The holidays haven’t been too kind to Char Rehklau lately.
She was hospitalized with pneumonia in 2019 and the pandemic has put a damper on this year’s celebrations.
But the Bowling Green woman is still baking up a frenzy, passing out pies, cookies and other goodies to her friends and neighbors.
“I’m a happy person. I don’t let things bother me,” Rehklau said. “It takes less effort to smile, then it does to frown. I’ve just always been that way.”
As she sliced into her Mincemeat Cherry Pie last week, Rehklau was already planning on giving all eight slices away. She had asked members of her condo association board if they wanted to try it and everyone was game.
“Either they like it or they’ve never tasted it before,” she said.
The recipe has been in her holiday repertoire for years. She got it from a co-worker at St. Luke’s Hospital.
“We were talking mincemeat pie and I had just made a right-out-of-the jar type of pie. She said, ‘just try it.’ And that’s the only way I make it now.”
Rehklau almost didn’t write down the recipe for the pie because it’s so simple: Mincemeat, cherries and walnuts.
“Mix it all up, put it in a pie shell — that’s it,” she said.
The cherries are a great complement to the pie.
“It makes it more moist. Mincemeat is sort of solid. This is a very heavy pie,” Rehklau said.
She recommended using a 10-inch pie plate.
“It will fill it right up to the top.”
Anyone who’s interested in making this dish should get to the grocery store soon.
“Mincemeat is seasonal. You can only get it this time of year,” she said. “You really do have to look for it.”
Some hints for local shopping from Rehklau: Kroger has it in the baking aisle, hiding behind the marshmallows; it’s also at Meijer, in the center aisle.
Rehklau is also sharing her recipe for pie crust.
“It’s basically the second best part of the pie. It’s a pie crust that is very tender and pretty much melts in your mouth,” she said.
She got the pie crust recipe from a woman at Hosanna Lutheran Church in Grand Rapids, where Rehklau used to help serve the fourth Tuesday of the month luncheon. They’ve been suspended due to the coronavirus.
Rehklau is part of the tight-knit condo community at the Villas at Summerfield. She can often be seen tooling around in her golf cart and leaving care packages on her neighbors’ doorsteps. Rehklau is secretary for the condo association’s board of directors.
“Everything came to a halt,” she said.
When the coronavirus pandemic struck this spring, she found a creative way for her women’s luncheon group to still meet.
They pick out a spacious garage in the neighborhood.
“We’d meet over there at noon, with our lunch and our chairs and we kept social distance. It was really very nice,” Rehklau said. “Maybe 8-12 would show up. Now we’re going to try to meet at the (condo) clubhouse because of winter.”
Last December, she traveled to Minnesota to be with her family for the holidays.
“I ended up on Christmas Eve in ICU with pneumonia,” she said.
Rehklau spent 19 days in the hospital.
This Christmas and Thanksgiving, she will stay at home.
“I love cooking, so it’s no hardship. I have a turkey breast and I’m going to fix all the traditional things. The leftovers are wonderful.”
She said her husband, Al, used to ask why she would go to all the trouble to make a huge Thanksgiving dinner for the two of them.
“Because I like to. I love it,” she said. “I don’t really considering cooking work.”
Rehklau has been featured in the cook’s corner before, after she won the first-ever holiday cookie contest at the Wood County District Public Library in 2015. The winning cookie was Raspberry Almonettes.
Rehklau worked as a floor nurse, taking care of post-operative patients, at St. Luke’s, retiring in 1997.
The Rehklaus made their home in Grand Rapids for 28 years, downsizing to Summerfield in 2013. Al died Oct. 6, 2014, the day after the couple’s 29th wedding anniversary.