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Rich Memories are Stirred up Looking Through Mom’s Old Recipe Box

I looked through Mom’s collection of 3 x 5 index recipe cards one more time. Surely, I’d find her corn bread dressing recipe. Surely, Mom wrote it down and filed it in her wooden recipe box. Surely, I overlooked it when I searched before.

Thanksgiving is about traditional foods that have been served by grandmothers, mothers, sisters, aunts, and cousins. Mom always made the dressing to go with the turkey and giblet gravy, and after her death more than twenty-five years ago, I used recipes from cookbooks to make it for family gatherings. Last week I touched every recipe card in Mom’s file. The one recipe I wanted wasn’t there. I’ve determined the reason is the recipe was in her head. She seasoned by taste and added broth by feel.

But I discovered something I hadn’t noticed previously. Almost every recipe includes two ingredients: sugar and butter. And many include flour. Mom’s file is full of desserts: pies, cookies, cakes, and candies. Those are the labeled tab dividers. The tab labeled casserole doesn’t have a single card behind it, but Mom added another category: Rolls, Biscuits, Cornbread. She was a meat- and-three cook, a really good one, and she didn’t need recipes except for desserts and some breads. Her fried chicken and chicken and dumplings were the best ever. She cooked fall-apart beef roast in a pressure cooker and smothered liver with onions. She fried tender pork chops in a black skillet, then used the drippings for gravy. No recipes needed.

I also discovered Mom and I collected many of the same recipes, and I don’t know why I didn’t get them from her. Pecan Pie. Oatmeal Cookies. Angel Biscuits. Chess Squares. Sugar Cookies. Her Old Southern Light Cornbread recipe is exactly like the one I cut from a Southern Living magazine.

Like most cooks of her generation, Mom recorded many recipes using paper and pen. Reading her handwriting brings a lump to my throat. She wrote neatly and concisely, omitting every ‘the, an, a’ and her directions were simple. The last notes on most cards are numbers, such as 350º, 45 minutes.

My favorite finds are Never Fail Pie Crust and Southern Pecan Pie*. I wonder why I didn’t notice these recipes before and made them my own. Mom could make piecrust blindfolded and she always made two. One she put in the refrigerator for another day. Studying her recipe for pecan pie, I now know why the flavor of my pie isn’t as rich as Mom’s was. My recipe is exactly like hers except she used dark Karo syrup and I’ve always used light. (Dark is made with molasses and light corn syrup that is flavored with vanilla.)

For our family’s Thanksgiving Dinner tomorrow, I’ll have to use the corn bread dressing recipe I’ve created, combining several recipes, and titled “Dressing Most like Mom’s.” But the pecan pie I’ll serve my cousins and sister-in-law and their children will be exactly like Mom’s. As close as I can make it.

*Recipes online at susanrray.com


Aunt Anne’s Recipes

imagesAunt Anne would be proud – at least, I think she would.  Husband and I are celebrating our anniversary this week and I’ve tried to follow her advice.  When we married, Aunt Anne gave me a card file box filled with 3 x 5 cards.  On the first card, she wrote “Recipes – Family Favorites and Other Things.”  There wasn’t one single recipe for food.  “Someone who likes to cook will have to fill out all those blank cards,” she told me.  Aunt Anne, really my great aunt, shared other things.

How to live on a budget – Have it printed on the rug.

How to avoid in-law trouble – Stay away from them.  But remember that your mother-in-law and father-in-law spent a whole lot of time and money to produce that man and they are handing over the finished product to you —- for free!  Be kind to them.  In twenty-some short years you might be a mother-in-law.  (It was 27 years.)

Aunt Anne used two cards, front and back, to write about Money and Marriage.  Let’s face it girls, it’s still a man’s world!  (This year was 1969.)  Oh, we get jobs and sometimes make more than the men.  We vote.  We stick our little pinkies in the world affairs, but we still rock the cradle.  In the biological process of filling that cradle, we’re just as old fashioned as Grandma.  For a time, we are dependent.  So it might be a good idea to know how Grandma managed money long before the female executive with the fat salary came along.

Grandma raised chickens, sold cream, taught music, sewed, and resorted to trickery.  She padded the household accounts, filled his wine cup, then raided his pockets, and she had the vapors.  Now there was a malady worth money!

Grandma swooned, looked fragile and clung to Grandpa’s big strong hand.  All the while sending out messages with her fluttering eyelids that penetrated the depth of his protective instinct.  Grandma just wasn’t able to make that kettle of soap nor do the week’s wash so Grandpa hired it done.

This was not the devious trick that it sounds.  Grandpa felt ten feet tall, with a large chest expansion and everybody was happy.  Some variation of this theme has been used thru the ages.  Applied with discretion, it will rate a washer and dryer to this day.

Aunt Anne might not have liked to spend time in the kitchen, but she knew the importance of putting food on the table.  Tis’ said, she wrote, that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.  There are times it seems like the long way around.

And she gave me a recipe entitled How to Hold Your Man.  Tie Him!  Tie him with a mixture of kindness, consideration, honesty, truthfulness.  Leaven with common sense.  Spice with a pinch of temper and a good argument now and then.  Frost with lots of hugs and kisses.

So here I am, 44 years later, still happily married to Husband and relishing Aunt Anne’s recipes.  There’s one bit of advice that’s as difficult to master as it was as a newlywed.  She stated it simple and straightforward.  How to avoid a fuss with your husband – Shut your mouth.