Rachel Pratt’s expertise in the kitchen came from being a single mom of three boys. “I always wanted to make sure that when we sat at the table, we had a good, home-cooked meal,” she said. Rachel learned what worked and didn’t simply by experimenting. “I would constantly try different recipes, whether they were my own or from friends or publications. I learned not to be afraid of trying anything. My family has truly become guinea pigs.”

Rachel has tried so many different kinds of recipes that Andy, her husband of 11 years, feels that he can’t attach himself to any favorites. “He’s always telling me he’s afraid to say he likes a recipe,” Rachel jokes, “because he’s not sure when I’ll make it again. But at least he knows we have a variety.”

Another source of inspiration for Rachel is her mother, though she didn’t cook with her mother very much as a girl. “I was the fifth of six children,” Rachel explains.

“So Mom didn’t have a lot of time to work with us in the kitchen. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to, she simply had too much to do.”

Rachel has tried to preserve some of her mother’s best recipes. “As with a lot of people, Mom never wrote down a recipe or really measured. I tried to ask her to write them down, but it never happened. So, finally I decided to figure out the recipe. Through trial and error, and numerous tries, I managed to get pretty close.”

It didn’t matter that it could be a long and difficult process, the most important thing was “to make sure Mom’s recipes were kept for our family to enjoy.”

Today, Rachel loves baking bread with her 5-year-old granddaughter, Halina. “She comes over once a month, sits up on the counter and we get going. We have a great time.” Rachel and Andy live in Auburn.

For the past five years, she has worked as a receptionist for the Auburn Housing Authority. She has three sons, Nathan of South Portland, Jason in Massachusetts and Matthew, who’s just returned from serving in Iraq and is currently stationed in Washington, D.C., and two stepchildren, Mike and Deidre Pratt.

Besides cooking, Rachel enjoys photography, crafts and being outdoors, especially walking along the beach.

Memere Desjardins’ spaghetti sauce
2 cloves garlic

One 1-ounce tomato paste

Three 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes

28 ounces water

Fresh or canned mushrooms, to taste

Green peppers, to taste

Onions, to taste

½ cup grated cheese

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried basil

½ cup dried parsley flakes
¼ teaspoon red crushed peppers
Fry garlic in oil until light brown, add tomato paste. Cook a few minutes. Add rest of ingredients to pot. Cook on low heat for six to eight hours on top of stove, stirring occasionally. Or cook with meatballs in oven overnight at 200 degrees.
Memere Desjardins’ meatballs
3 to 4 pounds hamburger

½ cup grated cheese

½ cup dried parsley

2 tablespoons dried oregano

1 tablespoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

3 eggs

2 cups bread crumbs

Bread cubes
Mix first eight ingredients together well. Cut garlic in small slices and cube bread slices. Add a piece of garlic and a piece of bread to center of each meatball and roll together. Add to sauce and cook on stove or in the oven for six to eight hours.
Rachel’s notes:
People always ask, “Why the garlic and bread pieces in the middle of the meatball?” I don’t know, it’s just a tradition from generation to generation.

This recipe was from my grandmother, Josephine Desjardins. Then, my mother, Marcelle Desjardins, took over the tradition of making the sauce and meatballs for special occasions. Now, three generations later, I do the same thing.
Banana bread
½ cup margarine

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

3 ripened, mashed bananas

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
Cream together margarine, sugar and eggs. Add the rest of the ingredients to the margarine mixture.

Pour in greased and floured loaf pan. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes in 350-degree oven.
Rachel’s note:
You can add nuts to the mixture, if desired.
Cherry cheesecake tarts
Ingredients for crust mixture:
¼ cup margarine (half a stick)
¾ cups graham cracker crumbs
Ingredients for cheesecake filling:
1 pound (16 ounces) cream cheese

1 cup sugar

4 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 can cherry pie filling
Melt margarine and add graham cracker crumbs. Mix well. Place small paper baking cups on cookie sheet, add one teaspoon of crumb mixture to each baking cup and press down.

Cream together sugar and cream cheese. Add eggs and extracts to sugar batter. Beat well until all lumps are gone.

Add enough batter to fill half of each baking cup. Top with 2 cherries from pie filling. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes. Cool, then refrigerate. Makes about 5 dozen miniature tarts. The tarts also could be baked in regular-size baking cups.
Rachel’s note:
This works best with the paper baking cups that have an aluminum-foil outer cup.

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