Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Rememberance of things past -- not just for madeleines...

I moved recently and while I was unpacking the million plus cookbooks that I seem to own, I came across my battered pink floral metal recipe box that I have had since I was eight years old or so. Every time I move, it moves with me even though I haven't used any of the recipes in years. I just can't seem to part with it.

Remember recipe boxes? Most were the size of a standard index card. The cards were often printed with "From the Kitchen of" then a blank space for you to fill in your name.

Stained recipe cards in no particular order are crammed into this box. I remember laboriously copying down recipes from anywhere I could find them and in some cases, cutting out the recipes from the back of the Hershey Cocoa Tin or whatever cake mixes we had on hand -- Duncan Hines cake mix seemed to be a favorite of my mom's judging from the recipe cards -- and gluing it on an index card.

Family recipes for cream puffs, ringalings, and buckeyes are in there but so are those recipes from my mom's depression era childhood such as Wacky Cake as well as recipes that were famous during my 1960/1970s childhood such as Sock-It-To-Me cake. Convenience foods were the mark of a modern homemaker then so cans of soup were used in casseroles and cake mixes as an ingredient were the height of sophistication.

My childhood was a bit chaotic and I can just see myself carefully transcribing recipes on each card and then alphabetizing each one. I even filled in how many servings the dish would serve. Order prevailed at least in this small area of my life.

The box also contains recipes from my two sisters -- just in case I forget what their writing looks like -- the "from the kitchen of" space is filled in with their names.

But no cards in my mom's handwriting. She was a busy mom to five kids who also worked full-time so I wasn't surprised but it did make me sad. It would have been great to have a few of her recipes in her writing and better yet, to have some of her commentary about the recipes.

I flipped through her favorite cookbook, the 1963 edition of McCalls, that became mine when she passed away, and found only one comment in the margin of a recipe for Lemon Meringue Pie that simply noted, "not good" and to use a recipe from advice columnist Ann Landers instead. She helpfully crossed out the recipe in the book and pasted a now very faded Ann Landers recipe for Lemon Meringue Pie from her hometown newspaper.


Later in her life my mom wanted to develop a family cookbook. She typed each recipe on her computer -- her word processor as she called it -- and assigned a name by each recipe of her three daughters so we could contribute recipes. The cookbook never came to be but I do have that list of recipes.

Looking at that battered recipe box made me think of my own daughter and nieces. And I felt a longing to write down in my still pretty legible handwriting some of our favorite family recipes. The ones I want them to remember and create for their own families -- the chocolate chip coffee cake I make at Christmas, those ugly peanut butter blossom cookies that they crave and even my mom's recipe for ringalings that I have made my own.

These recipes can't be found on any Internet cooking site or in cookbooks because they have been modified through the years just for my family and their changing likes and dislikes.

This longing became an actual to do after a recent visit to Omnivore Books in San Francisco for the book launch of the Omnivore's Recipe Keeper by owner Celia Sack.

I've long been a supporter of Sack's bookstore as my growing cookbook collection shows -- and this is yet one more reason to head to her compact shop that is chock full of all the latest cookbook releases as well as vintage goodies.

The name says it all -- this recipe organizer provides storage for your own hand written recipes, sturdy folders for tucking away that recipe you might not be ready to commit to but want to try, handy charts and in keeping with Sack's vintage book bent, charming vintage art.

And in an inspired twist that years from now might also be considered vintage, she has included handwritten recipes with commentary from some of the luminaries from the food world today including New York Times writer Frank Bruni and pastry rock star, David Lebovitz.

Now I have a better place for those stained recipe cards from my childhood as well as a place to write down my own creations (ipie!) for my daughter and other family members.

A Keeper indeed.

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