When we asked readers to share their fondest memories of Dad in the kitchen, more than 100 readers responded with stories of triumphs, laughs and teachable moments. Letters have been edited for length and clarity.

Kings of the Road

One evening at our east St. Cloud home in the 1950s, the doorbell rang. Dad (Joseph “Sherb” Hoover) answered the door, spoke briefly to a man, then turned to us and said, “You kids go out in the backyard and play. I’ll let you know when you can come back in.” This was unusual, but questioning Dad wasn’t done, so out we went.

After a few minutes on the swing set, we all paused. We could smell the unmistakable aroma of frying bacon. It wasn’t breakfast. It wasn’t Sunday after Mass. And most puzzling of all, Mom was at sewing club, so how could there be cooking in the kitchen? This required some investigation, so after much strategizing my brother Joe peeked into the kitchen. “It’s Dad!” he reported. “He’s cooking bacon, eggs and toast for the guy. And he cut a big piece of Mom’s pie!” (huge rule infraction in Mom’s kitchen). “What are they talking about?” we asked. “Dad’s asking him about his travels.”

After we got the all-clear to come back into the house, we asked Dad about the mysterious stranger who warranted such unprecedented treatment. “A hungry guy who needed a good meal,” was all he would say.

Word must have spread that summer about the house on Wilson Avenue where a guy could get a square meal, because our doorbell would ring about once a week. Dad would shoo everyone out, fry up his signature bacon and eggs, and spend an hour or so chatting with the Kings of the Road about their travels and adventures. And if Mom was at sewing club, they’d get a piece of pie, too.
Mary Hoover, Minneapolis

Lessons for a lifetime

When I was in high school, my mom returned to college to get a master’s degree. That left my dad, Jake, and me to our own devices for dinner every Wednesday evening.

Dad, who had a stint as an Army cook during World War II, knew his way around the kitchen. But mostly his repertoire revolved around grilling, stew cooked over a campfire and his famous Spam sandwich.

His solution for those Wednesday dinners was to let me peruse Mom’s late-1960s Betty Crocker cookbook and pick any recipe. Then we’d get cooking. Two that stand out in my memory were Welsh rabbit (basically cheese sauce over toast) and Beef Bourguignon. Dad let me take the lead on the Welsh rabbit. But he walked me through the art of browning beef and making a roux for the bourguignon. While the main dish cooked, we’d make side dishes, set the table, then enjoy our creation.

The 1960s were a fraught time for many parents and teens, but Dad and I bonded over those dinners. And I learned cooking skills that have lasted a lifetime.
Patricia Miller, Minneapolis

Magic on the menu

In his well-worn cast iron skillet, my father created magic. From time to time, as a treat for my sister and me, ordinary pinto beans were turned into frijoles refritos. Smooth-textured, perfectly seasoned, holding chunks (not shreds) of cheese in their depths, a tangible thread connecting us to part of our heritage, part of his memories. To this day, these beans are the standard to which I hold all others.
Yolanda Brantley, Maple Grove

The best ribs yet

My dad, Hank Arneson, was a grill legend with the best baby back ribs. Bourbon marinade, simple mop sauce, the right amount of smoke and heat from his 1960 grill, no sauce. These ribs fed our family every July 4th for almost six decades. Tender and toothy, salty and smoky and sweet at the same time, and had a dark mahogany bark holding in all the moisture and flavor. When my brother and I had kids, there were 15 of us, and about 10 racks of ribs jockeying for position on the grill. He watched carefully, trusting the heat and smoke for a good seven hours. He kept guard from his lawn chair inside the garage, while the grill hummed in the driveway. A Coors Light or two eased the hours. He died in 2019 after almost 97 years. I inherited his grill, and my husband, Karl, has restored it to glory. When we make ribs, I can still hear my dad sipping his beer and smacking his lips and thinking that year’s ribs might be his best yet.
Jill Holter, Minnetonka

Hank’s Ribs

You’ll need to start these ribs the night before to allow time to marinate.


• 1 c. bourbon

• 1 c. neutral oil

• 6 tbsp. soy sauce

• 4 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

• 1 tbsp. garlic powder

• 2 tsp. salt

• 1 tsp. pepper

Mop sauce:

• 1/2 c. bourbon

• 1 c. apple juice

• 1/4 c. neutral oil

• 2 tsp. garlic powder

• 1 tsp. salt


Brush marinade on ribs and refrigerate overnight. Prepare grill with charcoal and a steam/water source (we use a small cast iron kettle). Soak a combination of cherry and apple wood chips. Place ribs on grill away from direct heat. Close grill and keep temperature around 215 degrees, never over 225. Add more charcoal as it burns down, and a handful of wood chips on top of the coals every hour, brushing ribs with mop sauce. Total time is 5 to 7 hours, depending on grill and number of ribs — they should be very tender but with some tooth. Barbecue sauce is optional, on the side, but definitely not necessary.

California sandwiches: a delicacy

My childhood home was a traditional home of the ’60s and ’70s. We loved when Dad “cooked.” His specialty was California Sandwiches: Boil cheap hot dogs, heat up a can of pork and beans, and toast white bread. Place a sliced hot dog onto a piece of toast. Spoon beans over the hot dogs. Then add the pinnacle ingredient; Velveeta cheese. A minute under the broiler, the perfect melt. Neighbor kids were envious, though not our mom. He continued to enjoy California Sandwiches until he passed away a few years ago. Still a favorite with his kids as well as his grandkids. Still not a favorite with our mom.
Kate Smith-Boever

Eating local

My dad, Bill Sheaffer, was passionate about many things, perhaps most notably the great outdoors and great food. In this photo, he fixed a pancake breakfast for me and my sister after camping overnight on our property up north. We started the morning picking wild blueberries in a nearby clearing. You could say that eating locally was a “thing” in our family long before it became a popular idea.

Many years later, I had my own cafe in St. Paul (No Wake Cafe) and we were known for our blueberry pancakes. I made them using his special technique and his secret ingredient.
Penny Miller, St. Paul

A culinary explorer

The enthusiasm our dad, Max Zarling, had for Chinese cooking was serendipitous. Dismayed by the lack of good Chinese food near our north suburban home, he purchased an electric wok and enrolled in Chinese cooking classes. He set about his new hobby with the zealousness of the talented neurosurgeon that he was, wielding a large cleaver instead of a scalpel. He relished the precision of Chinese cooking, all the chopping, slicing and dicing. He studied and selected recipes from “The Encyclopedia of Chinese Food and Cooking.” Frequently one of us kids was cajoled into going to the Asian grocery store to purchase ingredients like dried shrimp or preserved ginger. Sunday was game day. The Vikings played on the 6-inch portable black-and-white TV in the far corner while a delicious Chinese dinner popped and sizzled in the other. The well-used rice cooker bubbled and hissed nearby. We, young sous chefs, chopped green onions or stirred liquid into small bowls of premeasured cornstarch to concoct family favorites like Lion’s Head and Pork Stuffed Cucumbers.
Genie Zarling, Minneapolis

Pancakes to remember

My dad, Harold Hopkins, became the primary cook in our family when my mom passed away, leaving three teenage daughters still at home. He was a passionate gardener, and had dug up most of our backyard to plant a variety of vegetables. His other passions were healthy living and healthy eating, so those vegetables showed up in some surprising places. Stews were frequently on the table, and I would often make muffins or biscuits to go with them. He would make some kind of hot cereal for breakfast — sometimes using a grain he had ground himself. And then there were the pancakes. We often had pancakes for breakfast, but never using white flour. I’m talking heavy, sturdy pancakes filled with at least a couple of types of grains, and sometimes supplemented with chopped vegetables left over from last night’s supper. When boyfriends started coming over for meals, we had to prepare them for the interesting vegetables they would find in unexpected places. Lentils, mung beans and okra were some of the least welcome surprises.
Jolene Steffer, Bloomington

Sparking joy with spuds

Peeling potatoes for a Sunday dinner was my dad’s recipe for joy. Showing his granddaughter how to “peel.” Dad, John Henry Rhoda, had grown these spuds in his garden. He was proud of his skill and hopeful she would carry it on. My dad could always be seen wearing bib overalls and smoking a pipe. At the age of 72, Dad passed away in the garden. His granddaughter is now 53.
Armon Ross, Eden Prairie

Let him eat cake

It was 1978 and my 70-year-old father was a typical man of his times. His culinary skills were limited to opening a can or, when he was feeling adventurous, assembling a sandwich. My mother had traveled to Maryland to care for a family member, so I stopped by to see how he was doing. The first thing I noticed was a half-eaten German chocolate cake sitting on the kitchen counter and a lineup of assorted Campbell’s soup cans. When I asked what he had been eating, my worst fears were realized. He grinned sheepishly and admitted his diet had consisted mainly of the cake from his favorite bakery. To this day I wonder if he was reveling in a childhood fantasy of unrestricted indulgence or if he was just desperate for something to eat. I hope it was the former, not the latter.
Terri Mifek

Mastering the art of pie

Dad (Edwin Sylte) was a farmer and knew the kitchen only because it led from garage to the dining room when he came in to eat. Mother dominated the kitchen, but she died when she was 57. Dad could build or fix anything, and after Mom died he was missing pie. Apparently, he taught himself how to make the pie crust and add filling. Once, when our family went home to see him, he offered us pie for dessert, announcing proudly with his big smile that he baked it himself. My dad continued to make two pies each time he craved pie and always put one in the freezer. He said it was because he always wanted one ready in case someone came and he entertained them for dessert. His pies were delicious.
Nancy Sylte Sailer, River Falls, Wis.

Top-notch supervisor

Cooking for my dad meant … starting the grill. Jim Ascher was the only one who operated the grill, well, because we were too young to play with fire! He grilled hamburgers on Saturday night or rotisserie chicken on Sunday afternoon. I just love this photo, circa 1960s, of him relaxing in our Richfield backyard with a beer in hand, supervising the meal on the grill.
Corinne Ascher Shepherd, Bloomington

A Norwegian ‘delicacy’

Finally, it was Friday night! That meant Dad (Robert Gunderson) would be cooking dinner as Mom went off to her bowling league. He was more of a grill master, but sometimes he would pull out his mysterious Norwegian Mush recipe. He would tell us this was the same meal his mother, who immigrated from Norway, would cook for him and his siblings and how it was a special treat to savor. Stirring and heating the concoction at our stove while the three of us kids waited at the kitchen table in anticipation, Dad would place the finished dish in front of us with a flourish and a last sprinkle of seasoning before we would all eagerly dig in.

Years later I was telling my soon-to-be husband about this special treat, and he proclaimed, “Your Dad served you paste?” I paused, stunned, and thought about the flour and milk, heated and thickened on the stove, then plated and topped with sugar, butter and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Yes, my father, who was born in 1930 and grew up during the Depression, served us this recurring meal from his childhood. It was cheap and filling and yet the butter, sugar and cinnamon brought it to the level of savored delight.
Lori LaVanier, Vadnais Heights

A cook’s best friend

My best memory of my father (George Lloyd Levin) in the kitchen was as a defender of my mother’s cooking. She herself would have characterized her abilities as mediocre; she didn’t like to cook and it showed. Like many mothers in the ’50s and ’60s, she relied on her Presto pressure cooker and that was how she made pot roast. The recipe called for the meat to be seared on all sides and when my mother’s results were served, they were not tasty to us children. We took to complaining loudly when we heard that a particular dinner would be pot roast. Finally, my father had it. He said, “OK, you kids. From now on, there will be no more negatives about pot roast. Whenever your mother serves her wonderful pot roast, we’ll all call it Oh, Boy! Pot Roast!” Parents and children collapsed into giggles and it was Oh Boy Pot Roast from that day forward.
Bill Levin, Minneapolis

Backyard boss

My dad was never a chef in the kitchen. But Dale “Big Red” Oleson was a grill master. This photo captures it all perfectly. The cornfields. The pipe. The more tanned left arm (from having it out the window when he was driving). The adjustable grill. This meat would have been served rare — it all was. Just the way I still love it.
Stan Oleson, St. Paul

Fudge with western flair

When I was a young boy, my father (Lloyd Alvin Wells) used to make fudge most weekends. It was very good fudge. At the time, I was immersed in westerns, and my father used to have new names for the fudge from time to time: Gene Autry fudge, Roy Rogers fudge, Tom Mix fudge, Range Rider fudge, and many more. I especially liked Range Rider fudge, and my father preferred Tom Mix fudge (a sign of a generational difference).

As I look back, I suspect the fudge was always from the same recipe, but this provided great fun and enjoyment for me as a young child.
Lloyd A. Wells, Rochester

The art of lefse

“You’re using too much flour! Roll it thinner! Flip it now!” So began the annual ritual, when Dad (James Pederson), usually mild-mannered and unassuming, became Gordon Ramsay on lefse day. Every year, during the weeks leading up to Christmas, we would gather in the family kitchen (and still do) to bake lefse. The smell of frying potatoes, lightly browning, on a hot circular Bethany griddle, was highly anticipated each year. Grandma used to lead the charge, and when she passed, Dad took over. Now that he is gone, each of us six kids repeat the chorus, as do our spouses, of criticism over the best way to cook the lefse.
Lesley Ernst, Apple Valley

He meant well

Bill Hanvik was not a kitchen guy. I don’t think I ever saw my dad cook anything. He only took notice if my mom told him about a problem with an appliance or cooking equipment. One day she must have complained about none of her knives being sharp enough and he came home from work with a “lethally sharp” knife. He told Mom she had to be very careful when she used it and to keep it away from the kids. As a matter of fact, he’d better do the cutting and chopping for that meal so she didn’t hurt herself. I don’t remember what we had for dinner that night. Probably cereal. My mom had to drive my dad to the emergency room to have his fingers sewn up.
Mary Hanvik, Minneapolis

That crunchy peanut butter

My father, Robert Fisher, did not know his way around a kitchen, but when I was a young boy he made at least one effort. While my mom was out of the house, he fed me lunch. When she returned and asked what he had prepared, he reported that he had made a crunchy peanut butter sandwich. She was befuddled because she was certain that we didn’t have any crunchy peanut butter. When he showed her the jar, she struggled to contain her laughter: he had used a peanut butter mix intended for the birds. Evidently, I had quite willingly consumed sunflower seeds (in the shell), millet and cracked corn. Perhaps I have my father to thank that my culinary tastes are quite eclectic, though I never hanker for a birdseed sandwich.
Barrett Fisher, Mounds View