I have a rich inheritance in recipes. When I married in 1981, my mother gave me a current edition of the Betty Crocker’s Cookbook and a plastic recipe card file box, with many recipes already inside that she loved or that I had copied for her when I lived at home.
Although I had been cooking for the family since I was about ten years old, Mama wanted to make sure I didn’t have the issues she had when she married. As the youngest of ten children, she was more in the way in the kitchen than help. The older girls in the family (there were four of them) were all the assistance my grandmother needed. Mama was shooed out whenever she wanted to help. She must have depended on the other girls’ cooking in the dorm of the women’s college she attended when she first moved away from home. After college, she lived at home for a while with her mother who was, I have heard, a fabulous cook, and didn’t have twelve to cook for any more. And then Mama took a job as a home missionary’s secretary in the mountains of Southeastern Oklahoma and lived with the family. The missionary’s wife did all the cooking in those years. So when Mama married, she couldn’t cook a lick, as she would say.
I remember my mother telling me often that when she married my father and they arrived after their cross-country trip at the little house in a tiny, backwoods mill town in northern California where they would live for the next two years, he asked what was for supper, and she had to confess she didn’t have a clue. It was quite unusual in those days for a woman to know nothing about cooking. Daddy taught Mama to fry chicken and make “sawmill” gravy (white gravy made from the pan drippings). That was the extent of his culinary expertise, beyond frying bacon and eggs. He also expected biscuits—his mother, my Grandma Ola, made the best “light” biscuits you ever put in your mouth—and poor Mama had no idea how to make biscuits. She never did learn to make them from scratch, but she discovered Bisquick. Evidently, they lived on fried chicken and gravy and Bisquick biscuits until they made a trip out to a bigger town, and she bought a Betty Crocker’s cookbook. That was in 1955.
This was Mama’s cooking bible, and the pages were falling out of it when my sister gave it to me after Mama passed away. Fortunately, it is in a binder, and the pages were repairable. I still use that edition of the cookbook for a lot of things. I like some of the recipes in it, like the muffin recipe, better than in the edition Mama gave me. My sister also gave me Mama’s recipe card file box. And I have my own collections of recipes and cookbooks, some I’ve gathered in antique and secondhand shops. I also inherited my mother-in-law’s cookbook collection, her recipe card file box, and her extensive clippings collection.
Now, in the necessary purge of the kitchen prior to a remodel, I’ve had to let go of some things. I will not donate any of my mother’s or mother-in-law’s things without a thorough going-over, but I did pare down my own cookbook collection. Well, actually, I got rid of very few of my own cookbooks. I mostly got rid of cookbooks that Dennis had bought and brought home and never used. Why a man who only cooks when he absolutely has to thinks he needs eight barbecue cookbooks is a mystery to me. He has never made a single recipe out of any of those books, so he will never miss them. I still have a large box of cookbooks to replace in the kitchen when the work is done.
I didn’t do much cooking or writing last winter. I’m trying to do more of both this year. One of the writing projects I had planned to work on last winter, and couldn’t because my shoulder didn’t heal well after surgery and my finger joints were badly inflamed, is a compilation of my mom’s favorite recipes. Many of these dishes I remember from church potlucks in my childhood. Mama relied on Betty Crocker’s, Good Housekeeping, and Grit, and the women of the church for her recipes. I’ve been promising my siblings and their children a copy of that compilation for some years now. I still want to work on that project this winter, if the kitchen remodel allows me the time. And after this week’s look at my mother-in-law’s recipes and cookbooks, I may have to do the same thing for her collection.
Both Mama and Virginia were incorrigible clippers and savers. When I received Mama’s recipe card file, it was jammed so tightly with clippings from magazines and newspapers that I couldn’t even get a recipe card out of it. I removed all the clippings, placing them in a large envelope, to go through for the memoir-cookbook project. Virginia had both a card file and a small binder stuffed with clippings and handwritten recipes on sheets of paper. I’m going to have fun going through those old recipes.
Virginia also saved a cookbook I’m looking forward to delving into, Adventures in the Kitchen. This was a compilation of recipes from the Waverly Lutheran Church in Truman, Minnesota, and was given to Virginia in 1956 by her brother-in-law and his wife. This recipe collection was first published in 1953 and again in 1954. It also is in a binder, and inside are fun recipes like Delicious Orange Pie, with an orange juice egg custard filling, and Peanut Brittle Pie, with a panna-cotta type filling that includes crushed peanut brittle. I love pie, and I’m always attracted to these old recipes using fairly simple ingredients and older techniques.
A few years ago, I began the process of gathering my paper recipes, some of them in my own childish hand of 50+ years ago, into a large binder. I have been putting them into clear plastic sleeves, so I can pop the recipe I want to use out of the binder, put it beside the stove or mixing bowl, and wipe the splatters off when I’m done. Some of my paper recipes are already pretty spotty from years of use. I am hoping to get that binder completed and organized while the remodel project is going on, so that the cardboard stationary box I’ve been storing my paper recipes in for 30 years can finally be retired. The binder is already pretty fat, and I’m not finished with it yet. You can see it on top of the box of cookbooks above. I couldn’t fit it into the box with the others, and it holds the gluten-free recipes I’ve collected and developed, so it will stay handy as the remodel goes forward.
The small bookshelf I stored my cookbooks on is going to my son’s house. In the remodeled kitchen, I’m hoping to have a couple of built-in shelves for my cookbooks. It will be nice to have a good place to display old cookbooks like Adventures in the Kitchen and the Farm Journal’s Complete Pie Cookbook, which I found in a library sale last year.
It’ll be comforting to glance at that shelf and see my mother’s and mother-in-law’s cookbooks there. I’ll enjoy making more of the recipes they loved and used. I’m hoping that as I share some of those recipes, you’ll be inspired to try them in your own kitchens.