Sometimes accidents can lead to some happy results - or some delicious meals.
That was the case when Mary Schu was working on a recipe for Norwegian Cheese Rarebit she'd seen in a newspaper.
At the point in the recipe when she was supposed to add milk, Schu reached over, and before she realized it, poured a half cup of beer into the mix.
"That went into the recipe purely by accident, but it turned out so well, she decided to keep it in," said Helene Schu, Mary's daughter-in-law.
Now, 40 years later, the rarebit is a Schu family favorite and Helene Schu, of Mays Landing, makes sure to add some beer each time she's in the kitchen preparing it.
"I usually make it about once a month. My husband does the food shopping, and when I put Jarlsberg cheese on the shopping list he knows what's coming," said Helene Schu, 61.
The recipe is one of many Schu got from her mother-in-law, who was the type of woman who knew what each of her eight childrens' favorite dishes were, and worked to get them on the table as often as possible.
""My mother-in-law does everything with a flourish. On any holiday, she would have on average eight vegetables, because everyone had their favorite. She said she couldn't make dinner without so and so's favorite or so and so's favorite," Helene Schu said.
Schu herself knows a lot about growing up with lots of people around the dinner table.
Born in Philadelphia, Helene Schu had one sister. But she lived in a three-bedroom rowhouse, where six adults would gather around the dinner table every evening and find some place to sleep every night. Schu's parents had taken in her father's mother, her father's sister and a great aunt and uncle.
"Back then, it was the family's responsibility (to take care of one another)," Schu said. "It was a little difficult. When my sister and I were little, we slept in my parents' room. You live with what you have, we didn't know anything was different."
Meals back then were simple affairs - beef stew, macaroni stew or steak and eggs are dinners Schu now recalls.
"My mom was a teriffic lady, but she was not a cook. She was pretty much just meat and potatoes," Schu said.
With so many adults in the house, Schu never needed to learn to cook. That changed when she eventually moved out and married William Schu 42 years ago. She was 19 and the couple moved to Baltimore and eventually began raising their own family.
Luckily, Mary Schu had taught her son how to cook, and he had been in charge of making the family meals when she went to work. William Schu passed those lessons on to his new wife.
"I had to learn to cook from scratch. My husband is a cook, so he taught me to cook, I got a lot of recipes from him and from my mother-in-law as well," Schu said.
While raising her two children - daughter, Christi, and son, Bill - Schu also worked in the mortgage-banking business for 25 years. Now on disability, she has thrown herself into cooking.
"I cook every night. It's really given me a purpose," Schu said. "I'm a very active person, but I haven't been able to work outside the home - so I am concentrating on the inside."
"She spends a lot of time with her recipes - she's a very good cook. We always look forward to dinner," said Christi Schu, 40.
The rarebit is one of Christi Schu's favorites, particularly since it is a dish she can only get at home.
"It's not something you see in a restaurant, so I never have it unless my mom makes it," she said. "It's not something you have everyday - it's very rich with the cheese and the bacon, but it is delicious."
Helene Schu serves the meal as a light dinner with salad, or brings it to parties, where it is a hit at buffets. And while she's a bit concerned about the meal's calorie count, she need only look to her mother-in-law for proof it's not really bad for you.
"She'll be 92 in November and she's as spry as I am - she looks 20 years younger than her age," Schu said.
Contact Steven V. Cronin:
Norwegian Cheese Rarebit
•6 slices bacon halved
•1/4 pound sliced fresh mushrooms
•1/4 cup butter
•1/4 cup unsifted flour
•1 1/2 cups milk
•1 1/4 cup shredded Jarlsberg cheese
•1/2 cup beer
•1/2 teaspoon salt
•1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
•1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
•6 slices Italian bread (3/4 inch thick) toasted
•1 large tomato cut into 6 slices
In large skillet, cook bacon until crisp, then drain. In the same skillet, saute mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of bacon fat until tender, set aside. In large saucepan, melt butter, then blend in flour. Gradually stir in milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture thickens. Add cheese, beer, salt, dry mustard and cayenne; stir until cheese melts and mixture is smooth. Remove from heat and set aside.
Place toasted bread slices in bottom of buttered 3-quart shallow baking dish. Top each bread slice with one slice of tomato, two bacon halves and mushrooms. Pour cheese sauce over top. Broil 3 to 4 minutes until cheese bubbles and browns slightly.
Can be made in advance and chilled prior to serving. Add 1 to 2 minutes broiling time if chilled.
Makes: 3 to 5 servings for light supper, buffet dish or luncheon.