The Puckerbrush Potluck Tradition: How Communities Come Together Through Food

Judge Donna Paulsen

hide captionJudge Donna Paulsen holds up one of her desserts at the Puckerbrush Potluck.

Roxann Ryan called the Hidden Kitchens hotline to tell us about a remarkable food tradition among women attorneys in Iowa — the Puckerbrush Potluck.

Puckerbrush Stories

Listen: Hear Iowa Assistant Attorney General Roxann Ryan's Hotline Call Describing the Puckerbrush Potluck

Listen: Potluck Organizer and Magistrate Celeste Bremmer Explains Why It's Called Puckerbrush

Listen: Bremmer Discusses Her Prize-Winning Desserts

Listen: George Davison Talks with Judge Artis Reis About Dishes at the Potluck

More Stories Along the Road

A growing collection of stories, exclusive to NPR.org, gathered along the road in our quest to document America’s kitchen cultures.

The Puckerbrush Potluck honors the late solicitor general of Iowa, Bess Osenbaugh. Osenbaugh started the tradition of office potlucks as a way to encourage attorneys to share their experiences and develop an appreciation for their work family.

The Puckerbrush tradition is carried on by the Polk County Women Attorneys and the Iowa Organization of Women Attorneys. They sponsor a food competition at the Iowa State Fair each year in honor of Osenbaugh. As part of the competition, each entrant must explain why the food they bring is important to them or how it has helped bring people together. Entrants share some of their recipes below.

George Davison, a Des Moines radio producer and attorney, attended the Puckerbrush mini-competition in August and gathered these stories.

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Frog-Eyed Salad

"This is a great potluck comfort food dish. It has an unusual name that draws attention to the dish. It is simple to make, and everyone will want the recipe. It is a simple salad to bring because it requires no warming and can be stored easily in the office refrigerator."

— Entrant # 2724, Puckerbrush Potluck, Iowa State Fair

Ingredients

1 package acini de pepe pasta

1 tablespoon oil

2 teaspoon salt

3 quarts water

Dressing

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoon flour

2 teaspoon salt

2 eggs beaten

1tablespoon lemon juice

1 cup shredded coconut

1 ¾ cup pineapple juice

2 cans crushed pineapple

2 cans pineapple chunks

3 cans mandarin oranges

1 large container Cool Whip

Cook the macaroni in water, oil and salt. Drain, rinse and cool. Combine sugar, flour and salt. Stir in pineapple juice and eggs. Cook over moderate heat until thickened and cool. Combine sauce and macaroni. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Add to the macaroni mixture pineapple, oranges, coconut and Cool Whip and refrigerate.

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Sophie's Pastichou

"I chose this as "comfort food" because it is! My mother-in-law was Greek, and I inherited her recipes. I like keeping that connection, and showing my daughters what Greek cooking is like (as much as I can replicate it –- sometimes we have to call on Aunt Rita for advice!). This dish is easy to make and to take for group events, and always gets good reviews!"

— Celeste Bremer, Entrant #4634

Ingredients

½ lb elbow macaroni cooked in salted water

1teaspoon salt

½ lb. feta cheese

2 cups whole milk

4 eggs slightly beaten

½ small container of cottage cheese

Directions: Put cooked macaroni in buttered pan. Pour cheese sauce over it; dot with butter and bake. In a 9x9 pan, bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes.

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Cheese Potato Balls

"These Cheese Potato Balls remind me of my Irish-American childhood, when any gathering of family and friends meant that a big pile of potatoes showed up, too. At mealtime, the youngsters could take two plates — one for the potatoes and one for everything else. Lots of adults wanted to do the same, but good manners kept most of them in check. We'd have potatoes of all kinds: mashed, boiled, scalloped, fried, baked and casseroled. The real treats, though, were the recipes that added something different — like these Cheese Potato Balls — and it would be the focal point of the discussion for the rest of the gathering. We never had a potato famine when I was growing up."

— Roxann Ryan, Entrant #2726

Cheese Potato Balls

Ingredients

2 cups cooked potatoes, chilled & grated

1 egg

½ cup grated cheddar chasse

2 tables onion, grated

Salt & pepper and spices to taste

Corn flake crumbs (you can substitute other cereals if you like)

Directions: Combine first five ingredients and form into small balls. Roll in crumbs. Bake on cookie sheet for 20 minutes in 400-degree oven.

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Heck Bars

"This entry was inspired by colleagues, Renae and Patty. It is part of their line of Procedural Bar treats and named after Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 486-87 (1994), a case that looks plain but is hard to digest. In Heck, the Supreme Court barred a 1983 claim for damages for an unconstitutional conviction when success on the claim necessarily implied the invalidity of plaintiff's conviction, and the conviction had not been overturned."

— Entrant #2138

Ingredients

8 oz. unsalted butter

4-¾ oz. Unsweetened chocolate

4 extra large eggs

2 1/8 cups granulated sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon salt

1 1/8 cup all purpose flour

1 ½ cup walnuts (optional)

8 oz. semisweet chocolate chips

Directions: Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Gently melt 4-¼ oz. chocolate and butter in double boiler. When chocolate is totally melted, set aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt. Use a spatula or wooden spoon and mix just until blended. Fold melted chocolate butter into egg mixture.

Toss together flour, walnuts and 8 oz. of chocolate chips. Fold into chocolate-egg mixture. Note: Do not over mix; fold only enough to incorporate dry ingredients, or bar will be too tough and too cake-like.

Line a 12-inch x 8 ½-inch x 1-inch baking pan with parchment paper. Pour batter into pan; consistency should be like a thick chocolate sauce (batter does not rise much, so it is OK if batter rims the pan).

Place pan in center of oven and bake 40-50 minutes. Thirty minutes into baking, check surface; a thin crust should form. It is done when it's very moist inside, with a thin, crispy, sugary surface (like a thin crust of ice forming on a pool of water). To achieve a fudge-like consistency, you must under bake.

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