If we are lucky, we have a stash of family recipes, written in the handwriting of our family members past and present. It is in my box of handwritten recipes that I find comfort when I am longing to be transported to my grandmother’s kitchen, or the long-ago kitchen of my youth. When I want to elicit the mood of my mother’s kitchen in winter, when the wood stove was glowing and a pot of soup simmered, I cook.
Sitting with my box of recipes connects me to all the times I was nourished and loved by the hands that wrote these recipes down. This connection is as visceral as actually being in my grandmother’s kitchen on a summer afternoon, or my childhood kitchen on a winter evening.
One of the things I love about this treasure trove of memories is that each one tells a story. Many of my recipes are written on scraps of paper — whatever was handy at the time — and that, in itself, is part of the story.
My mother jotted down the ingredients for a recipe on the back of an old pharmacy receipt dated 1967. There are no instructions and not even a clue as to what the ingredients are for. But I know exactly what they are for. They are for a no-bake fruitcake that my mother loves, made with 6 simple ingredients.
There’s a recipe for pickles in my grandmother’s hand that has a note at the bottom. It says, “Beth, get onions from the garden.” My grandmother had left the recipe on her kitchen counter for me. I have made those pickles many times, as is evidenced by the water spots on the recipe.
I come across recipes in my daughter’s youthful handwriting. I can see her in our kitchen, experimenting with new recipes, becoming the wonderful cook that she is today. She would come home and announce that she was cooking dinner, and I would clear out and let her have the kitchen. Or, she would make breakfast, piling a plate with these “Yummy Pancakes.”
When she was 6, and I was beginning to teach her the basic skills of cooking, we were making a cake one day. I was hovering and giving instructions when she turned to me and said, “Mom, I can do this myself.” She looked so stern that I left her with it, and sure enough, the cake turned out. All these memories come flooding back when I spend time with my recipe box.
Some of these recipes are old friends and have become a part of my repertoire. Others I will probably never cook again, but the stories surrounding them, and the memories, would be lost if I tossed them.
When I make “giblet gravy” at Thanksgiving, I am bowing to my grandmother, who pronounced the “g” in giblet as a hard g. I think of my other grandmother when I make a pan of cornbread, and my mom when I make pancakes and there are tiny drips of batter on the griddle that make “baby pancakes.” She always gave me these tiny pancakes, and even made some on purpose, just for me.
The legacy of family recipes is worth preserving for future generations. In a time when we can look up any recipe we want on our phones, I think it is important to keep those recipes that were written by hand when there was no such thing as a computer. Besides, you will never find a recipe for “Feather Dumplings” — one of my favorites that my grandmother made — online.
When all my kids are here this week for Thanksgiving, I think we will get out my recipe box when we get out the photo albums. There is as much history there as in any box of photos. This is their history and I want them to be connected to it like I am.
My daughter has texted me to request gingerbread, and applesauce cake. And cornbread. Oh, and “your yummy giblet gravy”. All these things I learned to make at the feet of my mother and grandmothers. I am so glad I am able to carry on the tradition. Now it is my turn to pass along the history of these recipes so future generations can be connected to their ancestors through delicious food and stories. I hope when I die, my recipe box is seen as the valuable heirloom it is. It is filled with recipes, like poems, that keep what has kept us nourished, loved and connected.