Ring Tum Ditty

Rarely do I write about food with only a recipe attached. There’s always a back story involving tradition, hospitality, family, and friends. Even if food prep means a tired mom or dad cobbling together leftovers to hurriedly get dinner on the table, it’s done to feed the hungry family, with love.

Isabelle Kelley, my mother-in-law, introduced me to Ring Tum Ditty. I was never sure of its spelling but I went along with it. An Internet search shows many variations of Ring Tum Ditty, but it’s usually a combination of inexpensive ingredients, tomatoes being one, and it’s meat free. It’s a simple dish Bella grew up on during the Depression, but more recently, something she made for her 11 children, most likely during Lent as a meat-less meal.

Bella didn’t rush when she prepared the ingredients with her delicate and feeble hands. Ring Tum Ditty is a comfort food and the secret’s in the Worcestershire Sauce.

The Last Memory of Ring Tum Ditty
Almost 10 years ago, I gathered the ingredients and called Bella thinking I might stop in during my lunch break, make some Ring Tum Ditty, and have a visit.

Oddly, my brother-in-law Mike answered the phone instead of Bella. I told him my lunch plan. In his usual way (he’s a fireman so he’s always steady and calm), he said, “What a nice idea, I know mom would like that but I am going to take her over to the hospital right now.”

Bella, in her 80s, never returned to her home after that day. Her 11 children all came to be with her and she passed away peacefully to join her husband in eternal life.

I’ve never forgotten that day tied up in the memory of a tomato soup-cheese-cracker combination. Every time I make the dish, I think of Bella, the big Kelley family, and being so darn lucky to be a part of it! It’s Lent, and Ring Tum Ditty makes its usual appearance.

Today’s writing is for all our departed loved ones and memories of good food, good times, and good people. Do you have a memory or recipe you would like to share? Respond to this blog or email me at bagkelley@gmail.com.

Bella’s Ring Tum Ditty

  • 1 can Campbell’s®Tomato Soup, condensed version, mixed according to the directions on can
  • 1-1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • Saltine crackers, about one cup in each bowl, or to taste
  • Worcestershire Sauce®, to taste

Heat soup according to the directions on the can. Add the shredded cheddar cheese and simmer on low until all the cheese in melted throughout. Keep warm.

Crumble saltine crackers in an individual soup bowl.

Pour hot soup over the crackers. Stir to absorb soup. Add more or less soup and/or crackers until desired consistency. Top with Worcestershire sauce and eat.

Yield: 2 servings

Leprechaun Hats

An Irish colleen (from the Irish cailín, meaning girl) just came a knockin’ at mee door with some leprechaun hats—edible that is!

“Me and the wee ones made ’em up quite quick,” she said.

Here is Marion Devlin’s recipe for Leprechaun Hats. (At Thanksgiving they become pilgrim hats and, at Christmas, they become Santa Claus hats! She’s a clever colleen!)

Leprechaun Hats


Arrange Fudge Stripe Cookies on a baking sheet with chocolate side up (stripes down).

Melt white and dark chocolate according to package directions; keep warm for dipping in separate bowls.

Dip marshmallows in chocolate and place on top of Fudge Stripe Cookies. Top with green sprinkles. Cool to room temperature.

Basket O’ Blarney

How about taking a basket of St. Patrick’s Day cheer to someone? That’s what we did today. I took two boys, each fortuituously named Patrick (one being our son and his friend), and we visited someone who really appreciated an Irish picnic lunch. Here’s what to put in your basket if you get inspired.

  1. Irish soda bread. Click here for my recipe
  2. Butter, unsalted, whipped (Land O’ Lakes makes it in an easy-to-carry tub)
  3. Corned beef, sliced for sandwiches, recipe below
  4. Swiss cheese, sliced for sandwiches
  5. Mustard
  6. Pumpernickel/rye bread and croissants for sandwiches
  7. Shamrock cookies
  8. Strawberries
  9. Irish tea
  10. Beverage of your choice
  11. Paper products — festive plates, napkins, forks, knives, cups (all for easy clean-up, take your own trash bag and leave no trace)
  12. Tablecloth, green preferably
  13. St. Patrick, if you happen to have a little statue of the Irish saint
  14. Last, take along a happy spirit and your smiling Irish eyes!
    Package the shamrock cookies in cellophane bags with ribbon

    Package the shamrock cookies in cellophane bags with ribbon.

Best Corned Beef with Glaze

  • Corned beef brisket
  • 1/2 cup orange marmalade
  • 1/2 cup grainy mustard
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
    Boil corned beef in water with spice packet enclosed with the beef. Simmer for at least one hour per pound. More cooking will not hurt it. Remove from water and place in baking dish.  Mix orange marmalade, brown sugar and mustard and spread on beef, Bake in 350 degree oven for 30 minutes until topping is sizzling and crispy. Slice hot or at room temperature.
  • Our St. Patrick's Day table.

    Our St. Patrick’s Day table.

“Necessity is the Mother of Invention” — King Cakes for Mardi Gras

A few years ago about this time, in my exuberance, I volunteered to make King Cakes for Mardi Gras for my son’s school. I had no idea what was involved. I just raised my hand and said “King Cakes” because I knew they were associated with Mardi Gras. I left knowing I would figure it out later when the time came.

What is Mardi Gras?

Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday”) is the time from the Epiphany culminating on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday which begins Lent, a time for penance and fasting. This year, Mardi Gras is on March 4. Here are some of the various names for the celebration. No matter where, it always involves a feast before the fast.

  • New Orleans/France: Mardi Gras
  • Brazil: Carnival
  • Italy: Carnivale
  • Germany: Fastnacht or Fasching
  • United Kingdom and Ireland: Shrove Tuesday

King Cakes

The King Cake takes its name from the biblical three kings who visited the Christ child on January 6, the Epiphany. In the Gulf Coast region of the United States, the tradition was brought to the area by colonists from France and Spain. King Cake parties in New Orleans are documented back to the eighteenth century. The most traditional style of King Cake is a ring of twisted bread similar to that used in brioche topped with icing or sugar, usually colored purple, green, and gold, the traditional Mardi Gras colors. Purple for justice. Green for faith. Gold for power.

Each cake is baked with a tiny plastic baby representing the Baby Jesus, or some type of trinket or bean. In the south, whoever finds the trinket must provide the next King Cake or host the next Mardi Gras party.

Now, Back to My Problem

All I know is I had to produce 10 King Cakes in a short time and I had no idea how to do it. I did my research on the Internet and found the Louisiana-style King Cake — a cinnamon-roll-like cake inside with sugary icing and traditional Mardi Gras-colored sprinkles on the outside.

I found the KingsCakeShop.com and Haydel’s Bakers, both in Louisiana, who were long-time bakers of this authentic cake. Oh that’s easy, I’ll just place an order and they can be shipped right to the school. Job done. Wait…King Cakes ordered from Mardi Gras town, although wonderful and authentic, ranged from $35 to $60. Okay…that times 10 cakes equals around $500! What did I volunteer for again?

Making them myself was an option but, really, ten of them? Brioche-like? Twisted yeast bread with fillings of cream cheese and cinnamon? Cinnamon-roll-like? Ten King Cakes by when? Once again, I had gotten myself in over my head.

I had to think fast. No way would I back down on my promise so I started thinking. Soon my easy, inexpensive King Cake version was born! I call the recipe, Easy King Cakes You Can Make When You Have to Make 10 of Them. And you know what? They are delicious too. So, all you busy people, go ahead and make a King Cake this year and impress everyone. Enjoix and laissez les bons temps rouler! 

“Easy King Cakes You Can Make When You Have to Make 10 of Them”

  • Prep time: 8 minutes per cake
  • Baking time: 25-30 minutes per cake
  • Decorating time: 10 minutes per cake, if that
  • Cost per cake: Approx. $7


  • 3 cans cinnamon roll ready-to-bake dough (12.4 oz. can)
  • 1 can cream cheese frosting
  • Sprinkles – purple, green and gold
  • One naked plastic baby (Can be bought at party stores or places that carry baking items. These are specially made to withstand high baking temperatures.)

Pop open all three tubes of cinnamon rolls and put in a bowl. Knead all the rolls together and on a lightly-floured surface, roll the dough into a tube-like form.

Shape the tube into a ring. If you want your King Cake to be bigger, use more cans of cinnamon rolls.

Bury the naked baby deep into the dough.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the ring on the sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Bury the naked baby in the dough before baking.

Let cool and when still slightly warm, ice the cake with the icing from the three cans. Supplement with cream cheese canned frosting.

Decorate the icing with sprinkles of purple, green and gold, the colors of Mardi Gras.