From Gramma Hoover's Recipes:

Experiences with Chop Suey

By Mary Stephens

At the request of my uncle I am redoing this page. After hearing the whole story he thought it would be more fitting to have a "big story and a little recipe" rather than having someone think I was being unkind to my dear Gramma. I agree!


Back in the "dear dead days" not quite beyond recall, we used to enjoy visits to Gramma's house at Gull Lake a number of times each year. These mostly occurred during good driving weather - spring, summer and fall - with an occasional trip during the winter. (Since Gramma's house was so small, I think we tended to avoid winter visits and she came to us during that season more than we went to her.)

During the years I am referring to we lived exactly 80 miles north of Gramma's house.  (She figured this out herself on one of her trips, though I don't remember which of the two routes she took.) Consequently, our visits to her usually involved at least two meals, a lunch and a supper, or dinner if you will. Of course, it was more if we stayed over night. Since there were six in our family, it would involve some work to prepare a full sit down dinner for us, and Gramma being older, working part time at a children's mission, and wanting to enjoy our visit, resorted to easy meals most of the time. Sometimes this was hot dogs or hamburgers, or some kind of sandwiches. We usually brought something to contribute also, as I recall. On holidays such as the 4th of July or Memorial Day I think we usually had the hot dog or sandwich theme. Often, Uncle Bruce's family was there on the holiday occasions, and they contributed something to the meal as well.

At some point Gramma began to resort to Chop Suey to feed our family on the visits when it was just us eating with her. I'm not sure how it was that she came to think that we liked it so well. Maybe it was that we had been taught to always thank to cook, or maybe it was my youngest brother Dan who liked almost everything when he was a little tike. Mom said that when Gramma first started making Chop Suey years ago in Africa her family actually liked it. We probably thought it was O.K. the first couple times we had it too, but after several times it began to wear us down.

Gramma could cook good food, that was the thing.  We knew it.  Her fried chicken was The Best Fried Chicken in the world. We were always thrilled when she made it for us! She usually made rice and gravy with it, and since her rice tasted better than ours and her gravy was good, it was a real treat!  But, understandably, she seldom made it because it was a lot of work. (When I was visiting her alone she did make some really nice meals for us. They would have cost more for seven people, though, so she didn't often make them for the whole family.)

Gramma's "goodies" were also stellar.  She was famous for her Brazil nut cake, fruit cake, and various other sweets and cookies that she made. She also was generous to buy us Fudge Striped Cookies or make strawberry short cake with store bought cakes upon occasion. We loved these.

But, the Chop Suey! It was in a class all it's own. It was watery and not very tasty. For our family, who had eaten in some really good Chinese restaurants, it was sad. I also suspect that Gramma may have cooked it a day or two before and then reheated it the day we came, which probably didn't help. But, despite all that, I think we would have tolerated it if she hadn't resorted to making it so often. That was the real killer. We really laugh about it now, but at the time it seemed quite awful.

Finally, after this had gone on for some time, my mom had pity on us, and in her pre-visit phone conversation with Gramma she suggested that we bring some "Banquet" frozen chicken along to heat up instead when Gramma told her she was planning to make Chop Suey. I think this scenario may have happened a second time before Gramma questioned Mom as to whether we didn't like the Chop Suey and Mom had to tell her we didn't.  Well, Gramma was nice about it. She was a grandma after all, and she didn't want to serve us food that we didn't like. I seem to remember that we took "Banquet" chicken along quite regularly after that. It probably lost some of its luster as well, but it was easier to eat than the soupy Chop Suey.

Now, I realize that there may be some exaggeration here, and I apologize. It's really amazing how large a small thing like this can loom in young minds at the time.  Anyone who has had a similar "food experience" will know exactly what I'm talking about. (This type of thing seems to be a common problem of eating in school cafeterias, especially boarding schools.)

Now, a few words in Gramma's defense:

First of all, in looking the recipe over as it appears in her cook book (see below), I really think that some mistake was made somewhere, especially since Mom told me that they liked it when she first started making it. Three cups of water seems like an unreasonable amount to me - especially the "1 Tbl. of corn starch in 1 cup of water" part. I'm thinking that somewhere along the way the recipe either got changed or miscopied. If not that, then maybe the originator of it was a bit off in their ideas of cooking.

Personally, I think that it should call for 2 Cups of chicken broth and then, at the most, maybe another 1/4-1/2 Cup for the corn starch. Having eaten this dish so often this sounds much more reasonable to me.

Also, I think that it needs more than salt and soy sauce for the flavoring/seasoning. Despite the fact that she was born in China, Gramma couldn't be expected to know this as, at least in my experience, she never cooked Chinese food except this dish and the stuff from cans.  Personally, I would add a bit of ground ginger and then some green onion at the end, at least.

Secondly, I have to say that we had already knew Gramma was losing her sense of taste by this point, and I think she had admitted it herself. Because of that, to her the lack of flavor, or overly vegetably flavor, was not an issue. So, I have to let her off on that one.  She didn't know.

Also, like other frugal housewives, her sense of taste was affected by the cost of things. :-) I have to say this, because it was true. She had a chocolate milk mix that she just loved, but it was a bit costly from her point of view. We kids, in our family, learned that it really wasn't much of a treat to have her make it for us because she made it so weak. She claimed that it tasted "just fine" to her and that the amount of mix she put in was plenty, but I think we gave up asking for it in self defense. (I can still almost hear her saying impatiently, "It tastes just fine!" :-) That makes me chuckle now!)  Based on this, though, it is also possible that she added water or vegetables over and above what the recipe called for to "stretch" it for more eaters.

I share these facts with a more or less of a sense of foreboding, because I am fully aware that I'm carrying around a load of Gramma's own genes. I may well develop these same tendencies myself someday! On the other hand, I have to think that if I do, perhaps some other young people will have the opportunity to develop character while eating at my house, and will have something to laugh about when they get old enough to appreciate the humor in it! ;-)

Having said all that, I must say that if I had the chance to go back to Gramma's house and eat a plate full of her Chop Suey with her I'd do it in a minute! In fact, I'd give a great deal to have another serving of the stuff cooked by her and eaten in her little cottage by the lake as it was back then! Those are good memories not to be laid carelessly aside.

The Chop Suey recipe follows. Someone may feel brave and decide to make it and, finding they actually like it, wonder how we could be so callus. I know we were not the only ones, however, because after describing it to a friend, he told us his mother had made something just like it when he was young and he and his siblings had the same general feeling toward it that we did! And, then, think of having it almost every time you went to visit a certain person! Maybe you can at least be slightly sympathetic.

If you do venture to make this recipe, I suggest changing the water to chicken broth and reducing it by about half to one cup.  If you think it needs more, add it by all means.  You might also want to add a bit of black pepper, ginger and maybe some green onions or chives. Perhaps someday I'll get the mental fortitude to try this recipe myself and see if I can improve it, but in the mean time you may enjoy it at your own risk! :-)

Chop Suey
From Irma Lee Joyce


Brown 1 lb. of lean pork or chicken strips.


1/2 C. sliced onion
1/2 C. green pepper, chopped
1 C. celery strips
2 C. boiling water

Cook 3 minutes

Mix 1 Tbl. cornstarch in 1 C. water
Add and cook stirring until thickened


1 can drained bean sprouts
1 small can water chestnuts, drained and sliced
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbl. soy sauce

Serve with rice and toasted almonds.



background & graphics by mary van nattan