If the cheerful chief of the chimney set has a weight problem, blame Mrs. R. J. Yellig. She is the wife of Jim Yellig who for 25 years has portrayed Santa Claus at Santa Claus Land.
Yellig used to have his own beard but now he uses an artificial one but it’s been a long time since he has needed any article padding image of Santa Claus. Weiging in at a comfortable 220 on can see why.
Mrs. (Isabella) Yellig is known throughout the Santa Claus community for her cooking skill. Her dishes range from Hasnepfeffer to Chop Suey. Her talents get their biggest test, however, when the Santa Claus American Legion Post auxiliary provieds catering service.
For the auxiliary, to which she belongs, Mrs. Yellig makes up the menus, does the buying and supervises the kitchen during a catering job Recently the auxiliary catered a wedding reception attended by 525 guests. They served fried chicken, baked ham, dressing, potato salad, potato chips and coffee.
Mrs. “Santa”, known locally as Bella, is a striking, silver-haired grandmother, who, unlike Whistler’s mothers would look uncomfortable in a rocking chair. Although she and Santa (Mr. Yellig) are past 65 they like to keep busy.
One look at Mrs. Yellig and one can see what must be some resemblance to her grandmother, who, undaunted by a sparsely settled frontier moved to Indiana from her native Alsace-Lorraine.
It was her grandmother and her mother that inspired in Mrs. Yellig a love of cooking. On the 160-acre farm near here where she grew up, Mrs. Yellig was on of non children. She had to learn how to kill and pluck chickens, make buck wheat cakes from homegrown buckwheat and grind sausage from freshly-killed hogs. She knew the joy of biting into a stalk of sugar cane and chewing the sweet fiber.
Mrs. “Santa” accepts the fact that modern food processing and packaging is here to stay but she thinks there is no substitute for farm-fresh food.
An old German recipe for Hasenpfeffer starts with “First catch your rabbit.” The Yelligs have no trouble on this point. When it comes time for the annual pitch-in Hasenpfeffer supper the neighbors provide the rabbits. Last year they shot 17 for the occasion. Another seasonal favorite is quail pie which Mrs. Yellig does with savory elegance.
What about venison? Santa Claus eating venison! A shameful look quickly turns the conversation to other foods.
Mrs. Yellig has hundreds of recipes, most of which are in her head. Her method is to use “a pinch of this and a pinch of that.” She depends on sight and feel in measureing ingredients. She never misses. However, because Santa Claus’ waistline doesn’t get any smaller — at least not until after Christmas. During the winter Yellig may lost 20 to 30 pounds but come spring when children start tooping back to Santa Claus Land he is on his way back up to his usual 220 lbs.
Ask Mrs. Yellig and her husband what are their favorite foods and the list includes such diverse items as chop sue, potato pancakes, fried chicken and baked ham. For her chip suey she prepares all of the ingredients herself. No store bough misses for her.
Naturally Mrs. “Santa” makes Christmas cookies. These are among the 100 or more dessert recipes she has in her head. Baking is one cooking task she has enjoyed since childhood. She recalls kneading dough when she has to stand on a box to reach the kitchen table.
With the large family on the farm baking was twice-a-week business when Mrs. Yellig was a little girl. They baked in brick ovens out in the yard. An avearge of eight loaves of bread was baked each baking day. They even made their own yeast for the bread.
There was fresh meat on the farm during the winter after hogs were killed. During the winter eight or nine hogs would be butchered and hung in the smokehouse. There was also a 700-pound beef from which Mrs. Yellig’s father would cut thick steaks and roast’s. The Yelligs have a son and a daughter who live nearby. Both grew up with an appreciation of their mother’s cooking but the praise Mrs. “Santa” values most highly come from her five grandchildren who are frequent visitors at the Yellig home.