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My Mother’s Kitchen – Jean Leri’s Focaccia

Jean Leri’s Focaccia

In 1911, outside of Walsen Camp, a little girl named Jean was born to a hard working, loving Italian family.  The family later homesteaded a small ranch on Baldy Mountain.  Her father worked hard to provide for the family and Jean’s mother guided the children, Jean and her brother, on the path of life.  When Jean was very young, her father was killed when his horse and wagon got away from him and ran him over.  Jean’s mother continued to work hard to make the family ranch work.

When they went to town, she would heat water in two large milk containers in the wagon and place Jean and her brother down between them to stay warm.

Jean has great respect for her mother and the hardships she endured to ensure that the family was provided for.  She was taught how to cook from scratch, which is unheard of these days.  Jean remembers that her mother was not blessed with all our modern measuring devices.  An example of this was when they made homemade noodles.  She would measure one hand scoop of flour (about 1 cup), 1 egg, a dash of olive oil and a half of an egg shell of water, then mix all together, roll and cut into noodles.  The recipes that Jean learned from her mom are still etched into her memory.  Jean recalls canning and preserving the summer crops for winter, and keeping the food cold in a hole under a natural spring, that still runs today.  She hated getting the sausage out of its crock in the basement.  It was full of meat surrounded by lard which kept it well preserved for the winter.

Jean met a very clean cut, broad shouldered, sharp minded, witty, young Italian boy named Joe Leri.    They got married and moved to Pueblo to work on Joe’s family ranch, and  later bought a homestead on the St. Charles River, just south of Pueblo.  This young couple had to overcome challenges from dry fields to gully washing floods that wiped out all their hard work.

In 1949, after their home burned down, they moved back to the La Veta area to a small plot of land near the bottom of Middle Creek.  They raised over 3000 turkeys in just 6 months for Thanksgiving, and built a dairy barn where they milked cows and raised chickens.  Jean sold milk and eggs in Walsenburg and surrounding areas and sold produce from her garden.  Joe turned the orchard below the house into two fishing ponds where anyone could fish and just pay for the fish you caught.

At night Joe would pull out his accordion and Jean would cook for all that had come over to visit.   Jean says “today people never take the time to just visit, they are in too much of a hurry.  ”After Joe passed, Jean still worked hard to make ends meet, cooking for area restaurants and the La Veta Senior Citizens.  She finally retired in her nineties.  Today, at 98, she works in her garden and green house when she can, and she still loves to cook.

Jean has many cookbooks, but there are two she keeps close to her mixing bowl.  These are her collection of recipes from family and friends.  Jean’s guests loved her Focaccia bread.

Jean Leri’s Focaccia Bread

• 1 teaspoon sugar

• 1 package active dry yeast

• 1/3 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)

• 2 cups all-purpose flour

• 2 tablespoons olive oil

• 1/4 teaspoon salt

• Dried or fresh Rosemary

• Peeled Garlic cloves

• Grated Asiago cheese

Dissolve sugar and yeast in warm water.  Let stand ten minutes.

In a large bowl, combine the yeast mixture with flour; stir well to combine. Stir in water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until all of the flour is absorbed.  When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead.

Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in it and lightly coat with olive oil. Cover with a cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 40 minutes.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Deflate the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface; knead briefly.  Pat or roll it into a sheet and place on a lightly oiled baking sheet.  Brush the dough with oil.  Push peeled garlic cloves into the top of the dough and sprinkle with salt, rosemary and Asiago cheese.  Let rise again till double in thickness, about 30 minutes.

Bake 20 to 30 minutes, until golden brown.  For a moist and fluffy texture bake 15 to 20 minutes.  If you like it crunchier and darker in the outside, bake 25 to 30 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool on rack.

My Mother’s Kitchen is a forum for family recipes and history from around Huerfano County. If you would like to share yours, contact Mollie Fuller at 738-1415.