So I took a break from stress today and decided to look for a long-forgotten memory.
I pulled an old metal box hand-marked “Recipes” off the top shelf in my pantry, and began to work my way through them.
As I pulled out recipe after recipe, I got lost in the notes… memories of family-meals-past, handwritten by my paternal grandparents “Missy” and“Sto”.
I can still hear Sto saying the word “sauté” in his east-coast-smoker’s voice. I remember learning the meaning of the word “ersatz”, and why we should always use real sugar, real butter, heavy cream and the good sherry. Because of him, I know fresh-squeezed orange juice is better than concentrate, and Breyer’s is the best vanilla ice cream. I can also whip up some amazing scallops, section a grapefruit, and half-cook bacon to keep in the fridge for “bacon emergencies”.
I remember Missy cutting a beautiful piece of meat for a fondue party (popular in the ‘70’s!) and popping little raw cubes into my mouth every so often. My face barely cleared the kitchen counter, so I must have been only 6 or 7 at the time. To this day, any meat cooked beyond rare is overcooked for me! I also remember her taking me down to the root cellar of their Pittsburgh home, and past the spice rack in the stairwell. It had been custom-made to fit her oversized green glass apothecary jars full of fresh herbs and spices. It was at one time painted a happy yellow, and then painted over in that classic avocado-green to keep up with the times. I inherited that rack, and at some point the glass jars went missing. But the rack remains in my den (an entirely new color now) and holds knickknacks… small tchotchkes from all of my travels… since I am not a cook.
Most of the recipe cards are yellowed with age… even the ones in plastic sleeves. Some are typed, and I remember the typewriter that would have been used. Some have tiny stains on them and I try to picture the kitchen at the moment the food hit the card.
Every so often, a recipe in my own mother’s handwriting pops up. These she had shared with my grandmother, and I remember eating those recipes at both homes.
Many recipes have been carefully cut out of magazines and taped to the cards… some with notes and dates. The earliest date so far is 1963, but I imagine many of these came before that.
Some recipes call for ingredients you can’t find in your local grocery store. Some of the handwriting looks like it belongs to my great-grandmother and is difficult to read. And there are a few cards written by friends and neighbors of theirs over the years. Some names I recognize, others I don’t.
There is an entire category dedicated to “drinks”, including a recipe named “Bloomer Droppers”, which sounds basic, delicious, potent, and yes, wildly inappropriate… but makes me grin just the same.
Some recipes cards are more worn than others. These I know the best. I found myself pulling many of them aside, making mental notes to pick up the ingredients to make them. I know I will have to decipher much of the writing, and I will have to reach out to true cooks to find out what kind of pans I need, what temperature and for how long I need to cook them, and for moral support when they don’t turn out as I hope.
Most likely I won’t make any of these. Or perhaps I’ll just attempt the coffee cake for my grandson this weekend. After all, I wasn’t really doing this for the recipes.
For now, the little metal box will go back on the shelf… and I will give a quick wink and a nod toward the heavens.
A special thanks to Dad, who made sure this box ended up in my hands, even though I am the most likely of all family members to burn dinner.