On days of falling leaves and temperatures, I’m drawn to my kitchen to cook.
I’ve no shortage of cookbooks to choose from. And though none are bound by the skin of sheep or goat, I admit to having too many. My habit is to bring home a new regional cookbook whenever I venture off to some new locale; just last month, a lovely Louisville cookbook came home with me, inscribed by the hand of my four gal pals. Their signatures make the book a keeper, whether or not it’s ever used for cooking.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve never cooked from most of my cookbooks. Sometimes I just flip their pages until inspiration hits. Inevitably, what comes up is that lost ghost of a recipe past, some old tried and true family favorite that the book in my lap has helped me remember.
It’s easy for recipes to become lost, a small leaf in the forest of trees that my books once were. Sometimes I wonder which book holds what recipe; where is that recipe that I really liked that I used only once long ago? Sometimes, in my more ambitious moments, I think of creating an exhaustive index of my recipes, a safety net to keep my recipes accessible for those times they no longer reside in memory. This pie-in-the sky desire doesn’t breathe long enough to ever become words on a page.
My favorite cookbooks are housed on the baker’s rack in my kitchen. Of all the books there, I use these four the most:
The Gift of Southern Cooking, my first introduction to Edna Lewis
Victorian Sampler Tea Room Cookbook, my ‘go to’ source for quiche and soups
Joy of Cooking, my best basic everyday cookbook, and
Rock Creek Baptist Church’s Centennial Cookbook
The latter holds many recipes from my mother’s family as well as a few recipes of my Greek grandfather that Dad began cooking after Papa’s death. Earlier this year, I was thumbing through this book for inspiration when I ran across a recipe for Grandma Taylor’s Sweet Pickles.
Grandma Taylor was my mother’s paternal grandmother. Like most of my cookbooks, I didn’t know her at all, though I recall once seeing an old photograph of her holding an infant me in her arms. What I treasure most about this recipe contributed by my cousin Nellie Ruth was her note of after thought:
“Grandma always picked her cucumbers very small. These were served at her table daily. I sent this recipe with the memory of helping my grandmother can many jar of these pickles. I also remember Grandma baking lots of sugar cookies, lemon pies and she loved candied sweet potatoes; but I have no recipes for these. Grandma just threw things together from memory.”
Grandma Taylor might consider my collection of cookbooks a sheer waste, especially the ones gathering dust in my living room armoire. Maybe in this small way, Grandma’s life was simpler than mine; and maybe her memory was better too; her mind certainly wasn’t cluttered by trying to keep too many recipe sources straight in her mind.
Perhaps it’s time to turn over a new leaf in my life, to stop buying cookbooks, to sort through what I already own, and give away what I don’t use. It will be easy to separate the sheep from the goats. The pages of my sheep are splattered with ingredients.
After a long hot summer, my husband must be glad that the arrival of fall has brought my cooking drought to an end. A new season of cooking lays before me, full of spice and seasoning. I reach out to turn over a new leaf.
My favorite cookbook is from Colorado (Creme of Colorado? I have to look it up.) I’ve never made anything that didn’t turn out in it, but the recipes are not leery of using fat. Hence, their deliciousness. I treasure a copy of Betty Crocker’s cookbook from the 1950’s that Restoration Hardware re-released a few years ago. It’s the cookbook I remember my mother using all my life. When she wasn’t making something up out of her head, or using what was left in the fridge. I think part of the joy of cookbooks is the memories they evoke…I need to organize all my cards that keep flipping out. Like you, I’m often wondering, “Now where is that thing?”
Yes. You’re absolutely right about the inseparable tie between a recipe and the memories they evoke. To make my grandmoter’s home-made egg noodles is to hear Granny say once again, “Now Jan. Be sure and cut then real thin.”
Granny’s egg noodles are a staple at our family’s Thanksgiving table. Last year my daughter Kara wanted to learn how to make them. Of course, I’ve nothing written down on paper; the recipe instead lives in my memory, written on my heart when Kara was still a young babe, not yet crawling.
Even now, I remember the day I received the recipe — early November of 1982 — on a crisp cool day just like today. Granny would NEVER make her noodles on a rainy day — I’m guessing the school of experience had taught her that noodles don’t dry well in humid conditions! For this reason, it was a little more challenging to find a great day those 20 years I lived on the Texas coast.
Well….last year as Kara was beginning to roll then cut the slightly dried dough, I heard myself saying…”Now Kara… be sure and cut your noodles real thin.” At least in spirit, Granny was there watching over us.
Here’s the link to Creme of Colorado; I was right, who knew? 🙂
Couldn’t resist taking a peek. Those Junior-leaguers always put together a fine cookbook. But so far, I’ve resisted the purchase. We’ll see how long I last.
Betty Crocker – the red plaid one, right? I’ve still got my original, and still use the sweet biscuit recipe from it for shortcake. Also the Crisco piecrust, although I’m past having to look that one up.
I don’t use cookbooks much any more. I’ve got two wooden boxes that hold 4×6 cards with the really important recipes. I also have about a hundred copies of Cooking Light magazine. Somewhere in those issues is THE recipe for a marinara sauce that uses smoked salmon. One day I’ll find it…..
My mother’s copy of Betty also wears red plaid. Mother never got to know Joy, but Betty sure became her trusty companion through the years; a little splattered here and there from good use.
I too have cooking recipe cards (the source of the Friday post) that reside in boxes and open notebooks in an disorganized flutter of clutter; and my cooking magazines of choice are Cook’s Illustrated and Cook Country. Though both of these magazines have an index on their front cover, it still takes time to pan through all of them for that familiar gold nugget I know they hold. .
I never know what I’m going to find when I open my Cook’s Illustrated. About this time last year, I read a nice letter from the editor, an excerpt which found it’s way into my Chistmas letter. I wrote:
“My day loosely follows a recipe for “the good life”, published in a recent cooking magazine:
“…hard physical labor in the mornng followed by a long, lovingly prepared lunch, and then an afternoon of intellectual and musical pursuits….”
Of course, this was BEFORE I took up my blog and begin to write. But still, those elements all remain a part of my everyday week. The addition of the blog into my life — and making new blog friends — is simply the strawberries and whip cream on top of a flaky Betty Crocker sweet biscuit.
Oh ~ and some of those cards need to be recopied, splattered as they are with batter and grease and such 😉 My little flock of sheep…
Kind of like a thread-bare pair of jeans, softened by many washings and wearings, the splattered recipes of everyday life reveal what we hold most dear, at least in the way of food.
But it’s funny that our favorite recipes become our canvas for food art. And while no longer blank, they are never finished, always in a state of becoming, much like cooks themselves.
Janell, Grandma wouldn’t have used a cookbook as she didn’t read. Grandpa Taylor used to come to Mother and Daddy’s to get away from Grandma and read — as Grandma thought it was a waste and he should be working.
I guess my hunch was right about Grandma Taylor’s feelings on my cookbook collection.
Interesting that Grandma Taylor couldn’t read — and that this lack help explains why she found her husband’s indulgence such a waste — it was hard for her to judge a book by its cover, so to speak, without the first-hand ability to dive into the world that a book contains.