My last post got me to thinking about sharing recipes. I love when people send me recipes. I even got one in the mail the other day from RCMB, which was very cool.
Making someone else’s recipe is like discussing a favorite novel. You’re like, “Remember at the end of Jane Eyre when…” And then, if you’re me, you realize that you can’t remember the end of Jane Eyre and your best friend has to fill in the details for you. Well, maybe it’s not quite like that. But sorta. It’s like a conversation. About food. Which is your favorite topic.
This reminds me that a few years ago my parents sent me the recipes of both of my grandmothers and many from my own mother. The recipes are mixed up here and there–some in a folder, some in a recipe box, etc.–due to someone’s bad catalogueing that I now find really annoying. I guess we never had a need to know whose was whose. Now I wish I knew if German Cake was Ruth’s and Mexican Corn Bread was Mildred’s. All of the handwriting is so curlicue from the 1950s that it’s hard to tell them apart.
My paternal grandmother, Ruth, whom I never met because she died when my father was very young, was apparently a great cook in the Southern tradition (she was from Alabama). She was known for desserts. I believe her recipes feature more fanciful, Southern-sounding names like “Flapper Pudding” and “Silver Cloud Cake”. Reading them makes me moist in the eyes because it’s like she’s talking to me, conveying some secret Jennings family lore through the food that she made for my dad, his siblings, and my granddad. My dad says that’s where I got my interest in food.
My maternal grandmother, Mildred, was more your pragmatic, gotta-put-something-on-the-table-that’s-edible kind of cook, though she had a reputation for a mean chicken and dumplings and I loved her French toast. She had a large chicken coop and made some of her income from that and selling pigs.
Because I don’t know whose recipe is whose, I have to guess based on other things I know about them. For example, Mildred’s family going way back was from Germany and they migrated through Virginia and Kentucky (I only just learned this in the past ten years when some of her sisters went on a genealogy bender), finally settling in the southern tip of Illinois, where Mildred grew up on a farm circa 1910-1930. So I believe that hers are the recipes more focused on cabbage and potatoes like “Kraut Salad” and “Scalloped Potatoes and Ham”.
Ruth’s family, as previously mentioned, was from Alabama. They migrated at some point to Texas, where she met my granddad, and she and he were very typical Dust Bowl Okies who migrated to California in the 30s. I believe her recipes are mostly desserts and some of my dad’s favorites, like tapioca pudding and a family jewel, Truman Cookies (I will definitely write the story of Truman Cookies some other time). The focus here is on cornbread, beans, and anything you can make with cornmeal and/or beans.
There are also some uniquely California creations, like “Walnut Raisin Pie” and “Walnut Roast”. Both women had landed squarely in California’s walnut country and I imagine they each set to work adapting recipes to match local availability.
Reading their recipes is intimate and educational. I know that my dad grew up on tapioca pudding, fudge, and Truman Cookies, in an era when people went through the trouble of making these things. I remember my mother once telling me that fudge was something they’d make on a Sunday for a family picnic, or some other special occasion, and each person would take a turn stirring the fudge because they didn’t have KitchenAids back then. These are the same desserts we ate growing up (with the exception of tapioca pudding), but still, it’s something special to have the actual recipe on a 3×5 card in a rusty old recipe box.
Here’s a recipe from one of my grandmothers. I have a feeling this came from a newspaper or someone else’s cookbook because the language is very precise and cookbook-ish and without spelling errors. But it’s written in clearly female handwriting on a brown, stained 3×5 card.
3 c sugar
1 c white vinegar
1 c water
4 sticks cinnamon
2 T whole cloves
Select firm, well ripened peaches. Blanch and remove skins. Combine the sugar, vinegar, water, and spices and boil 10 mins. Add peaches and cook until tender. Pack in sterilized jars. Fill jars with boiling syrup (strained). Seal, label, and store in cool, dark place.