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.