While scrambling eggs this morning, my mother started cleaning a cabinet in her kitchen. It contained expired cough syrup and gummy vitamins, along with a shelf of old cookbooks. Basically, my mother hung up her apron in 1994 after my dad died, so I doubted these cookbooks had seen the light of the kitchen in years.
As we ate breakfast and drank coffee, she handed me Nana’s recipe box to peruse. I had no idea she had this bit of heritage hidden behind the spice rack like a secret diary. It was a small wooden box exploding with bits and scraps of papers, jammed inside at all angles so that the lid would not close. I loved to cook and try out new recipes so this was a treasure trove! Plus I remembered some of Nana’s delicious pies.
I carefully unfolded the bits and pieces of fragile paper which were yellowed and coated in an oily film- probably Crisco. I loved that I was touching papers that she had touched. Each was written in pencil, in her easily recognizable cursive handwriting. She wrote the way we were all originally taught in elementary school – slanted to the right with loops and curves and each letter gracefully flowing into the next. Most recipes had no title, and they all began with a simple listing of basic ingredients. As I read the ingredients aloud, my mother identified most, “Oh that was her fruitcake recipe”. And, “That was her chocolate pie”. Oddly enough, almost every single recipe included jello. Who knew jello was such a magic ingredient?
Studying the castoff papers on which these recipes were written was as much fun as reading the actual recipes. She was the quintessential recycler! Chocolate Pecan Delight was written on the back of the Keiser Baptist Church program from 1976. Nana was a faithful member of that church until she died. I still remember the preacher there (I’m Facebook friends with his daughter), and I knew the organist and Sunday school director, who were also identified in the program. The sermon on that particular Sunday morning was “Sin is Sin”. I think baking and eating pie every day was probably the only sinful thing she ever did.
Chocolate pie was written on a Bank of Wilson deposit slip, along with her grocery list for tuna, milk and sugar. An unnamed recipe was written on Keiser Supply Company note paper. We always bought our Christmas tree at Keiser Supply, and they sent us a giant smoked ham every year – the best ham ever.
I plan to try out these recipes. It will likely take years, but as this is part of our family history passed down in Nana’s handwriting, it seems like an important use of time. Maybe somewhere in this treasure box is the perfect pie crust recipe I’m determined to master.
Hymn, “Blessed Assurance”