What better time is there than after the holidays to clean your closets and drawers? I was inspired—only to be gobsmacked with all the piles of paper. If you’re like me, you stuff the paper behind doors just to make things look tidy in case your neighbors pop over.
So what did I stumble upon in my frenzy to organize? Piles of recipes from over 30 years ago – even longer. Torn from the pages of the Columbus Dispatch, written in my mother’s hand, ripped from Food & Wine and many in my own writing; these yellowed sheets of culinary creations took me back to a place when I actually had time to read and clip recipes. Did I think I would make everything one day?
When I moved to Chicago in 1986, I started the same tradition of perusing the Good Eating section in the Chicago Tribune – clipping even more. And after my mother, who was an excellent cook, died in 2012, it became my mission to hold onto those handwritten tips and tricks she’d created so I’d always know how to make her specialties.
As I was sorting through my piles of magazine and newspaper recipes, I could see some themes emerge. Zero casseroles, but easily hundreds of recipes featuring every kind of pasta from linguine to orzo to orecchiette. Vegetables, sautéed with stuff, and just about every kind of meat drew my attention. I counted at least 20 lamb recipes, multiple pork, chicken and veal dishes, and the occasional fish recipe. But why would I have ever kept five asparagus soup recipes considering I’ve never made asparagus soup. And while I had a run of Amish Friendship Bread-making, I’m quite sure I’ll not do that again.
Desserts seemed to have a theme too – based on what I like to eat. Anything vanilla, lemon or coconut, fruit pies and cobblers, and every recipe featuring ice cream. I’d clip the occasional chocolate cake or fudgy brownie, but these apparently took a back seat to the others.
I realize now that recipes have always made me feel part of something special – a community of people who love to be in the kitchen and cook. My childhood memories are hanging out with my mom in the kitchen helping her get ready for dinners, parties and holidays. Ironically though, while I have hundreds of recipes from years ago, my favorite thing is simply to start cooking without a recipe.
One of my colleagues also has a recipe collection and we’ve added photos and comments by Facebook friends of 3CR.
My Mother’s Recipes
OK, I have shelves of cookbooks, a huge file of recipes on my MacBook, and inch-thick folders of clipped recipes, some of them many years old. But the real treasure is an envelope of a couple dozen of my mother’s recipe cards. Some of them are handwritten but most are typed on her old Underwood typewriter. My mother was a very good old-fashioned cook and fed us a variety of solid meat-and-potatoes, chicken-and-dumplings, beef stew and vegetable soup kinds of dinners seven days a week. But for some reason, most of these recipes are for desserts. I cook regularly but I rarely make desserts. There are some gems here, however, so I might have to whip up a batch of lazy daisy cake, date and nut bread, blueberry dumplings or kolacky. Did you notice the recipe for creamed onions? I have often made them for Thanksgiving dinners, but I never use canned onions, as my mother did. Nope. I blanch and skin those devilish little pearl onions. And her potato pancakes? Yes, that is another whole feature.
— Nancy Bishop
Saw your FB post about your old handwritten recipes. I have many of my grandmother’s and I made a tray using them as the backdrop. Then added pictures of her and all of the representations of her and one of me in her kitchen rolling pie dough at age three. That old box of recipes is one of my greatest treasures. Your post made me very happy.
–Jean Shepard Wilcox
I just went on a similar delicious tour of my mother’s and my grandmother’s “receipt” books, and cards—memory-tasting the Lemon Icebox Cake, Maryland crab cakes, corn pudding, Nana’s pumpkin pie . . . etc. So precious is this one written by my 6-year-old mother. It still works, too! I also love that my mother—aged SIX—wrote this in cursive. And, knowing her, probably spelled most of the words herself. By the way, there’s one ingredient on the back page of that sweet yellowed, beautifully stained sheet, in case someone actually wants to try it.
— Jeanne Litterst Vizeau, Louisville
What’s in your recipe file?
These winter months are ideal for staying inside and warming up your tummy with hearty chicken noodle soup or a lovely pork roast. Let us know some of your favorite recipes and the older the better. And we just may have a contest for the oldest recipe submitted by our readers.