The holidays are a time for family, and for a student like myself, so are the two weeks or so after the holidays when everyone else has filtered back into the real world and you’re sitting in your family’s living room wondering if you can watch season one of Downton Abbey again without it being considered an obsession. For me, these lazy days have also been filled with one of my favorite pastimes: cooking. My mother and I have begun sorting through my great grandmother’s recipe box, trying out some dishes and placing others firmly in the pile I fondly call What the Fuck? “Yummy Balls,” for example, didn’t make the top of our list. Another head scratcher is a dessert called Noodles Charlotte. Noodle dessert, you say? Surely not! But oh yes, 1 package of egg noodles mixed with raisins, walnuts, apples, and eggs and then baked into oblivion. If you need more convincing, my great grandmother wrote “Good” in the corner, so someone must have liked it!
My great grandmother, or G.G. as I called her, almost always scribbled the date in the corner of the recipe, and some date back to the 1940’s, at the height of WWII food rationing. What a different era it was, when canned food was not only common but desired, and most recipes called for Crisco and gelatin. It certainly makes me grateful for the amount of fresh, farm-to-table food we have access to today! Another popular ingredient? Prunes. Prune cakes, prune cookies, prune bread, prune juice. SO MANY PRUNES! Who knows, maybe they’ll make a comeback – maybe this year prunes will be the new kale. And if that is the case, I will be very prepared.
Some recipes have an exotic element added in, just for fun. Want to make your ham “orientale?” Just add a teaspoon of curry powder and a can of water chestnuts! Looking to prepare an Italian delicacy? Add a can of Chef Boyardee!
But my favorite thing about this eclectic collection of family recipes is that almost every one includes the name of the woman it came from, and most are handwritten in beautiful cursive (remember that thing you learned in 3rd grade? Me neither). By the time I had reached the last recipe, Bib, Deedie, Edy, and Nancy all felt like good friends, despite the fact that many of these matriarchal ancestors of mine have long ceased making their famous Cream Cheese Coffee Cake or Clam Fritters. It felt like I was being indoctrinated into a cozy, albeit casserole-heavy club, and I look forward to spending many years incorporating these pieces of my family’s past into my present and future. Next post, I’ll be testing out one of my grandmother’s cookie recipes – no prunes please.