Happy Thanksgiving from Draganetti’s!
Thanksgiving always brings back some wonderful memories in our family and this week Claudia and I sat down to recall some of them. When we were young and growing up in northern Wisconsin our parents would host a group of deer hunters every November during the week before Thanksgiving.
We were, and still are so fortunate to have grown up in a beautiful place which is now called The Enchanted Inn. Our parents have both passed on but we continue to operate the estate as a business during the summer months, where we run a restaurant and seasonal campground each year. In our family we affectionately refer to it as “The Lodge.”
The property was originally built and owned by the Police Commissioner of Chicago in 1928, Michael Hughes. It was his summer home until our parents sacrificed everything, taking a huge risk by purchasing it and moving the entire family north from Chicago. It was a total leap of faith and it wasn’t any easy one.
Our parents were hard-working people who took every advantage of an opportunity to try to make a little extra money and keep us all fed & clothed, and the annual hunting season was the chance to do so before heading into a long winter.
With five large bedrooms in the main Lodge, we would all vacate our own bedrooms and we kids would pile into just one bedroom so that the hunters could bunk up in the other rooms. We had a loyal group of men who came from Green Bay and West Salem, Wisconsin area every year, so after many years they were like an extension of our family. They all had likeable nicknames like “Squeeky, Kromey and Lankey.”
Mom and dad would provide room and board for them and they each paid $27 for a 9-day stay that included 3 homemade meals per day. The days were long and hard work for both of our parents, as they’d wake up around 3 or 4 AM so they’d have time to prepare a nice, hot, homemade breakfast for the hunters before they headed out into the woods.
I remember the smell of bacon drifting up through the vents; it was a wonderful way to wake up. As we kids got old enough, we’d get up early and help Mom prepare the first meal of the day and the men would drift downstairs one by one. At that time they weren’t required to wear blaze orange, so there would be some in red, some in red plaid. This was a “guy’s getaway” for this group of long-time friends and often they’d be up late laughing, telling stories and playing cards. When they did this, Mom would put out a platter of salami, cheese, crackers, pickles and onions for the guys. This was also our sister Claudia’s favorite snack of the day. They made themselves totally at home as they’d sprawl out in the huge living room, some on the furniture, some on the floor Needless to say I remember many of them looking pretty rough at 5 in the morning as they started the next day.
They were all such a likable bunch, very burly and most on the heavier side, but always polite and kind to all of us. And boy, did they love Mom’s cooking. Over the years their sons came along and we watched and their families grew and aged, as did ours. There were some that even stayed through Thanksgiving and mom would actually prepare them a separate meal for the celebration. I honestly don’t know how she did it, she had to be exhausted.
By day number two or three most of them didn’t even go out into the woods anymore. They’d stay in and play more cards, watch football on TV and wait around for the next wonderful batch of homemade goodies to hit the table. For some reason the winters seemed colder and there was much more snow back then, it was a festive time full of excitement and camaraderie.
Mom frequently made homemade soups for the guys to help combat the cold and warm them up as they came in. One of their favorites was Beef Barley Soup, which she’d serve with hot homemade biscuits. This is her original recipe from her handwriting:
Barley Soup Recipe:
2 lbs. beef tips
2 cups of peeled and finely chopped carrots
2 cups finely chopped celery
2 cups finely chopped onions
4 cloves garlic
½ cup wine (her recipe doesn’t specify whether it’s red or white)
2 chopped tomatoes
1 cup pearl barley
4 cups of beef stock
2 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. thyme
2 bay leaves
Salt & pepper to taste
1 cup grated cheese when finished cooking
Brown the beef tips in a few Tablespoons of oil in a large stock pot. Add the onion, carrots celery & garlic, lower heat and cook another 5-10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, beef stock, barley, herbs, salt & pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer uncovered about an hour or until barley is tender. Add more stock if needed.
Mom would always stir in a cup of grated parmesan when it was finished cooking to add more flavor and consistency. It was delicious this way but you can omit it if desired. Enjoy!
Joanne Draganowski Palzkill