Southern Indiana Cooking

Simply Divine: Holiday Cookies from the Monastery Immaculate Conception

A holiday tradition is a trip to the Monastery Immaculate Conception, a wonderful Romanesque building sitting high on a hill overlooking Ferdinand in Dubois County. For it is here that the sisters make wonderful cookies in their Simply Divine Bakery which they sell at the monastery’s For Heaven’s Sake Gift Shop and online ( the sisters are very modern these days). Their big selling Christmas cookie is the springerle and they make and sell about 2700 dozen during their peak months – October through February. That may not sound like a lot, but the cookies are handmade by a group of the sisters using presses brought by one of the Benedictine order from Germany over a century ago.

“It’s a very time consuming process,” Sister Jean Marie Ballard told me. “They take a long time to make and five of us often work on them at a time.”

Traditionally, springerles are made with anise oil but for those who don’t  like the licorice flavor, the sisters created  almerles using the same recipe but substituting almond oil for the anise.”
Leading the baking of the springerles is Sister Barbara Jean who grew up in the predominantly German area of Ferdinand and nearby Jasper who has been making them since she was young.

The baking sisters, juried as Indiana Artisans, grow their own peppermint on the extensive monastery grounds and use that for their buttermint cookies.  And they also bake a cookie they call the Hildegard after Saint Hildegard who lived in the 1100s and besides being saint sounds like a most remarkable woman.

A Benedictine abbess, she was a scholar who corresponded with popes and royalty and wrote books on natural science, medicine, theology, metaphysics and music.  Besides that, as a composer and lyricist, Hildegard created the earliest recorded music by a woman. All this in a time when most women – and men – didn’t even know how to read.  And when she wasn’t doing all that, Hildegard practiced natural medicine and in one of her writings, “Physica: Liber Simplicis Medicine,” she recommended the frequent consumption of a health cookie. It has long been a tradition in the monastery to make these cookies using Hildegard’s recipe which was recorded in 1157.

A Google search quickly led me to the recipe which calls for spelt flour, often available at health food stores, but whole wheat flour can be substituted. Besides that, all of the ingredients except for kelp, which is optional, are probably already in your pantry.

Saint Hildegard’s Cookie

Cream together:

1/2 cup softened butter
1/2 cup honey
1 egg

In separate bowl, mix together:

2 cups flour (spelt, whole wheat, or 1/2 cup garbanzo flour plus 1 1/2 cups wheat)
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 tsp dulse or kelp (optional, but this adds valuable trace minerals)
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 tablespoon ground fenugreek (optional)
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped almonds or walnuts (optional)

Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients. Pour liquid ingredients in well and mix into dry ingredients.

Chill in refrigerator to cool, to make it easier to work with (optional). Form into walnut sized balls.
Place on greased and floured cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes.

To order cookies, call 812 367-1411 or visit

We found these great recipes on the Lake Rudolph Campground & RV Resort Red Nose Blog and couldn't wait to share them.

Rudy’s Recipe: ‘Bama Fire Crackers

    1 2/3 cups vegetable oil
    1 teaspoon garlic powder
    1 teaspoon onion powder
    1/2 teaspoon black pepper
    2 (1 ounce) envelopes ranch  dressing mix
    3 tablespoons crushed red pepper flakes
    1 (16.5 ounce) package multigrain saltine crackers

Make ‘Em:
Place vegetable oil, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, ranch dressing mix, and crushed red pepper flakes in a 2-gallon plastic zipper bag. Seal the bag and squish it with your hands to really combine the oil and spices. 

Mix well. Place the crackers into the bag, seal, and turn the bag over and over to cover crackers with the spice mix. Let the bag sit for about 1 hour, then turn again. Repeat several more times until the crackers are well coated with spice mix, and allow the bag to sit overnight. Remove crackers and serve.

Rudy’s Recipe: Pumpkin Pie Cobbler

    1 – 29oz. can of pumpkin
    1 1/2 cups sugar
    1 tsp. salt
    4 large eggs
    2 Tbs. pumpkin pie spice
    2 – 12oz. cans evaporated milk
    1 box yellow cake mix
    1 stick of margarine or butter

Make It:

Mix all ingredients ‘cept for cake mix and butter in large bowl with whisk.

Line inside of dutch oven with foil. Pour liquid into dutch oven. Carefully sprinkle dry cake mix on top of pie filling. Slice the stick of butter and spread slices onto top of cake mix.

Cover Dutch oven and begin the heating process. Cooking will depend on the amount of coals you have and your Dutch oven. Cook until cake mix turns golden brown.

Spring Mill Inn: Historic Desserts

The desserts at the Spring Mill Inn are not only scrumptious; many of them come with their own special story. The unique – and very tasty – cornmeal pie is made from cornmeal freshly ground at the restored 1816 gristmill at Spring Mill Pioneer Village. Persimmons are revered in Lawrence County and for the last 65 years each fall the county hosts a persimmon festival which includes a persimmon cooking contest hence the persimmon puddings served there made from freshly fallen persimmons -- they’re not ripe if they don’t fall from the tree and trust me, you don’t want to bite into an unripened persimmon.

But my favorite dessert story may be the one about Granny White Orchard Cake. Sally Cummins White, known in later years as Granny White, was the type of woman who took in orphans and fed the poor. She lived to a great age even for now but was ancient back, dying at 94.  And what she survived. Coming back to America from Canadian at age 35, her first husband died on the journey leaving her with six small children. She continued on, burying him in Vevay and making her way to Vallonia, Indiana, marrying David White. According to the commemorative sign in the dogtrot style two story house that her husband built in 1824 and is now part of the village, they rode to Canada on horseback for their honeymoon. Three more children came along and White, the mother of nine now, also tended to the destitute and ill as well as inviting the Native Americans who made their way along the Indian trail nearby into her home.

Though the waitress at the Spring Mill Inn tells me that the cake is not from one of Granny White’s recipes, it’s still fun to take a taste to celebrate this true pioneer woman.

 The following recipes are from the Spring Mill Inn.

Spring Mill Corn Meal Pie

 1 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated (white) sugar
½ cup milk (the richer the better)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
4-6 tablespoons butter (melted)
2-3 tablespoons flour 
2 tablespoons yellow corn meal (white OK)
4 tablespoons sliced almonds (I used chopped  hickory nut meats)
2 tablespoons shredded coconut (optional) 
1 9-inch pie shell

In one small bowl, mix (gently but well) the two cups of sugar (white and brown), milk, vanilla and eggs. In another small bowl mix melted butter, flour, and corn meal.

Stir the two mixtures together and pour the combined mixtures into the pie shell. Sprinkle nuts and coconut lightly on top of pie and place in preheated (350 degrees) oven for 35 to 40 minutes.

Pie will have a well rounded surface when taken from oven, but this will fall some as it cools. Allow pie to cool before consuming.

A Tip or Two:  If the filling of your first effort is not as thick as you would like it, add a little more flour . . .  Place pie on cookie sheet while baking in case it boils over. Watch pie crust and call it done when the crust has reached the desired brownness.

Persimmon Pudding

1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups persimmon pulp
2 cups granulated sugar
3 eggs, beaten
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 stick butter or margarine

Mix buttermilk, soda and baking powder together; set aside and let foam. Mix pulp, sugar, eggs, salt, vanilla and cinnamon together. Add to buttermilk mixture and add flour. Mix well. Melt butter or margarine in 9"x12" pan; coat pan; combine buttermilk and pulp mixtures and blend well. Pour mixture into pan and bake at 325°F for 45 minutes.


Persimmons Rule!

We have the winning recipes from this year’s Persimmon Festival so pick up some persimmon pulp at one of Southern Indiana’s fruit stands and start cooking.

First place: 65th Persimmon Fest Persimmon Pudding Contest

Jonna Pemberton's Persimmon Pudding

2 cups persimmon pulp
2 cups sugar
1 1⁄2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1⁄2 cups buttermilk
1 cup Milnot
Pinch of salt
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1⁄4 cup margarine
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions: Mix persimmon pulp and sugar add beaten eggs and mix well. Add soda to buttermilk and stir. Set aside and sift dry ingredients (flour, salt and baking powder). Add buttermilk to pulp mixture and mix well. Then add flour mixture and beat well. 

Add Milnot and cinnamon. Melt margarine in 9x13 glass cake pan. Pour into batter, leaving enough to grease pan. Beat well and bake one hour at 325 degrees.

First Place: Novelty Dessert Contest

Mary Jo Losey’s Praline-Persimmon Mousse Cornucopias

6 sugar ice cream cones
Vegetable cooking spray
1⁄2 of a 17.3 ounce package puff pastry sheets (1 sheet thawed)
2 tablespoons sugar
1⁄2 cup milk
1 package (about 3.4 ounces) vanilla instant pudding and pie filling mix
3⁄4 cup persimmon pulp
3⁄4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1⁄2 cup heavy cream
1 cup caramel topping, warmed
1⁄2 cup toasted chopped pecans

Directions: Heat oven to 400 degrees F.

Wrap each cone tightly in aluminum foil, covering it completely and tucking any excess foil into the cone cavity. Spray the foil cones with the cooking spray.

Sprinkle flour on the work surface. Unfold the pastry sheet on the work surface. Cut the pastry sheet along the fold marks to form 3 rectangles. Cut each rectangle lengthwise into 4 strips, making 12 strips in all.

Press the ends of 2 pastry strips together. Starting at the pointed end of the cone, wind the pastry strips around one cone, slightly overlapping edges of the pastry (strip will not reach the bottom of the cone). Spray the pastry cone with cooking spray and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of sugar. Place the pastry cone on its side, with the end of the strip facing down, onto a baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining cones and pastry strips.

Bake for 15 minutes or until the pastries are golden brown. Let the pastries cool completely on the baking sheet on a wire rack. Carefully remove the foil cones from the baked pastry.

Beat the milk, pudding mix, persimmon and cinnamon in a medium bowl with a whisk until the mixture is thickened.

Beat the heavy cream in a medium bowl with an electric mixer on high speed until soft peaks form. Fold the whipped cream into the pumpkin mixture. Spoon or pipe the mixture into the pastry cones.

Stir the caramel topping and pecans in a small bowl. Place the pastries onto serving plates and drizzle with the caramel mixture.

Second place: Novelty Dessert Contest

Sherry Hillenburg’s Persimmon Dessert Bars

1 3⁄4 cups Graham cracker crumbs
1 1/3 cups sugar, divided
1⁄2 cup butter, melted
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
5 eggs
2 cups persimmon pulp
1⁄2 cup packed brown sugar
1⁄2 cup milk
1⁄2 teaspoon each salt and ground cinnamon
1 envelope of unflavored gelatin
1⁄4 cold water

Directions: In a small bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs and 1/3 cup sugar, stir in butter. Press into a greased 9x13 pan.

In a small bowl, beat cream cheese and 2/3 cup sugar until smooth. Beat in two eggs just until blended. Pour over crust. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until set. Cool on wire rack.

Meanwhile, separate the remaining eggs and set whites aside. In a large saucepan, combine the yolks, persimmon pulp, brown sugar, milk, salt, and cinnamon. Cook and stir over low heat for 10-12 minutes or until mixture is thickened and reaches 160 degrees. Remove from heat.

In a small saucepan, sprinkle gelatin over cold water, let stand for 1 minute. Heat over low heat, stirring until gelatin is completely dissolved. Stir into persimmon mixture, set aside.

In a large, heavy saucepan, combine reserved egg whites and remaining sugar. With a portable mixer, beat on low speed for 1 minute. Continue beating over low heat until mixture reaches 160 degrees, about 12 minutes. Remove from heat, beat until stiff and glossy peaks form and sugar is dissolved. Fold into persimmon mixture, spread evenly over cream cheese layer. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours or until set.

Third place: Novelty Dessert Contest

Marcy Staley’s Persimmon Cream Cheese Cake

Press into 9x13 pan:
1 yellow cake mix
1 softened stick of margarine
1 beaten egg

Mix together:
11⁄2 cup persimmon pulp
1 pound powdered sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 8 ounce package softened cream cheese

Pour over cake mix and bake 45 to 50 minutes at 350 degrees.

Serve with Cool Whip if desired.

Fourth place: Novelty Dessert Contest

Judy Darnell’s Persimmon Dessert

1 package Hostess Twinkies (10)
1 package cream cheese (8 oz.)
1 cup sugar
1 8-ounce container of Cool Whip
2 small instant vanilla puddings
2 cups persimmon pulp
11⁄2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup milk

Directions: Slice Twinkies lengthwise and layer in 9x13 pan. Blend together cream cheese, sugar and 1⁄2 of Cool Whip and spread over Twinkies.

Combine pudding, persimmons, cinnamon and milk. Layer over cheese mixture. Spread remaining Cool Whip over persimmon mixture. Sprinkle more cinnamon over all if desired. Refrigerate until set.

Carrying on a Fourth Generation of Sorghum Making

Wander the country roads of Southern Indiana and you’ll sometimes see signs advertising freshly made sorghum, the sight of a pony pulling a rope round and round in a circle attached to a machine or an odd piece of farm machinery that looks like a long forgotten antique laying out in a field.  These are the remains of a once thriving agricultural endeavor but now an almost forgotten foodway – sorghum making.

The popularity of sorghum surged in the U.S. during the 1850s and by 1888, some 20,000,000 gallons were being produced.  A major crop in Indiana, according to an encyclopedia article from 1896, Indiana lead the way in sorghum production,  Sometimes referred to as molasses, sorghum comes from crushing long stalks of cane and then cooking it down to produce a thick rich syrup used for baking and pouring over biscuits and pancakes.

Laborious to make, sorghum lost its allure when sweeteners like honey and sugar were easy to buy at the store. But in Southern Indiana, with its rich country style food traditions (think pork tenderloins, sugar cream pies, maple syrup and persimmon pudding), sorghum is still celebrated and fall, as the golden yellows spread over the fields, is the time when those old sorghum mills start spinning, turning the cane into juice which the, like maple syrup, is cooked into syrup.  And one such celebration is the annual the Sorghum Festival in Crawford County held on the 3rd Saturday of October.

During the festival visitors can stop by the Bye Family Sorghum Mill on Knights Road and watch Charlie Bye, his wife Tina and some of his siblings continue their family tradition that stretches back to the 1800s, of making sorghum from the cut cane, stacked on its sides to keep from getting bitter before being fed into a mill extracting the juice and then simmer outdoors in a wide flat container before being bottled into syrup.   

Bye is the fourth generation sorghum maker in his family.

“I’ve been helping make sorghum ever since I could walk,” he says noting that he is now 51. “My great grandfather used to make it.  Back  in the 1930s when my father made it, there were a lot of other sorghum farmers in Southern Indiana.  Now we’re one of the few.”

He also remembers his father traveling with horse and wagon to deliver sorghum and the syrup’s popularity. There was a little town in Kentucky, not far away, just a wide spot in the road, where his father delivered some 300 pounds of sorghum each year. He remembers packing it into tin pails and covering it with tin lids but then the company that manufactured those items went out of business and he switched to jars.  The demand was so high, that Bye often crushed other farmers’ canes, keeping some of the sorghum as payment. Now, no one else nearby grows the cane.

“We would get so busy when I was young that my dad would have to stack the cane because it doesn’t like the cold so you have to harvest it before the frost,” says Bye. “We would make sorghum starting in September and keep going until December.”

It’s no longer that way but despite these changes or maybe because of them, Bye continues to make sorghum to carry on the family tradition.

“When my dad became ill in 1983 he wanted me to make it,” says Bye. “And so I did. I love making sorghum and my wife and my brothers and sisters come and help.”

A collector of antique sorghum mills, Bye thinks about how it was made in his great grandfather’s day with a mule or horse pulling the mill wheel around to crush the juice. Now, he uses an old car motor to get the mill working.

“It’s our family heritage,” he says. “It is something I have to keep doing.”
Growing up with 19 other siblings, Bye remembers his mother making biscuits three times a day on her wood burning stove and serving them with the family sorghum on top.  Indeed, his mother, who had five sets of twins, often cooked with sorghum and the siblings put together the Bye Family Recipe Book, a collection of their mother’s recipes.  
For more information about the Sorghum Festival which is held on Saturday, October 15th at the Crawford County High School, 1130 South State Road 66. Marengo, IN, call 812-739-4254. Charlie Bye sells sorghum from his house on E. Knight Road in Milltown while his supplies last.  Anyone interested should give him a call at (812) 739-4573.
The following recipes are from the Bye Family Recipe Book that sells for $15.00 and is available at the festival or through the Byes.

The Best Ever Sorghum Cookies

1 cup sugar                                    
1/2 cup shortening melted        
1 egg                                             
1/2 cup sorghum
2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon vanilla

Cream sugar and melted shortening. Add egg and sorghum beat well. Add flour, and soda; mix well. Add vanilla.

Drop on lightly greased baking sheet.  Bake at 375 about 12 minutes.

Surprise Carmels

1 cup sugar      
1/3 cup butter
1.2 cups light cream
3/4 cup sorghum                              
1/8 teaspoon salt    
1 teaspoon vanilla 
1teaspoon salted almonds

 Mix first five ingredients in saucepan. Stir to dissolve sugar. Cook over medium heat until syrup when dropped in very cold water to form a firm ball (or hard ball stage on thermometer) Remove from heat and add vanilla. Pour into a battered cookie pan. Cool until candy can be handled. Cut in squares, place almond in center of square. Roll into balls keeping almond in center. Wrap in wax paper.

Sorghum Pop Corn Balls

1 3/4 cup sorghum                       
2 cups sugar                                
2/3 cup water 
2 teaspoons vinegar
½ teaspoon baking soda
3 1/2 quarts salted popcorn

Combine sorghum, sugar, water, and vinegar and cook to hard ball stage (250° degree).

Remove from heat and add soda. Stir to mix well and pour over popcorn, mixing it well. Shape into balls.  Makes 12 popcorn balls.

Peanut Brittle

2 tablespoons butter    
1 cup sugar
1 cup sorghum                            
1 teaspoon soda
2 cups roasted peanuts

Melt butter in a sauce pan. Add sugar and sorghum. Mix well. Cook over medium heat stirring frequently until syrup when dipped in cold water becomes brittle. Add peanuts. Pour into 2 large greased cookie pans. Lift edges and stretch candy as thin as possible. When cool enough to handle, break into pieces. Store in tightly closed jar or tin box.  Yield 1 1/4 pounds.

All Things Orange

One of the things I love best about Southern Indiana in the fall is the proliferation of the bright orange persimmons, a fruit that is so common down there that you frequently see signs at roadside markets advertising persimmon pulp for sale.  Now this is important as a persimmon is quite tart if you bite into one, but once you turn it into pulp and add a sweetener, it makes a dense, rich and lush dessert.

And because persimmons are so revered, Mitchell, Indiana has been celebrating the fruit for the last 65 years at their annual Persimmon Festival making it one of the longest running festivals in the state and so popular that it now runs for eight days, this year from September 19th to 24th.  There are lots of events during the festival but the Persimmon Pudding Contest was so popular that it was spun off and a Persimmon Novelty Dessert Contest as well.

I am including two winning recipes but though you can get persimmons here at the grocery stores, they’re most likely not Indiana persimmons but rather Japanese persimmons or those grown in California. Now persimmon purists will insist – and I intend to agree with them – that those persimmons just aren’t as good. But unless you get down to Southern Indiana this fall, they’ll do.  For more information on the festival, visit

Eva Powell’s 2009 Winning Persimmon Pudding Recipe

2 cups persimmon pulp
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup cream
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 pound butter
1 teaspoon baking powder

Mix pulp and sugar. Add two large beaten eggs and stir well. Add soda to buttermilk and stir until foaming stops. Add to first mixture and stir.

Sift dry ingredients (flour, salt and baking powder). Sift into first mixture and beat
well. Add cinnamon and cream.

Put butter in pan and melt. Pour all into batter, leaving just enough to grease pan.

Beat well and bake about one hour in slow oven.

Bake at 350° F. for 50 minutes. Let cool and serve.

Yancy Unger’s 2009 Winning Novelty Recipe Persimmon Custard in Shortbread Crust


1 single package Lorna Doone shortbread cookies
3 tablespoons butter,
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 handful butterscotch chips

Cream cheese filling:

8 ounces cream cheese
1 egg
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Persimmon custard:

2 cups persimmon pulp
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
5 ounces evaporated milk
3 tablespoons flour

Crumble shortbread cookies and combine with pecans. Melt butter and mix together, then press crust mixture in bottom of spring form pan. Top with butterscotch chips and bake for a few minutes in 425°F. oven.

Mix the cream cheese and sugar until well blended. Mix in the egg, sugar and vanilla. Pour into crust. Combine persimmons, eggs and sugar. Mix in flour, maple syrup and evaporated milk. Be careful to mix in all the flour. Pour persimmon custard on top of cream cheese mixture already in the crust.

Bake at 425° F. for 15 minutes.

Lower the temperature to 350° F. and bake for another 40 minutes. Let the dessert cool slowly before chilling.

Chill and top with vanilla bean whipped cream.

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