Recipes are the tasty staples of life to a Southerner. Traded, shared, borrowed and copied, recipes are important directions to delight. My mother and grandmother kept a portion of their well-loved recipes stored in their minds —“memorized by heart,” as they used to say.
Their other frequently prepared recipes, ones not committed to memory, were kept in different places in various forms.
Some recipes were haphazardly tucked into drawers causing the drawer to stick during closing. If it did stick, the drawer was immediately pulled out an inch or so and the paper recipes were readjusted and shoved a little further inside. Then, with one forceful push, they were at least safe — even if a bit wrinkled or torn — until the next time the drawer was opened.
Once Mother had the best of intentions as she attempted to get all her recipes organized and placed in a small, tin recipe box. Her efforts were initially strong but later weakened as she grew tired of copying the recipes by hand onto printed recipe cards, which were actually glorified index cards.
No kitchen was complete without a collection of recipe books. Cookbooks produced by churches and a variety of other organizations were stacked high on shelving units or stored inside cabinets. This collection of cookbooks was always useful if your taste buds were in search of something different.
But, back in the day, cookbooks certainly were not used as often as the recipes that were handwritten. These were usually written on any form of paper readily available at the time. Used envelopes, already paid bill stubs, grocery store receipts, church bulletins and even paper napkins were used to scribble down how many cups or tablespoons it took to make a certain dish. Many of these fragmented recipes ended up tucked inside the bound cookbooks.
Many times, Mother asked me to retrieve a particular cookbook only to have several recipes glide out like paper planes to the floor.
“Mark, pick that recipe up right now and put it back in that cookbook,” Mother would say as if she knew which recipe it was by what sort of paper it was written on. It was clear the handwritten recipes were much more important than the ones printed in a cookbook.
To take the time to jot down a recipe clearly meant one thing: It had been taste-tested and Mother-approved!
Another important source for recipes was the local newspaper. The charm of these already printed recipes was that only a pair of scissors was required to save it. One could visibly tell how many years old they were by the yellowed and fragile paper.
Granny tried to solve the date issue in several ways. She loved it when the recipe was high on the page so that she could include the date with the recipe. If that wasn’t possible, she did one of two things. She would either clip out the date separately and tape it to the recipe or actually write the month, day and year neatly at the top.
With the fresh peach season in full swing in the South, I always enjoy making delicious peach custard pies. Although I included this recipe in my very first cookbook, it originally came from a newspaper clipping of Granny’s from all the way back to the 1970s. The type is a little faint against the yellowed paper, but I still have the original copy and wouldn’t trade it for anything!
I recently prepared a “from scratch” chicken pot pie that is always a hit. I again referred to one of my cookbooks for the recipe. As I stirred the ingredients together, I could almost hear Mother telling me where she had first enjoyed this “stick to your ribs” casserole. As with a lot of Mother’s recipes, it was from one of her favorite friends who brought it to a church covered-dish supper.
If you want to know about someone’s taste, take a look at their recipes or cookbooks. There will definitely be signs of which ones are their favorites. Spattered spots and stuck together pages indicate the recipes prepared most frequently. As with the recipes I have, some have been passed down for generations.
With good food comes comfort. A great meal always makes you feel loved and at home. As I took the golden brown chicken pot pie out of the oven, the only thing missing was my mother and grandmother. Everything they made tasted a little better!