Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Recipe Box

Almost ten years ago, my two children and (then) husband moved into my family’s house in northeast Ohio. My grandmother had become too sick to live there, and it fell to us to prepare the contents of the house for auction.
My grandmother was a saver, which puts her squarely into a generation of people who learned to get by with very little. But there was also a build-to-last way of thinking that made keeping everything sensible. Between my grandfather and her, anything could be fixed or rebuilt into something else.
That meant that every drawer in every bedroom was packed to creaking. Closets, cupboards, the spaces over and under stairs, and the whole attic was stuffed full of artifacts from three generations. Patterns for clothes, vases, picnic supplies, rolling pins, toys – it was like a museum of American life.
At one point in the archaeological process I found a trove of magazines full of recipes. My grandmother wasn’t a recipe-tryer, that I remember – we had our traditional and favorite foods that came out on their respective holidays. But I love recipes.
I have a metal box made for 9x5” index cards. It’s deep, and packed full of recipes. I put newly found in the back, and I work from the front, pulling the first one that fits the occasion – fruit in season, served warm, no chocolate or walnuts, that sort of thing. When I found the 1962 Pillsbury Bake-off winners, I sat down on the spot and clipped them all.
In retrospect, that’s like saying in the middle of a hurricane, I sat down to the New York Times crossword puzzle. But I suppose it came as a great relief to know for certain what to do with something.
I am just coming into those recipes, as I make treats for my twice monthly writing workshop at Mill Creek. So now I know it takes a cookie recipe a decade to get to the front of the line. My friends are sometimes distressed that I make a recipe only once, but to me they are like books – so many to read and only one life. And I am having fun with these. Recently I made ginger cookies, and my boyfriend, who grew up with the best baker in Ohio (I’m certain), said, with reverence, “My mom made this exact same cookie.”
So thank you to my grandmother for leaving me this gift, and thank you to that old house that I so loved. The new owners are taking good care of you, and I am in another good place. But today I’m making pinwheel cookies, a butter-lemon dough with a cooked, sticky date and walnut filling, and am feeling grateful indeed.

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