cooks. "Follow the recipe exactly the first time and then play with it to suit your tastes." she said. "Don't be afraid. If it isn't good, it's only one meal."