Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Family History in Recipes

I collect cook books. I've collected vintage recipes for more than 20 years. I scored a lot from my grandmother while she was alive and when she passed away, my dad gave me ALL of her cookbooks, recipe cards, newspaper clippings, etc. My Great-Aunt Gladys taught me how to cook and bake from the time I was 5. She started me on the vintage recipes. When Gladys passed, my mother bequeathed me with ALL of her recipes, cookbooks, etc.

I have boxes upon boxes of old cookbooks. My three favorites are Betty Crocker c. 1956, Good Housekeeping c. 1958, and Better Homes and Gardens c. 1953. I have some older than that, but I'm not sure of the exact copyrights. Two of the vintage recipes from my grandmother netted me blue ribbons from the Florida State Fair many years ago.

But the very best recipes that friends have begged me for over the years, I can't give them, because they're family recipes, handed down mother to daughter, absorbed by osmosis from working together in the kitchen, and there are no measurements to pass along. One of those was the recipe for sweet potato pie that I made by the dozen for several years, selling pies at Thanksgiving to earn extra money for Christmas. Many of my customers begged me for the recipe. I would have given it if I could have. But it’s one of those dishes that are made by feel, not by checklist.

Most of my best vintage dishes are made by feel and memory with no written recipe. That’s how I got them from my mother and my aunt. That is how they came to them from my great-grandmother who was an intuitive cook. That is how she learned how to cook them. Those are the dishes that I cook for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Those are the dishes that are part of my family tradition. They’re a family history in food, recipes without amounts, made by taste and feel. This year, Beth, my three-year-old daughter, is pulling up a chair and starting the process of learning them. Eventually, she will take her place in the family history by passing them down in the same fashion to her daughters, or her nieces in their turn. 

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