In my panic to figure out what kind of unique gift I could give hubby for Christmas, I pounced on something he said in passing one day: how he loved his mother’s cookies and hadn’t had them in years.
They were chocolate-drop cookies and raisin-drop cookies. Apparently, she was too busy to ever roll out dough — she was a nurse, so that makes sense.
I decided that’s what I’d make him for Christmas. Two whole cookie tins, for his own private consumption. But that’s when the hard part kicked in. I knew I had those recipes somewhere, but had no idea where. It would require a reconnaissance mission of massive proportions, seeing as how I have recipe books, boxes, files, bags and folders shoved everywhere throughout the kitchen.
To gather them together took me two hours. I basically had to remove everything in the bottom of the kitchen hutch. It was amazing what was in there! Binoculars? A fondue set I’d forgotten I owned! Boxes of school supplies. A ruler. Lighters. An old glass microwave tray — how does that happen? But that’s for another day.
So, I set aside an evening when hubby was already enthralled with a British murder mystery on television, and started rifling through the boxes of recipes I’ve saved over 40 years. Suddenly, Mom and Grammie were sitting with me, as their handwriting leapt in front of my eyes. One of the recipes was written on a notepad from my dad’s publishing company 50 years ago. I’m so glad I saved it.
But what I didn’t realize was how often I’ve saved the same recipe over the course of my life. Chicken and dumplings seems to be a perennial favourite. I’d cut it out of a newspaper and a magazine, printed it off a computer, and written it down on the back of a napkin as well as a birthday card. The funny thing is, I’ve never made it.
I counted eight lasagna recipes — meat, vegetarian, stove-top, casserole-style and something called lasagna soup (which sounds awful), but I’ve only ever used my mother’s recipe because it’s the best. Why am I keeping the others?
So now I’m thinking to myself, since I have all 10,000 recipes in front of me, I should edit this lot — save only the really, really good recipes that we actually use, or recipes I remember my grandmother making, or recipes that bring back lovely memories. Why am I saving someone else’s million-dollar green tomato relish if I haven’t made it in four decades?
An hour into it, I finally run across the raisin drop cookie recipe! Hurray! Then I looked at it and realized I couldn’t read all of it. The ink was faded in crucial spots. Drat and darn! It’s in his mother’s handwriting and I remember the day she wrote it out for me. A cloud of gloom descended, until I reached into the box again and there was the recipe written out in my handwriting. Phew! I paper-clipped the two together. There was no way I’d throw out the faded one.
At the end of hour two, I was despairing. I didn’t have many recipes to go, and that chocolate drop cookie recipe hadn’t appeared yet. I knew I had it. I saw it in my mind’s eye. The funny part was, they were really weird cookies — an acquired taste, for sure. They looked like someone threw a spoonful of chocolate cake batter from a great height onto a cookie sheet. They were flat and completely unappetizing to look at. But hubby had great memories of them, so I had to find it.
And I did: the second-to-last sheet of paper in the big box. If I had started at the back of the box, I’d have saved myself an entire hour of searching. I jumped up from the table and yelled, “YES!” while waving my hands in the air.
“What are you yelling about?” Hubby shouted from the bedroom.
“Nothing! Leave me alone! It has nothing to do with you! It’s none of your business! Stay in the bedroom!”
“It’s Christmas time! Don’t ask me any questions at Christmas! There are secrets floating about! You’ll ruin everything!”
He muttered something, but stayed where he was. He knows me by now. I hurriedly took my two recipes and ran to my study and put them in a safe place before I went back and gathered up the mess I’d made.
But looking at all those recipes has been like a walk down memory lane, and now I am determined to use them in a project for myself in the coming months. I want to gather them up, throw out the unnecessary ones, sort them into categories, write down the memories associated with them, and put them in a scrapbook for myself — which will one day go to my kids.
It turns out, family recipes are the best diaries in the world.
Lesley Crewe is a writer living in, and loving, Cape Breton. These are the meandering musings of a bored housewife whose ungrateful kids left her alone with a retired husband and a fat cat who couldn’t care less. Her 10th novel, Beholden, is in bookstores now.