Love in handwritten recipe cards

When my son was home for winter break (most amazing time spending time with him), we flipped through my 1990s Longaberger Recipe Basket, and I ran across my mom’s “Garden Vegetable Salad” recipe from, oh, probably the 1970s, written on cheap, unlined notebook paper from K-Mart. Her writing was fat, and curly and was my model for penmanship during my early years. She took great pride in her handwriting because she was left-handed. During elementary school, when students were learning to write, she twisted her left hand way up high and curled her knuckles around so that her hand was doing a 270 before the pen hit the paper. A teacher at the time told her she was doing it wrong and forced her to learn to write in the “from the pocket”-type position, like many right-handed people. I wonder how she felt about being told she was wrong to write like that. To be wrong for being who she was.

Here’s what that hand-written recipe does for me. It reminds me of a time in my mother’s life when things were somewhat peaceful in my home. My dad and she were not at the apex of their fighting, and my mother was not fully into the throes of deep depression. She loved cooking and baking and entertaining. She was usually nice to us kids. She still smiled, ate chips and ice cream in front of the forced-air furnace after working all night, sat with us on the sofa on weekends, tried basketball on the patio. Convinced my dad to take us out to a real restaurant after church. It reminds me of a time in my mother’s life when she still could live.

So the recipe for Bagel Appetizers reminds me of my cousin’s parties with her husband at the time, Dean. I adore her and look up to her; she was my model for all of my 20s as an amazing example of someone who expertly balances domestic and professional life. She loves both, but she is a rockstar executive and a rockstar recreational person at the same time.

The recipe for Caramel Corn takes me back to the moment in the tiny kitchen at Heather’s rental house in Puyallup, when we were still close, like sisters, enjoying learning how to be domestic with Martha Stewart as the instructor. Our kids were toddlers, and it felt so powerful to be so close to someone, raising our babies together.

And then there’s the recipe for Charlie’s Clam Chowder, the work of Charles Owen, my son’s great uncle, which places me in that moment in Charlie’s kitchen in Connecticut when my 18-month-old  son, his dad and I were on a road-trip throughout New England with my in-laws. Without the internet, I planned destinations, sights to see, bed and breakfasts, and shopping…it was a trip that Penny said she never would have done on her own. I still run across “Charlie’s Clam Chowder” in my recipe basket, and even though I have a couple of other versions of New England Clam Chowder that I enjoy as well, this is one I will never lose.

Here’s the rub:  I’ve become so attached to finding things online–browsing pinterest, searching for specific ingredients, restlessly  browsing menus on Food Network–that I didn’t need to keep track of recipes physically. I have online recipe boxes, word files and bookmarks for my favorite recipes. I have recipe books, and I love them, but they’re another possibly short-term source of my inspiration and cooking practice. I got to thinking, what will stick? How will I make it stick? When my son, in 40 years, remembers something I made, will he know how to make it? Will my writing take him back to a specific moment and place and feeling? Not if it’s an online compendium with no comments, notes of what we were doing at the time, hints for slowing the process in order to achieve rich, full flavor.

I have three New Year’s resolutions. First, when I create something new that people love, I will write it on a recipe card, if it’s not already, including the date, occasion and people enjoying the food. Second, I will transcribe onto recipe cards my best recipes as I make them throughout the year. Third, every time I make a recipe from a cookbook that turns out really well, I’m going to write on the recipe the date & occasion–what was going on at the time, how I am feeling, what’s up next. That’s what I have to leave for my family. That’s the journal that every woman throughout the time of written recording has managed to keep no matter what was going on. The work of passing along one’s food, soul and memories.

Life. It’s in hand-written recipes.


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