Column, Looking Back

All about cooking!

By Mary Ellen Shaw
When I was a young girl I remember my mother had a thick green hardcover cookbook.  It was her “go to” cookbook and the pages looked it. Various recipes had little remnants of ingredients that had been dropped on the pages over the years. In browsing online for its name, it appears to have been “The American Woman’s Cookbook.”
When my husband and I moved back into my family home I was in my middle 30s. I had limited counter space and had acquired my own cookbooks. Unfortunately, I opted to discard her cookbook in order to have room for my own. As I aged I realized what a mistake that was. I would have enjoyed looking back at her favorite things to prepare.
She probably made notes to herself like I do in my cookbooks. I often jot down the date I make something and whether or not we liked it.
Fortunately, I was smart enough to keep the first cookbook that was given to me as a bridal shower gift. It now has splattered pages and some that have pulled away because of so much use. My first cookbook was a Better Homes and Gardens with a red and white checked hardcover. When I was learning to cook I often went to the conversion chart at the back to sort out various measurements.
You would think that I would know how to make French toast after 40 plus years, but that page is so splattered that it’s hard to read the portions. How hard can it be to remember the amount of milk and the number of eggs? Apparently, very hard, as I always take a look.
One of my most treasured possessions is my recipe box. It became so full that I finally moved the most frequently used recipes to a binder that has its pages covered in vinyl. Now I just have to wipe off the pages and my recipe cards remain clean!
Like many young women who marry with little knowledge of what to do in the kitchen, I would ask my mother. The problem was that many of her recipes were in her head! That meant a “pinch of this” and a “pinch of that.” Her “pinch” and my “pinch” must have been different because it took a long time to duplicate my favorites. But now I am doing just what she did. I often cook by tossing in a “little of this” and a “little of that!” I would find it hard to pass along to anyone the precise amount of some ingredients. As my mother used to say, “Some day you’ll see.” How right she was!
As I look back I realize that I have come a long way from the preparation of my first Thanksgiving dinner. As we were seated at the table my mother inquired, “What is that sticking out of the turkey?” She pulled on it and out came the neck and giblets wrapped in oven-safe paper for dummies like me! As you can guess, I did not stuff the turkey or I would have seen the error of my ways. We all got a good laugh out of that and it was never forgotten at future Thanksgivings.
I am always eager to try making new things. Many years ago I saw a TV show where wine was made from rhubarb. It looked quite easy so I wanted to give it a try. I got my husband involved in the project. We followed the directions and prepared a few bottles. We placed them on shelves in the cellar. At some point in the fermentation process the corks blew. We could hear them as we sat in the kitchen having dinner and got a good laugh out of our wine making skills…or lack there of! We never got to drink any wine and we never tried making it again!
Over the years I have collected recipes that use the fruits and veggies that we grow in our gardens. It makes sense to keep them separate from other recipes because they are only used during the growing season. So I bought another binder and inserted the recipes in alphabetical order by the fruit or veggie being used in the recipe. I wish I had thought of this “time saver” years ago. Who has time for searching when your mouth is watering for zucchini bread or microwave pickles?
As I cook throughout the year, I have a deep appreciation for handwritten recipes. They bring to mind the person who gave them to me. I love seeing my mother’s writing on a card that says, “From the Kitchen of Mom!”
When you see a handwritten recipe, you are reminded that you asked someone to share it with you. You enjoyed it so much that you wanted to make it. In going through my recipe box I found recipes from former neighbors and people I used to work with many years ago. I don’t even know where some of these people are now. But it’s a trip down memory lane as I flip through the cards and enjoy the various dishes.
As you eat your favorite foods this Thanksgiving, take a look back at how they came to have a place on your table. There is usually a “story” behind them. Enjoy remembering what it is!

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