Celebrating a Friend and Good Cook

A few weeks ago a friend and good cook passed away. Henry Klumper peacefully passed away Tuesday, February 18th, 2020. Over the last 11 years, Henry and I have many cooking “chit-chats” Most of these conversations centered around cooking.

Henry was easy to talk with, a good listener and could carry on meaningful conversations about life, religion, politics, people, dogs, and cooking. Henry’s ability to adapt to person and place was one of my favorite things I enjoyed about him.

Holidays with Henry

We celebrated most holidays together and he always liked to bring something to add to our feasts. There were times he was not feeling well, and so would decline the need to bring something. But when he did it was always appropriate and was a great addition to the main course.

Thanksgiving and Christmas of 2019 Henry wasn’t unable to join us for our usual holiday feast. The last meal we celebrated together was Mother’s Day 2019. We smoked a pork loin, made cheesy potatoes, roasted asparagus and had chocolate pie for dessert.

Henry loved chocolate pie and would often tell me about his mother’s homemade chocolate pie. Why I didn’t catch on years previous that he was hinting he would like me to make it. DUH!

From the beginning

Henry Klumper
Photo by a friend of Henry

Most people ask me “How in the world did you meet Henry Klumper?” My response is, “I was asked to help paint Henry’s newly remodeled bedroom and closet.” That’s how I met Henry.

Back to my painting for Henry. We began painting around 9:30 am. Periodically Henry would come and check how we were getting along. I am sure all us gals painting had quite a conversation going and he was probably concerned there was more conversation than painting going on.

About 11:00 am Henry told us to stop painting and come eat. We agreed, washed our hands and sat down at the table. Henry placed a bowl of beef vegetable soup before each of us, along with a spoon and a glass of water.

This old guy cooks?

I looked up to the rest of the group for some guidance as to how we were going to proceed. Henry interjected a prayer for our food and gave thanks for our painting efforts and we all closed the prayer with “Amen”.

Being a “type A” person I was needing details on this guy. First, how are his dishwashing skills? Second, I see he had a dog. Did the dog participate in the dishwashing? Third, has anyone ever eaten his cooking? Lastly, just for confidence’s sake, is he a bachelor or a widower? I figured if he was a bachelor and lived this long food had to be involved. If he was a widower we could be in for some gastronomical trouble.

Curiously, I looked up once again looking for any signs of hesitation and no one said anything, they just picked up their spoons and began to eat. I drew my breath, muttering internally words of courage, picked up my spoon and took my first spoonful. Hmm. Not bad. Pretty tasty. This guy is a good cook.

I finished my bowl of soup and a glass of water in record time. My parents taught me that I needed to eat first, then talk. As I enjoyed talking so much, I simply inhaled my food and thus, began to talk. This rule was made to serve as a deterrent but backfired on my parents. Basically it just gave everyone five extra minutes of oxygen before I started talking.

The rest is history

Over the next few years, we forged a friendship through painting, cooking, canning and good conversation. We enjoyed the holidays together, an occasional Sunday evening dinner, games of Mexican Train dominos and lots of coffee. Anytime we had a remodeling project going on, he would pop over to see how things were going and of course drink some more coffee.

One of the very last recipes he shared with me was probably the most different combination of food items but certainly the best. He called my phone and I answered. “Hello, its Henry. Say, I made a recipe and I’d like you to try it.”

It was about two in the afternoon, so I jumped into my car and drove over to check out this new recipe. Henry was a good cook. I always enjoyed his cooking adventures. Letting myself in I shouted out that I was in the house, sometimes he would reply “Thanks for the warning!” Ha… always a sense of humor. I could hear him busy in the kitchen so he didn’t respond.

This is a recipe?

Rounding the corner into the kitchen my eyes about bugged out of my head. “Holey Moley Henry!” I said. I stood next to him staring at a huge bowl of noodles, diced ham, and cabbage. “What is all this?!”

Henry chuckled and told me he didn’t realize that the recipe made so much. Being a good cook, he grabbed me a bowl and filled it up with the noodle concoction. I grimaced a little, to which he said: “Aww, come on!”. I smirked and grabbed the fork from his hand.

Digging the fork into the bowl, I pulled up a good helping and gave it a try. Henry grinned as I chewed and chewed. All I could manage was to nod my head and continue chewing.

As the mouthful of noodles and company found their way into my stomach, I spoke briefly out of the corner of my mouth giving a “chew by chew” of the “salad”. It had great taste. The cabbage and ham together were interesting but delicious. The noodles, well… it was good too. Great salad.

Quite seriously, he shook his head and said it was not a salad, that it was the main meal. Dumbfounded I just sat and stared at him. I went on to laugh and said that I hoped he had a large family reunion to go to or two church picnics because this recipe made a heap of food. He smiled and gave me a wink and said that he had no family reunion or church picnic to go to.

Where are you going to put this all?

pile of delicious bacon
Image by Pearl Vaj from Pixabay

Reaching into his cupboard Henry pulled out some gallon zip lock baggies. We filled up three bags and had about 4 cups left. He wanted me to take two bags home. I declined and took one and told him to call another friend. I washed up the dishes for him and then headed for home.

That night and three lunchtimes later, we dined on this recipe. We decided that it was great warm the first time and needed to be eaten cold thereafter. It was certainly unique, but a good cook always likes variety and Henry never shied away from trying new and different recipes.

Saying goodbye

I watched Henry transition from his own home to assisted living and then to the Luverne Veterans Home. There were a few stints at the nursing home for rehabilitation and the comebacks he made were notable.

I enjoyed Henry’s attitude that he shared with me. “This is just all part of my journey Michele, its God preparing me.” I smiled with tears as I recognized that was a good and important way of viewing life. Just part of the journey.

I was grateful for a phone call from his nephew Ron informing me Henry was not well and was not expected to live long. I hopped into the car and drove right to the VA nursing home. As I drove I cried and gave myself pep talks. I remembered all the great memories of holidays and dinners together. Drinking lots of coffee, laughing and talking.

I entered Henry’s room to find him eating his supper. I greeted him and he smiled. We talked as he finished eating. He had trouble breathing but was making an effort to keep with the conversation. We sang several hymns and he did his best to harmonize. I paused occasionally to cry and apologized for my tears, but he told me it was good to grieve and he appreciated me.

See you later

After a few hours, I could see he was tired and that I should let him rest. I told him how much we as a family appreciated his friendship and company and that as a fellow believer I would be seeing him again. He smiled and said he was not afraid to go home. He asked me to take care of his Norfolk pine tree and I said I would. We said our final goodbyes- I hate goodbye. I prefer “see you later”. I picked up his pine and he waved goodbye to us both.

In honor of my good friend and good cook Henry Klumper, I give you this adapted recipe of the cabbage, noodles, and ham. It has a name and it is called Haluski. It is a Czech comfort food. Enjoy!

Haluski

Ingredients

  • 2 oz of pancetta or bacon- diced small
  • 1 1/2 pounds green cabbage- cored, and rough chopped
  • 6 tablespoons butter divided
  • 2 cups white onion, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 6 oz. of egg noodles- choose your desired size

Instructions

In a medium fry pan melt 2 tablespoons butter and fry pancetta or bacon till crisp. Add the onions and sauté for two minutes. Taking 2 more tablespoons of butter, as well as the cabbage, salt, pepper and on medium-high, cover waiting till the mixture is hot. Then reduce to medium and cook for 10 minutes. You can get your water boiling for the noodles and cook according to your package directions when finished drain the noodles.  Once your cabbage is tender you will add the cooked and drained noodles, as well as the remaining butter- cook, bring to serving temperature. Enjoy!

Michele

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