By Catherine Darnell
When one asks a born-and-bred Southern cook about traditional family favorites, dishes like meatloaf and cornbread are usually the topic of conversation. But Jennie Baese offers different food for thought.
Baese was raised in Allardt, Tenn., about five miles from Jamestown, originally a German community. Like many of her neighbors, she grew up in a German household with German parents, Bruno and Selma Weber, and was weaned on dishes unfamiliar to most Southerners.
For years, the family kept with German traditions at Christmas. When Baese was little, her family never put up the tree until Christmas Eve, when Santa Claus did it for them.
“We didn’t question that Santa decorated the tree that night, even though we took the ornaments down after Christmas and put them upstairs,” she remembers with a chuckle. “None of us caught on for a long time. You wonder at how innocent we were.”
Another family tradition is Baked Custard, included in Country Classics Volume II, published by the Tennessee Farm Bureau Women, now in its second printing. “It took me years to get into making it because I didn’t have any custard cups,” she continues. “My mother had a little wire basket with cups in it just for that.” But when she mentioned this to her mother, Baese was informed that cups weren’t necessary. A single dish worked just fine.
“You think I should have known that,” she laughs. “When I found out, I made custard for a long time. We had a dairy and chickens, so we always had milk and eggs, so it didn’t cost much to make.”
Baese’s parents lived with her for 10 years. “My mother had a stroke, and I baked custard quite often because it was something she could eat,” she says. “She had made it for my grandmother, Hilda Easley.”
Now Baese and her retired husband, Clyde, hobby farm on 100 acres in Fentress County with beef cattle, chickens and a spoiled-rotten cat, Lady.
And while Santa doesn’t decorate the family tree on Christmas Eve, when the Baeses’ grandchildren and great-grandchildren come to visit, they are served one of the remaining family traditions, baked custard, which they enjoy as much as their distant relatives did in Germany.