Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Family Cookbook, The Next Generation

It's that time again!
(Also, yes I know I still have the xmas tablecloth on the table still, I've been busy.)
December 2020 marks the 20th anniversary of when I, with the help of my family's contributions, compiled our family cookbook. I learned a lot from the experience, including that 3 months is not enough time to do it in, if you expect to do it right. I passed that learning experience on to the you, in the form of a website, then a book: Creating an Heirloom.

As I mention on that website, I did have a draft for a second edtion started not long after I finished the first book. But now families have grown, children have gotten married and have kids of their own now, and it's time to take that draft and turn it into another cookbook, with the help of those new families.

I have my spreadsheet of names and addresses (29, which I think just about doubles the number of people I queried last time), I wrote my cookbook letter, as well as a "newsy" Happy New Year catching-up letter since some of the people receiving a letter haven't heard from us in a long while, and stuffed my envelopes. I even did myself a favor and used printed mailing labels, since my handwriting is so wretched.

Want to join the fun? C'mon, we'll do it together! I'm giving my family (both sides, my side and my husband's side) a whole year to get their recipes to me, so I have 2020 for editing, formatting and printing. (My life gets very complicated around the holidays, so I'm just budgeting a ton of time, your mileage may vary.) Grab a copy of my book if you don't already have one, and we'll get started!

I'm happy to give you moral and limited tech support (I'll answer the questions I can) while you work on your family cookbook, because more than anything, I want you to succeed at preserving your family's history through the foods you eat and share.

We can do this, it'll be fun! Pay no attention to any of my tweeted complaints to the contrary... it'll all be worth it in the end.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Recipe Detective Work

Recently, my mother-in-law gifted me with a metal-bound notebook Balanced Recipes by Pillsbury, copyright 1933 that was her mother's. In it, were a handful of handwritten recipes. I immediately checked with my husband, to make sure she knew that they were in there before she gave them to me; she did, and thought I would like to have them. I feel very fortunate to be so well-understood.

Most of the recipes appear to be in the same handwriting, which if you're looking at a collection, makes it easier to guess that they're from the same hand. (This is not always the case! My mother and grandmother's handwriting is so similar as to be indistinguishable. Even Mom can barely tell her own writing from her mother's.) But one of the things that stood out from this recipe was its age: the paper (card, actually) is considerably more yellow than the other slips, and the hand is much heavier, so it's very distinct. Written on a postcard, half the postcard is a recipe, and the other half is a treasure of family clues that tells me exactly who wrote the postcard.

The writer left me a lovely trail of breadcrumbs to follow. I knew already to whom it was addressed, Mrs. Don P., and it was in the possession of that woman's daughter-in-law, Wanda.

Here's a run-down of everything I have found in this postcard:
• "Dear Mildred" is Mrs. Mildred P., Don P.'s wife.
• "Mother" is Olive P., wife of Henry P.
• "Hattie" is Hattie P., the writer's sister, and Mildred's sister-in-law.
• The card mentions "Artificial Leg Co." "F is getting a fitting hope it's a good one." "F" is Floyd W. who lost a leg from cancer (this information came to me through genealogy notes that were collected years before I met my husband).
• "Hope Wanda & Baby are OK" Wanda is Mildred's daughter-in-law, and the baby in question is Wanda's daughter, and my mother-in-law! (I know this because of the date of the stamp cancellation.)
• "Warren" is almost certainly C. Warren P., who died not long after the postcard was written. He was the nephew of the writer.
• "Lu + F" is Lucy and Floyd W., my postcard writer and her husband, the sister-in-law of addressee.

I haven't been able to puzzle out "Stacy" yet (will have to ask family about that one), and will continue to sift through my notes for who he is (the card says "he's getting better" – since Stacy is an uncommon man's name, that should help me find him).

It's a chatty little note, for all its brevity. Lots of family members are mentioned, and it's all those clues that confirm who wrote the recipe. I have her in my genealogy program as "Lucy" not "Lu" – but if she has signed the card "Lu," maybe that's what everyone called her.

I hope this inspires you to look into your family's recipe collections and look at them with new eyes. I have a 67 year old recipe sitting on my desk, and a woman who has been gone from this earth for 35 years, long before I met my husband and married into her extended family, is telling me pieces of her family history. That's kind of magical. That's one of the things that fills me with wonder. I hope it does you, too.

Happy Holidays, everyone! Enjoy those fabulous food traditions, or make new ones if the old ones just won't work anymore. Traditions have to start somewhere, after all.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

My Grandmothers' Collections

I am incredibly fortunate. I have in my possession the recipe collections from both my grandmothers. But while my father's mother's recipe box was stuffed so full the lid would not close, and it was damaging the contents to try to remove anything, my mother's mother's collection is much slimmer. Why?

This is a question that I happen to know the answer to, but I'll get to that. When you run across something like this as you compile your family cookbook, it's worth it to ask why. If something seems odd, it probably is. If you see a notation on a recipe card "from the kitchen of ___" and don't recognize the name, ask; the person may turn out to be your grandmother's bestie, or it might go deeper yet. If you find three different recipes for sugar cookies, all worn, and don't know why three, ask; there's probably a reason for that, too.*

My point is, don't just blindly accept the collection in front of you. Look at it like a historian – because that's what you are now. You are your family's food historian. Take in every date, every place name on every hastily-written recipe from the bank notepad or deposit slip, read the letters (if you're luck enough to find those in the collection), take it all in. Make notes, make scans, make copies and back them up. It's a ton of work, but someday, someone will thank you for it.

On the left, my maternal grandmother's small recipe binder;
on the right, my paternal grandmother's recipe box that won't close.
One represents a lifetime, one represents a collection that was started
in middle-age, when her children were already grown.

As for my mom's mom? When I was very small, they had a house fire. Whatever recipes she had from her mother were lost. The recipe collection I have from her now is no older than the early 1970s. Missing out on that older stuff stings, but knowing why it's gone helps. It's also a reminder to younger cooks to go and meet with your grandparents now, while you can. (By the time I married, only one of my grandparents was alive to see it, and she died later that year.) Or maybe you don't much cook yourself, but you have kids, or nieces and nephews, who are too young to appreciate the resource that their grandparents are – go, ask the questions, get the recipes, collect the stories. Before they're lost forever.

My book with more advice like this is available at (If you buy a used copy, make sure it's the Updated Edition – the previous edition is out of date with regards to publishing.)
*In my family there are in fact, three Very Important Sugar Cookie recipes, and all of them are The Best. All of them were from someone's grandmother, and there's someone willing to die on that sweet hill over each of them.

Friday, July 31, 2015

An Odd Love Letter to My Grandmother

It's been a long time since I posted. Life happened; you know how it goes...

Three years ago, I found an ugly and beat-up bookcase at a flea market. The guy's child had attempted to remove some of the paint with a powerwasher, resulting in some pretty bad gouging in the wood. It was a mess. We paid $25 for it, and then it sat on our sunporch waiting for me to refinish it.

I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it: I wanted to paint it to resemble the designs on my paternal grandmother's recipe box, I just needed the time and the goose to do it. Mostly, I got tired of looking at it on the sunporch.

It involved more scraping, a lot of sanding, more scraping, and finally coming to the realization that I was never going to get all the old paint off without chemical stripper. Since I was going to paint it anyway, there really didn't seem to be the need to go to that kind of effort, plus I hate that stuff.

Here's what it looked like before:

Interior was painted black. Exterior was painted faded dark red over harvest gold. Ugly.

I filled the worst of the gouges with wood filler, since some of them were on shelves, and I wanted cookbooks not to catch in those gouges, and had to sand those after they dried. After several coats of primer, spray paint for the interior, and several coats of paint for the exterior, I had a white and blue bookcase that looked nothing like it did before.

I then used Photoshop to resize and modify the motifs from her recipe box. Well, sort of hers... Mamaw's recipe box is well-used, and not in pristine condition. I love the design, and had another just like it and scanned it to get the images I needed. I also found a tray on Etsy that Ohio Art made to go with it, because it was apparently a very popular design with several accessories. (Mom even found a watering can for me.)

Here's my inspiration for the motifs that I painted into the insets on the sides, and on the drawers:

I measured each of the insets and the drawers, figured out which motifs I was going to use, and then used Photoshop's "find edges" command so I wasn't printing full color images of what I resized. I then traced those onto tracing paper, and applied the images to the bookcase with graphite paper. I held the tracing and graphite paper on with painter's tape, so the design didn't shift while I was tracing it. The blue bird on the tray above was my fourth motif; to make it I just reversed the pink bird's branch, and swapped the blue one in. The heart from the box lid (left, top image), had to be reduced and squished down a little to make it fit on the round knob. It's also elevated in position on the drawer, in order to get the size I wanted on the drawer without the tulip running off the edge. (Easier to see, below.)

And here is my finished love letter to Mamaw:

Closer look at drawer and sides.
That's not even close to all the cookbooks I have.
Some transformation! I'm incredibly proud of that. With the paint and other materials, it ended up costing more than $25, of course, but I have something that is a giant reminder of my grandmother, that is a functional piece of furniture that goes with my kitchen, and is sturdier shelving for my heavy cookbook collection than the baker's rack I was using (that was starting to lean under the weight -- yikes!).

I suppose what I hope you'll take away from this is the inspiration that your family recipes are more than just the meals. It's the history, and the memories of the people. I feel so very privileged to be The Keeper of the Box. How you honor the memories of those who came before is up to you, but don't limit yourself to cookbooks. Inspiration is everywhere.

The original box.
Because it would not close, and things could not be
removed without fear of damaging them,
everything has been relocated to an acid-free
binder for conservation purposes.


By the way, if you're hyper-organized, and have a cooperative family, there is time to get a family cookbook put together in time for the holidays. You might make yourself a little nutty, but you can do it! I put ours together starting in October, and had them done by Christmas. (That was 15 years ago, probably time for a new one!)
Available at Amazon.

Monday, December 22, 2014

December Foodie Holidays: Week 4

Dec. 22: Date Nut Bread Day
Dec. 23: Pfeffernüesse Day
Dec. 24: Egg Nog Day
Dec. 25: Pumpkin Pie Day
Dec. 26: Candy Cane Day
Dec. 27: Fruit Cake Day
Dec. 28: Chocolate Candy Day
Dec. 29: Pepper Pot Day
Dec. 30: Bicarbonate of Soda Day
Dec. 31: Champagne Day

This is my paternal grandmother's aunt's recipe for fruit cake. She was born in 1892, and died the year I graduated from high school. Sadly, I never met her.

And that's the year in "foodie" holidays! If you want to add something extra to your cookbook, why not include contributor's birthdays, and the corresponding food holiday, just for fun?

Here are the websites I referenced while writing these pages:

Monday, December 15, 2014

December Foodie Holidays: Week 3

Dec. 15: Cupcake Day
Dec. 16: Anything-Chocolate-Covered Day
Dec. 17: Maple Syrup Day
Dec. 18: Roast Suckling Pig Day
Dec. 19: Hard Candy Day
Dec. 20: Fried Shrimp Day, Sangria Day
Dec. 21: Hamburger Day

Mom makes these at Christmas, among many others.

Chocolate Covered Cherry Cookies
1 1/2 C. flour
1/2 C. cocoa
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 C. margarine
1 C. sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
10 oz. jar maraschino cherries
1 C. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 C. sweetened condensed milk
2 tsp. maraschino cherry juice

Directions: Sift together the first six ingredients. Cream margarine and sugar; add egg and vanilla. Gradually add flour mixture; beat until well blended. Shape into 1” balls, place on cookie sheet, and press center with thumb. Drain the cherries, reserving juice. Put a cherry in the depression. Heat chocolate chips and milk until chocolate melts; stir in juice. Spoon a tsp. of this over the cherry, covering it. Bake at 350ºF for 10 minutes.

Monday, December 8, 2014

December Foodie Holidays: Week 2

Dec. 8: Chocolate Brownie Day
Dec. 9: Pastry Day
Dec. 10: Lager Day
Dec. 11: Noodle Ring Day
Dec. 12: Cocoa Day
Dec. 13: Popcorn String Day
Dec. 14: Bouillabaisse Day

The same aunt who contributed the Egg Nog Bread also gave me this, and I can vouch for them 100% – they're amazing.

“Once-a-Year” Brownies
1 C. flour
1 C. sugar
1/2 C. margarine, softened
4 eggs
1 1/2 C. Hershey’s chocolate syrup
nuts, if desired
Directions: Grease a 13x9” pan. Combine all ingredients; beat until smooth. Pour in pan. Bake at 350ºF for 25-30 minutes. Do not overbake. While brownies are still hot, pour on fudge frosting; cool. Store at room temperature.
Comments: “J. R. calls these ‘once-a-year’ brownies; I make them more frequently than that, but not often enough for him. And God forbid I try a new recipe! ‘What’s wrong with the one we like?’”

Fudge Frosting
1 12 oz. pkg chocolate chips
1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla
Directions: Melt the chocolate chips with the sweetened condensed milk. Add vanilla. Pour over hot brownies and cool. Frosting will harden to “fudge” consistency.