Identical twins specialize in preparation

ST. AUGUSTINE – You could call identical twin sisters Jean Wirfel of St. Augustine and Joan Rossman of Hollidaysburg two peas in a pod.

Born in 1945, the twins are two of Ray and Ida Mae Krise’s 14 children and were the only ones born at a hospital. The rest were born at home in St. Augustine, near Loretto.

Both of the women enjoy canning, and since 2009, they have been experimenting by canning hundreds of jars of many items that most people would not consider normal canned foods. Some of the foods include flour, rice, hot dogs, crackers, hard boiled eggs, bread, fish, hamburgers, margarine, gizzards, potato chips, beef stew and all shapes and forms of potatoes.

Wirfel said they sterilize the jars, fill them and put them in a cold oven, bringing it to 200 degrees and timing it for one hour. They then take the jars out and lay the lids on a cookie sheet to get them hot in the oven, put them on the jars and, finally, seal them.

“Being brought up in a large family and coming from the old school, it’s our opinion that everyone should be prepared for something that you are not aware of,” she said.

Wirfel referenced the recent disaster in New Jersey caused by Hurricane Sandy.

“I have 23 people in my immediate family,” she said, “and all they have to do is get here to our house, and we will be prepared. We canned at home, growing up so my sister and I have carried on the tradition. If you didn’t can, you didn’t have anything to eat.”

Other news items have also caught their attention.

“Ever since the man went down in a sink hole in Florida [Feb. 28],” Rossman said, “you never know what is going to happen next. It changed my whole attitude about life.”

Rossman prides herself on baking, which she called, “My number one thing to do, making desserts for everyone, even the bank tellers and some of my favorite people at the local flea market.”

Whenever there is a funeral at her church, St. Patrick’s in Newry, Rossman is the one who makes the yeast rolls, and she has published a cookbook of her favorite recipes.

For nearly 50 years, Rossman has been a hairdresser, and since 1971, she has been doing the hair of some of the same people from her shop in her home in Hollidaysburg.

She said she still has a handful of women who like the up-do style, which some have referred to as the “beehive” look.

“We are a dying breed,” Rossman said.

Decorating is another one of Rossman’s favorite things. She starts Nov. 1 to get her house and yard done for the holiday season.

Wirfel and her husband, Joe, have lived on the family homestead land for 20 years. Four of the 14 children now reside on the land in Krise Village.

“Every year, we have a Krise reunion with 150-200 relatives attending right here at the pavilion located in back of my brother’s house,” Wirfel said. “It’s great. We have running water, electricity and places to seat everyone. That’s what you need when you have a big family.”

The twins grew up helping others.

“We lived across from the rectory of the St. Augustine Church where my dad was the janitor and dug holes for the graves,” Wirfel said, adding her father was “the only barber in the area and the only electrician.”

She said all nine of her brothers served as altar boys.

“My dad rang the bell at the church at 6 a.m., noon, and 6 p.m. every day,” she said.

In 1967, Wirfel’s husband, had the first signs of multiple sclerosis. Since 1982, he has been bedridden with Jean caring for him. Joe lays in his bed in the spacious living room, now unable to move or speak, but his eyes follow Jean as she cooks in the nearby kitchen, or when he can watch television.

Father Joseph Fleming, the pastor at the St. Augustine Church, believes that Joe is still here because of Jean’s care and loyalty.

“I admire this woman,” Fleming said. “When Joe and Jean took their vows here in our church some 47 years ago, it was ‘for better or worse’ and at the time, no one knew what ‘the worse’ could be, but Jean has stood by those vows.”

Fleming said Jean recently made a handcrafted tablecloth that will be used as a fundraiser for the Altar and Rosary Society of the church and also commended Jean on her baking.

“Jean is an extraordinary woman and lives in an extraordinary situation,” he said. “I have known them for years, and I admire her for all that she does.”

A woman of all trades, Wirfel also enjoys her quilting. She donated one of her quilts to the church for an auction, and it brought in more than $1,500.

All the curtains and drapes in their house are custom made. After the earthquake last year in Virginia, Wirfel put up strapping in front of all her canned goods to keep them safely on the shelves she had built. She also just purchased another 150 cement blocks which she’s using to put in a large, raised garden, where she grows almost everything she needs for canning.

Wirfel built two 8-by-10 sheds by the garden.

“My next project,” she said, “is to make a rabbit pen and a chicken coop.”