The menu at The Mercantile in Pawhuska, Oklahoma.
“Oklahoma — where the wind comes sweeping down the plains …”
Wait — isn’t that a description of southwest Minnesota, too?
But Oklahoma is usually a little warmer in the spring than our home territory, so that’s where Hubby Bryan and I chose to go during the school’s recent Easter/Spring break.
That destination was decided on not just because of the weather. Oklahoma is also home to The Pioneer Woman, aka Ree Drummond, who hosts a popular cooking show on The Food Network. (Check out her website at thepioneerwoman.com.)
The Food Network and HGTV are two of the most watched cable networks at our home. And on the Food Network, “Pioneer Woman” is at the top of the list. Ree — I call her by her first name because I consider her a close personal friend, even though we’ve never met — is an engaging personality, and her recipes are generally the kind of fare we like to cook. Besides, she and I have a mutual disdain for bananas, so I figure we would be fast friends if we’d ever meet.
When something popped up on my computer about tours of the Drummond lodge, where Ree most often films her episodes, and the dates were for the days leading up to Easter, I knew that was where we had to go on spring break.
Bryan took a little convincing, but I didn’t have to twist his arm too far. The distance to Pawhuska, Okla., was doable in the time we had, and the enticement of warmer weather sealed the deal. Besides, we were both ready for a road trip adventure, and while we have passed through Oklahoma at one time or another, we had never spent any time checking it out.
We hit the road as soon as school got out on Wednesday, spending the night in Omaha before continuing on the next day to Bartlesville OK, the town closest to Pawhuska with decent overnight accommodations, which just happens to be Ree’s hometown.
Another night in Bartlesville, then on to Pawhuska, the location of the Drummond family’s retail enterprise, called the Mercantile.
“The Merc” is housed in a beautifully renovated multi-story building in downtown Pawhuska. The main floor includes a restaurant and spacious retail space, while upstairs is a deli for take-out foods.
A friend who lives in Tulsa advised us to get there early, as there is generally a waiting line to eat at the restaurant. Boy, was he right. We got there shortly after 9:30 a.m., and were seated immediately. But we got one of the last open tables, and within a half an hour the line to eat was out the door and down the sidewalk. Later, we heard there was a two-hour wait for the restaurant.
While we perused the menu, we also drank in the well-thought-out surroundings: wait staff dressed in checkered shirts; a re-created commercial mural on the wall; the open kitchen in the back; floral motifs. But the menu consumed most of our attention.
The Farmer’s Breakfast
What to have, what to have? So many delicious-sounding breakfast choices.
Bryan, who comes from a long line of pancake aficionados, quickly chose the offering that featured a stack topped with assorted butters (blueberry, strawberry, cinnamon-pecan). A glance at a nearby diner’s plate enticed me to order the Farmer’s Breakfast, which included a well-caramelized sausage patty, bacon, eggs and grape tomatoes.
But first came the biscuits — rectangular pillows accompanied by luscious fruit preserves. Another one of these beauties accompanied my entree. It came home with us in a lovely little cardboard carryout box.
Yum. Yum. Yum.
We were stuffed by the time we were done, so it was the perfect time to walk around and explore The Merc’s retail space. There is an amazing amount of carefully curated goods, as well as an amazing number of people there checking it all out. I could easily have left there with bags full of handy and beautiful merchandise, I limited my purchases to two things.
First off, I chose to buy a box of plastic wrap.
Yep, plastic wrap. It’s professional grade, packaged in a beautiful box meant to sit out on your counter, and with a handy sliding cutter on the outside. Several women in the vicinity of the display were praising the virtues of this particular item, so I had to have it. I am waiting to deplete the already open box of wrap at home before I use it.
My second purchase was a T-shirt, but I didn’t get that until we went back through Pawhuska from the Lodge, where they film the TV show. I was so inspired by the experience that I decided I needed to have a wearable memento.
More about the Lodge in next week’s blog. At that time, I’ll also share one of my favorite Pioneer Woman recipes.
In the meantime, with Easter behind us, I’ve had a couple of conversations recently about Ham Balls, and using up leftover ham to make them. As many of you who have followed my writings know, Ham Balls are a tradition for my side of the family. The recipe is one of the most popular from my mom’s “Mixing & Musing Cookbook.” It’s certainly the most dog-eared and stained page in my copy.
Since we didn’t have any Easter ham on our Holy Week journey, Bryan and I still plan to go out and buy one, and there’s no doubt that any leftovers will end up being made into Ham Balls. So here’s the recipe once again.
But first a few quick notes:
I use my food processor to grind leftover ham (and to crush up the crackers). If buying a ham just for making Ham Balls, ask the butcher to grind it for you.
DO NOT overpack the ham balls. They should be loosely formed or will turn into rocks when baked and not properly absorb the sauce.
Ham Balls freeze beautifully. Make them in advance, freeze raw on parchment-lined baking sheets and store in freezer bags. Take out what you need and thaw before cooking.
I often make Ham Balls in the slow cooker. If frozen, I thaw them out on a plate, then quickly brown them on all sides in a pan lightly coated with cooking spray to prevent sticking. In the slow cooker they go, pouring the sauce over the top. Cook on low for four hours, stirring occasionally to disperse the sauce evenly.
2 pounds ground ham
1 pound lean ground pork (NOT pork sausage)
2 cups saltine cracker crumbs
1 cup milk
Dash of pepper
½ cup vinegar
1 cup water
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon dry mustard
Mix first six ingredients lightly. Loosely shape into balls. (It is very important not to press the meat tightly!) Arrange in a 9- by 13-inch dish, single layer. Bake 45 minutes at 350 degrees, then turn. Combine sauce ingredients and pour over the ham balls. Bake 45 minutes longer, basting frequently.