Cooking in the trenches: Lunchroom rolls, Ranger cookies, Ruth Fitzpatrick’s loosemeats

Click on the picture below to watch Pink Floyd’s, “The Wall”

As a professional cook, I came late to the party. I was thirty (over-the-hill in any restaurant kitchen) when I took a job as a lunchroom lady in a middle-school cafeteria. The Food Service Manager was bossy, demanding, and hard to please—just what you’d expect in any commercial kitchen, but I needed a job and on Vashon Island in the 1970s, if you didn’t want a long commute, the only other choices were K2 Skis, the nursing home, or one of the taverns. 

Prepared-from-scratch school lunches were still the norm: loosemeats, pizza squares, hamburger goulash, Tater Tots, Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks, jello with fruit cocktail and mayonnaise, ice cream cups with wooden spoons, Ranger cookies, macaroni and cheese with stewed tomatoes, turkey tetrazzini, and everyone’s favorite—soft, just-baked, yeasty rolls. There were no special diets: no one was lactose or gluten intolerant, no one had nut allergies, no one was vegetarian or vegan, no one had an adverse reaction to sugar or wheat, and no one knew where their chicken came from. You either drank the Kool-Aid or you brown-bagged it. 

We cooked the entrees in enormous steam kettles that looked like pots used by comic book cannibals. We opened #10 cans of corn, green beans, fruit, and tomatoes with a can opener bolted to the stainless steel prep table, then heated the contents in the Traulsen steam oven. We mixed yeast rolls in five foot Hobart mixers, rolled them out, snuggled them into large sheet pans, and baked them in cavernous ovens. 

Everything and everyone in the lunch room was appropriately 1970s: the diners sat in brown and orange stacking chairs; lunch was served on styrofoam plates; nothing was recycled—food waste, milk cartons, and paper products all went into the garbage; the junior high girls swooped their Farrah Fawcett bangs into place with Dippity-do; the cool kids sat together at their own table; there was no help if you were bullied; and after a tragedy, counselors were not on hand. No one went for cover when a car backfired, there was no security guard, and people wandered in and out of the school yard. I lasted the school year and took the first job offered to me–a lunch cook at the new Sound Food restaurant.

Lunchroom rolls

Lunchroom Rolls  yield: 32 (2 inch) rolls

  • 2 cups warm tap water
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 (1/4 ounce) envelopes yeast (one envelope = 2 1/4 teaspoons)
  • 5 1/3 cups all-purpose flour 
  • 3/4 cup dry milk
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 cup Crisco, melted and at room temperature
  • melted butter

Add sugar to water. Stir until dissolved. Sprinkle yeast on top of water and let yeast dissolve. 

Sift together flour, dry milk and salt in a large mixing bowl and set aside.

Once the yeast starts to bubble and foam, stir in baking powder. Add melted shortening cooled to room temperature.

Add liquids to flour mixture and stir with wooden spoon until mixed well.

Cover and let sit in a warm, draft-free place for one hour.

After one hour, uncover and punch down.

Put flour on your work service. Turn out dough on to flour covered surface. Dough will be sticky. Cover the dough with enough flour that it’s no longer sticky. Knead 8 to 10 times. 

Divide the dough into four parts. Roll each part into a rectangle that’s approximately 5 inches by 10 inches and 1/2 inches thick. Cut into 8 equal pieces. Make each piece rounded by tucking under edges and corners forming a ball.

Place rolls close together on a jelly roll pan that’s either well-greased or covered with a baking mat. The picture above shows 24 rolls on an 11×17 jelly roll pan. Cover and let rise until doubled in size, 20 to 30 minutes.

Bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and brush baked rolls with melted butter.

 Ranger Cookies

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 cups rolled oats (regular or quick cooking, not instant)
  • 1 1/2 cups Rice Krispies
  • 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugars. Beat in eggs one at a time, followed by vanilla extract.

Stir in flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt, either by hand or with the mixer on low speed. 

Mix in oats and Rice Krispies, then stir in chocolate chips, coconut and walnuts until everything is well-distributed.

Drop heaping tablespoonfuls onto prepared baking sheet (approx 1 1/2-inch balls).

Bake for 11-13 minutes, until edges are turning golden brown. Cool for 2-3 minutes on baking sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes about 3 1/2 dozen cookies.


Ruth Fitzpatrick’s Heelan High Loosemeats 

  • 1 lb ground chuck, ground round or ground sirloin 
  • 1 Tbs. lard or Crisco (if meat is round or sirloin) 
  • 2 tsp. salt 
  • 1 onion, chopped fine 
  • 1 Tbs. yellow mustard (not Dijon)
  • 1 Tbs. cider vinegar (not Balsamic)
  • 1 Tbs. Sugar (not Stevia)
  • Water to cover 
  • Salt and black pepper (fine ground not coarse ground), to taste
Melt fat over medium heat and lightly salt bottom of cast iron skillet. Break ground beef up in skillet and start crumbling it with the back of a wooden spoon. Add chopped onion while browning meat. Keep working with the back of spoon to break up meat. When meat is cooked and lacks any pink, drain off any fat. 
Add mustard, vinegar, sugar, and enough water to cover meat Simmer until water has evaporated–30 minutes. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Serve on warm hamburger buns with pickle slices, mustard and Lay’s Original Potato Chips.
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2 Responses to Cooking in the trenches: Lunchroom rolls, Ranger cookies, Ruth Fitzpatrick’s loosemeats

  1. Bridget says:

    I loved this post! Even though I sort of remember the ’70’s, this made me kinda wish we could go back to those simpler days. Keep up the good work, Mom!

    • Mary Kropiwnicki says:

      I enjoyed this post! The Farrah Fawcett bangs . . . that was me. I cannot wait to try these rolls. It is on my Bucket List to be able to make delicious yeast rolls for my family. I may be coming back
      with questions. Thanks so much!

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