By SARA ARTHURS
Parishioners at First Lutheran Church in Findlay serve 150 to 200 people monthly at a community dinner. If a fellow church member dies, they feed 30 to 200 grieving family members after the funeral.
Arlene Schriner is among the women of the church who make it all happen.
“I started cooking at a very young age,” Schriner said.
She was the youngest of four children. While her mother had to watch her diet because of diabetes, her father, a farmer, “pretty much ate meat and potatoes.”
Schriner became known for her fruit salads at family holiday meals — something, she said, she could help with while her mother was busy doing something else.
But this isn’t just chopped-up fruit. Schriner varies the type of fruit, using canned peaches and pears in the winter, or mandarin oranges, or frozen raspberries, and incorporates a variety of other ingredients. Sometimes there’s a surprise element, like mini marshmallows.
“The dressing has morphed over the years,” she said.
But the one featured today includes instant pudding mix, honey, and pineapple and lime juice.
Schriner, who will turn 60 this year, said “seedless grapes were not available” when she was young. So they would cut the grapes in half and pick out the seeds. Because her mother was diabetic, “We’d always kind of played with food at home.” She’d done cooking in 4-H, as well.
Schriner has worked as a dietitian for 35 years. But food wasn’t her original career plan.
“I actually started out in fashion design,” she said.
But her first week at Bowling Green State University, she met the man who would become her husband. So she switched majors, because a career in fashion design tends to take people to bigger cities like New York.
Schriner grew up in a Lutheran church and said “Lutheran churches have always done funeral meals.” She’s part of one of three groups of women who take turns preparing the meals at First Lutheran. The groups rotate, with one assigned to each month. Schriner said the church averages about a funeral each month.
Before a funeral meal, the women try to get an idea of how many people will be coming to the luncheon, and if they have any favorite foods or food allergies. They offer families a choice of ham or hot chicken. Sides might include scalloped potatoes, baked beans and macaroni or potato salad, as well as dessert.
About five or six people are involved with preparing the meal, which could serve anywhere from a few dozen to a few hundred depending on family size and proximity. Schriner said they try to stay out of the way and focus on doing what needs to be done, but occasionally they do interact with the family, who are “usually very appreciative.”
Schriner also helps with the church’s community dinner, usually not as a cook but by coordinating which tasks need to be done when. The dinner is open to anyone in the community, not just the needy. It’s been anything from breakfast casseroles to spaghetti, and incorporates foods from the church’s community garden.
The church even held a community dinner after the August 2007 flood. First Lutheran, which is located on East Lincoln Street, had 56 inches of water in its basement.
“The kitchen was out of commission,” Schriner said, but they served a brown bag luncheon, picnic-style.
They held a funeral meal shortly after the flood, too. A man who attended First Lutheran had died, and his family came from out of the area and were looking forward to a northwest Ohio staple: shredded chicken sandwiches. The meal was held at the Dock across the street, served from slow cookers.
“We have to be adaptable,” Schriner said.
Since her family joined First Lutheran in 1994, she said many of the women in the church have become her friends, in and out of the kitchen. They also have a book club where they alternate between books like classics, something about animals, something about Paris and a biography.
“And we always eat” — usually something related to the book.
At home, Schriner has two shelves in her kitchen filled with nothing but cookbooks.
She also helps others learn about cooking as part of her work as a dietitian. Schriner works at WIC in Wyandot County, where she serves pregnant and breastfeeding women, infants and children up to 5 years old.
“Pregnant women are so receptive to change,” Schriner said. She advocates for little changes, like maybe drinking water instead of soda.
If a parent says their child will eat fruit but not vegetables, or vice versa, she encourages them to serve more of whatever the child is willing to eat. Avoiding an entire food group is cause for concern, but she tells parents, if a child has one thing he or she doesn’t like, “That’s not an issue.”
Her own children each had something they didn’t like when they were little, though they weren’t really picky eaters. Today, her grown daughter and three sons all cook.
“I guess they just picked it up,” she said.
The boys like to cook breakfast. When they would come home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, she would turn the kitchen over to them. They’d make candied bacon with bourbon and brown sugar. One of her sons in particular is adept at just looking in the cupboard and seeing what he can create from the ingredients available.
“Pancakes and waffles — they don’t use a mix, they make from scratch,” she said.
Nutritional guidelines change every five to 10 years, so, Schriner said, she and her colleagues may be making different recommendations than they once did.
And as certain things become more or less popular, it affects what’s available. Take the gluten-free diet. Schriner said some people cannot have gluten because of celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder. But it’s believed that more people follow the gluten-free diet than strictly need to. It’s changed the market, she said, noting there are some whole-wheat items she used to find at the supermarket that are no longer there, because the trend is toward gluten-free.
One of the rules Schriner imposes on herself is “to not eat chocolate before noon.” Then she went to Spain: “They have crullers dipped in chocolate.” So she had to have them for breakfast.
Yes, this dietitian eats chocolate.
“I think in moderation it’s OK,” she said.
Flexible Fruit Salad
- ½ cup each blueberries, red raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, red grapes, black grapes, pineapple chunks (I used canned, drained, and saved the juice)
- ½ cup mini marshmallows, add just before serving (very optional)
- 1 each apple, peach and banana, sliced and dipped in some of the pineapple juice to prevent browning
- ½ package instant french vanilla pudding mix
- ½ cup pineapple juice
- ½ tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
Mix the fruits in a bowl. The goal is color, and just about any seasonal fruit can be used. Other fruits could include kiwi, black cherries, oranges, clementines, canned mandarin slices, peaches or pears. Melons could include watermelon, cantaloupe or honeydew (I generally don’t put on a topping if melons are included).
The apple slice garnish was cut with a star-shaped cookie cutter, then dipped in the pineapple juice.
Mix the toppings until smooth and add to the fruit. You might not need all the recipe makes.
Sprigs of mint or cinnamon mint add another layer of flavor.