Do you think I’ll steal it, I asked. She hesitated, clearly not wanting to hand it over. I insisted that I was not leaving without it. I want to write a blog about it, I said, the idea having just popped into my head. You can look at it here, she suggested. No way, I want to take my time and look at every page. (After all, it had been forty years since I’d seen the book. Maybe longer.)
My niece, amused by our bantering or perhaps tired of it, encouraged her mother to let me take the book home. My sister finally agreed but only after eliciting a promise that I would return it to her. Jeesh!
Her reluctance to share it with me may have been due to the condition of the book. I shuddered at the sight of it. Oh well, that was none of my business, even though it was my mother’s 1950 edition of a 1942 cookbook − a tome of nearly a thousand pages.
At home, I turned every one of those pages. Although anxious to see my mother’s personal notations in the recipe section of the book, I started at the beginning.
Did you know that in 1942 a formal place setting included an ashtray and cigarettes to enable guests to smoke throughout dinner? In addition, the book provided instruction on how to entertain with or without a maid which may be pertinent for some, but not for me. Mine is a no maid household.
The book’s introduction boasted easy to read recipes with ingredients marching (yes, they said marching) down the left side of the page and step-by-step directions in the facing column, as well as a whole chapter dedicated to freezing vegetables. They also included information on a relatively new method of pressure cooking vegetables and meats in a fraction of the ordinary cooking time.
A new term ‘brunch’, was a combination of breakfast and lunch. Another meal term entered the recent vocabulary. Men, they said, favoured the Smorgasbord, a favourite in Swedish restaurants.
My interest peaked in the next section where notes in my mother’s legible hand appeared alongside recipes. The stained, discoloured pages were the most significant. On one such page, my fingers traced the twenty-four ingredients for the wedding cake my mother baked for each of the daughters that married during her lifetime. Alas, I was not one of them.
In her old-fashioned penmanship, she jotted down recipes on scrap bits of paper and tucked them between the pages. Amongst them I found her pound cake recipe – nine eggs, two cups of butter, and you don’t want to know how much sugar − and her plum pudding recipe, both of which I remember tasting.
My thoughts drifted back to the brightly lit kitchen and my mother standing at the counter, a tea towel tied around her waist for an apron. In my childhood recollections, her flour-dusted hands were constantly kneading dough and cutting out round biscuits using the mouth of a small glass.
She would share the scraps of dough, encouraging me to roll them and put them on her tray for the oven. Sometimes I just ate the raw dough.
Feeling the warmth emanating from the stove, I would kneel on a chair beside Mom with my inevitable pencil and paper. Sometimes my pencil scribbled in her cookbook, no doubt when she was busy measuring and stirring. Seeing those pencil scribbles from my childhood evokes more than memories − I re-live a precious moment in time.
Before returning the book to my sister, I must do something. Thinking of the abundance of green peppers in our garden, I check the index for a recipe. I don’t remember eating stuffed green peppers with creole sauce as a child and so I can’t be sure that my mother ever used this recipe, but it is thrilling just the same to be cooking from her book.