My food memories of Stephenson’s old Apple Farm Restaurant go back to a spring road trip in the Midwest about 46 years ago— my final April in Omaha, Nebraska before beginning a new chapter of life teaching in Los Angeles. My good friend Pat Fennell had invited me to accompany her on an adventure to Kansas City. So early one morning over spring break, we set out in Pat’s yellow Opel sedan for a day of exploration, photography, and culinary adventures that neither of us has ever forgotten.
The Opel developed engine troubles somewhere along our 185-mile journey and was therefore dropped off at an Opel dealership within walking distance of the Plaza just as soon as we made it to KC. Assured it would be fixed by closing time that day, we set off on foot with our cameras hanging from our shoulders for lunch and an afternoon photographing the Spanish architecture and outdoor statues that make the Plaza such an historic treasure. We then trekked uphill to the repair shop around closing time and were back in business and hungry for the country dinner that was next on our agenda.
Our destination was Stephenson’s Apple Farm Restaurant located in the middle of an apple orchard on Highway 40, just east of KC near Lee’s Summit. Les and Loyd Stephenson, known as The Twins, had opened the restaurant on April 16, 1946 in the original stone building from 1870 where their grandparents operated a fruit and vegetable farm along what was then a mud road. When Pat and I dined there in 1974, we found ourselves within a big red barn superstructure that engulfed the original stone building.
That evening, I recall toasting our grand adventure in KC with peach daiquiris, and dining on fritters served with fresh apple butter, pork chops, harvest corn pudding and relish, and Stephenson’s famous green rice casserole. Fueled by our delicious country dinner and peach libations, we drove home to Omaha full of memories of the day’s adventures and our unforgettable dining experience. After many decades and moves, we each still have and cook from the little recipe books that we bought after dinner that night—filled with the family’s favorite recipes and bound by a red spiral binding around a cover entitled “Stephenson’s Receipts.”
During this April’s stay at home Covid lockdown, restaurants around the country have been closed. However, many innovative chefs and cooks have attempted to sustain their businesses by preparing takeout orders and offering home delivery. On his April 22, 2020 Facebook page, Chef Jasper Mirabile of Kansas City posted his “Stay at Home Order” Recipe of the Day: Stephenson’s Old Apple Farm Baked Chicken ‘N’ Butter.” The KC chef included a lovely remembrance of a Sunday drive with his family in his dad’s new yellow Cadillac Deville sedan to the old restaurant that was back then way out Highway 40.
Chef Mirabile was only 5 then, but he remembers racing into the restaurant and drinking cold apple cider from little 2-ounce paper cups in the lobby. He also describes details about the Parlor Room where they ate dinner—“paintings, white tablecloths, starched napkins, candles on each table, and the big glasses.” He also remembers in great detail everything his father, mother, three brothers and he ordered that afternoon. The Stephenson family’s signature baked chicken recipe was his father’s favorite. Sadly, this historic Missouri treasure closed in 2007.
Chef Mirabile and I both believe that cooking memories feed the spirit. Sharing recipes along with their stories is a way to connect while remaining at home. Because the common ingredient is love.
Stephenson’s Old Apple Farm Baked Chicken ‘Butter Cream (Makes 3-4 servings), ½ c flour, 1 ½ teaspoons salt, ½ teaspoon paprika, ¼ teaspoon pepper, 1 whole chicken cut-up, ¼ cup butter, 1 ½ cups hot water, ½ cup nonfat dry milk powder.
Combine flour, salt, paprika, and pepper. Dip chicken in water. Coat with mixture of flour and seasonings.
Put chicken skin side down into a 9x13x2-inch baking pan. Dot with butter. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
Mix milk powder with 1 ½ cups of hot water. Pour around chicken. Bake 1¼ hours more, or till tender.
Source: KC’s Chef Jasper Mirabile’s recreation of Stephenson’s Apple Farm Recipe
Launching soon: The Common Ingredient—an online blog to help feed our local community by sharing recipes and comfort food stories. www.thecommoningredient.org
Cathy Salter is a geographer and columnist who lives with her husband, Kit, in Southern Boone County at a place they call Boomerang Creek.