Thanksgiving at the ranch

Written by Amy Palser

In the days and weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, LewJene Schneider dresses her three-story condo in downtown Wichita head to toe in turkeys, pumpkins and fall foliage, and hosts uptown parties to celebrate the season. But come Thanksgiving Day, the Schneider clan heads to the ranch for a down-home holiday.

LewJene grew up on a cattle ranch near Logan in Phillips County, Kansas, where the family gathers for the holiday each year. It’s where her mother, Janene Schneider, also known as “Grammy,” still lives. “She is 87 going on 37,” LewJene said. “She still drives her Buick and cooks most of the Thanksgiving meal.”

Like many families in America, the meal is the highlight of the Schneider family’s holiday. The recipes come from two sources: “Farm Journal” cookbooks that Grammy still has in her kitchen cabinet, which hail from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s; and the three-ring binder known to the family as the “Ranch Cookbook.”

“When my brother married, my mother knew his bride would no doubt be subject to hearing, ‘That’s not the way my mother made it,’ ” said LewJene. “So she went through her cookbooks and found dog-eared pages with the favorite recipes and made my new sister-in-law a recipe book with all the family favorites. She even included little notes at the bottom and family history. It’s a gem.”

LewJene’s mother gave the book to her new daughter-in-law at her bridal shower some 30 years ago, and that Christmas she gave her three daughters copies. “Over the years, if there’s a really good recipe, you can add it to the cookbook, but submission to Grammy for approval is a prerequisite.”

On Thanksgiving Day, the table is full of recipes that appear year after year — recipes that those gathered around the table look forward to all year. The cooks strive to make everyone’s favorite Thanksgiving dish, and always on the menu are:

Prime rib. “We’re cattle ranchers so we don’t do turkey. My sister-in-law brings the largest prime rib she can find.”

Brookville corn. “This is from the famous Brookville Hotel in Brookville, Kansas. It’s a creamed corn that includes frozen corn, cream cheese, sugar and cornstarch. I don’t eat this because I’m always on a diet,” LewJene joked, “but all the grandkids love this dish.”

Rhubarb casserole. The basis for this stuffing-like dish is rhubarb from Grammy’s garden, and it’s a favorite of LewJene’s brother-in-law, Gerald.

Two kinds of dressing. “I have to make the plain-Jane dish for family members who don’t like spices, onions or crunchy anything. And then the second dressing is everything and the kitchen sink: onion, garlic, raisins, peppers, celery — I just look in the refrigerator to see what's available and throw it in.”

Mashed potatoes. The Schneider version features lots of butter and cream cheese.

Strawberry Jell-O pretzel salad. “The grands grew up on this salad. They’re adults now, but Grammy still makes it for them.”

Cranberry sauce. LewJene likes to jazz up her fresh cranberry version with orange, apple, nuts — whatever is available. “My brother likes plain, so we buy a can of that and put it in front of Lloyd.”

Pies. Pecan and pumpkin are a must.

After dinner, though nap time is calling, another family tradition often transpires. “My brother looks around the table and says, “There's a lot of abled bodies here. Let’s go work some cattle.” So we'll all put on our boots and jackets and head outside,” LewJene said, adding with a smile, “That’s not one of my favorite traditions.”

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