Nestled at the foot of the white, limestone bluffs along the great Mississippi River is the historic hamlet of Elsah, Illinois. During the mid 1800 's the village was a thriving river landing - steamboat captains loaded their boats with fuel, and farmers shipped their crops down the river.
But at the turn of the century, when trains replaced steamboats as the major form of transportation, the landing activity at Elsah died out. The village's flour mill, three hotels, and five ice houses began to decay from disuse.
Today, Elsah once again is a bustling village. But not because it has an accessible port. Instead, visiters come to see the quaint limestone houses, the ruins of an icehouse - and they often eat at The Elsah Landing Restaurant, a cheerful country kitchen owned and operated by Helen Crafton and Dorothy Lindgren.
The main fare - hearty breads, succulent soups, and luscious desserts - is made from scratch in the restaurant's kitchen. Many of the recipes are from the owners' home kitchens, while others have been collected from family and friends.
The relaxed air of the restaurant is by design: Mrs. Crafton and Mrs. Lindgren work hard to create a home-like atmosphere. They maintain that the sense of belonging and concern traditionally found around the kitchen table is being lost in today's fast paced society, and they wanted to re-create that feeling in their own way.
Mrs. Crafton says some people return with such regularity they've become almost like family.
When the restaurant opened six years ago, it occupied only one room of a large building built during the prosperous port days. Now it includes the entire two floors of the building. And as the reputation of its food has spread , so has the demand for a cook book of favorite ''Landing'' - as it's known to the regulars - goodies.
The Elsah Landing Restaurant Cookbook is divided into four sections - breads, soups, desserts, and menus. The menus section of the book includes dishes that aren't served in the restaurant. Instead, they are items that Mrs. Lindgren and Mrs. Crafton make at home for guests and special occasions.
To order a copy of the book, write to The Elsah Landing Restaurant Cookbook, P.O. Box 9138, St. Louis, MO 63117. The cost is $12.95, plus $1.75 postage and handling; Missouri residents add 61 sales tax per book; Illinois residents, 52.
Here are some favorites from the book. Cheddar Cheese Bread 1/2 cup warm water 2 1/4-ounce packages dry yeast, or 2 0.6-ounce cake compressed yeast 2 tablespoons sugar, divided 1 cup milk, scalded or 1/2 cup evaporated milk and 1/2 cup hot water 2 tablespoons shortening 2 teaspoons salt 5 cups unbleached flour, divided 2 cups natural sharp Cheddar cheese spread Melted butter
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Dissolve yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar in water in small bowl. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes, or until mixture expands and becomes bubbly. Set aside.
Combine shortening, remaining sugar, and salt with milk in large bowl. Stir until shortening melts.
Stir in 1 cup flour. Add cheese. Add reserved yeast mixture. Gradually stir in enough of remaining flour to make stiff dough.
Turn out onto lighted floured board. Knead for 8 to 10 minutes, or until dough is smooth and elastic. Dust board and dough with more flour if necessary to prevent sticking.
Shape into a ball. Place in large greased bowl. Turn to grease top. Cover and let rise in warm draft-free place for 1 hour, or until doubled in bulk.
Punch down dough. Turn out on lightly floured board. Cover and let rise for 10 minutes. Cut in 1/2 and shape into 2 loaves. Grease 2 81/2 by 41/2 by 25/8 -inch loaf pans.
Place dough in pans. Cover and let rise in warm draft-free place for 30 minutes, or until dough has risen to rim of pans.
Bake at 375 degrees F. for 35 minutes, or until crust is brown and top sounds hollow when tapped. Remove from pans. Cool on racks. Brush tops lightly with melted butter. Makes 2 loaves. Spicy Tomato Soup 2 tablespoons butter 2 medium onions, diced 4 cups fresh chicken stock, or 11/2 tablespoons chicken stock base in 4 cups water 2 1-pound cans tomatoes, crushed 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, or 2 tablespoons dried
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon basil 1 teaspoon paprika 1 teaspoon sugar 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg 1/4 teaspoon pepper Salt to taste 1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped, optional
Saute onion in butter in large, heavy saucepan over low heat for 5 minutes, or until onion is translucent.
Add remaining ingredients except salt. Cover and simmer at least 30 minutes. Discard bay leaves. Add salt if desired. Garnish each serving with a dollop of whipped cream. Makes 6 to 8 servings.