From Gramma Hoover's Recipes:
Experiences with Chop Suey
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
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 the
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
occasions, and they likely contributed something to the meal
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 actually
family 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 at
that time 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 sometimes. 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 usually 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 laugh about it now, but at the time it seemed
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" chicken along 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. But it is really amazing how large a small thing like
this can loom in one's mind at the time, and even later in
memory. 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
Now, a few words in Gramma's defense:
Fist 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
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. (I
also somehow doubt that Irma Lee Joyce was an expert in Chinese
cuisine.) 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 determined that
Gramma was losing her sense of taste by this point. I seem to
recall she admitted it herself even. 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.
Also, her sense of taste was effected 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 in an impatient and almost annoyed tone of voice, "It
tastes just fine!" :-) You have to see the humor
in these things, otherwise you'll just get ornery.)
I share these facts with a mild 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
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 every time you went to visit a
certain person for a while! Maybe you can at least be slightly
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.
You might also want to add a bit of black pepper and 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
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.
graphics by mary van nattan