One of my treasured possessions is a homemade cookbook my father gave his Mom during the Depression. Dad was sixteen and it was the last Christmas they would spend together for many years.
My grandmother kept and cherished the book, adding the clippings and notes as time passed. Among the pages are glimpses of family life as my grandparents raised six children on rented land in Alberta, Canada.
I had no idea the cookbook existed until a few years ago when my aunt said she had something that she wanted me to have. I was thoroughly charmed. The humble red-and-black journal is inscribed "Mama, from Lynn, Xmas 1936." Pasted to the lined pages are illustrations from newspapers and magazines, a table of weights and measures, recipes and food pictures from magazines including a colorful red cutout from a tomato label.
Dad carefully clipped magazine recipes with photos such as "Sunshine Casserole" pork chops stuffed with crumb and butter dressing and baked with mashed sweet potatoes and peach halves filled with butter and lemon juice, all baked in one skillet dish.
The hand-written recipes include "Grandma’s Chocolate Cake" which goes back at least another generation.
My Dad wrote a recipe for "Chocolate Milkshake" that calls for "4 tablespoons clean snow." Another northern recipe, "Winter Relish," calls for canned tomatoes, apples and onions. "Illinois Corn Salad" recalls the place they left in 1928, not realizing that hard times would arrive a year later. The "Candies" section features my Dad’s small drawings of confections. One recipe says "take from fire" - what you might say when using a wood-fired stove.
In my grandmother’s handwriting are directions for Nine-day Pickles, Eggless Cookies, Dandelion Wine, Rummage Pickles. The 1920s seep into the mix with Coolidge Butter Scotch and Flapper Pie, a variation of custard pie.
A clipped chart from the 1940s shows "Canada’s Food Rules," describing number of servings per person every day with my grandmother’s note, "For war time health."
She liked to add cooking hints in the margins. "If you put a whole walnut in the water while boiling cabbage, it will help tremendously to keep the cabbage odor to a minimum," and "Sprinkle flour in grease before frying eggs and they will not pop," and "Heat lemons before squeezing for more juice."
Reading this cookbook is like rattling around my grandmother’s farm kitchen, imagining the sounds, smells and tastes of a place I never knew. Both my Dad and my grandmother have since passed on, but their recipes remain as a gift to me and future generations, showing how their family lived, what they liked, how they made things we take for granted, such as doughnuts, butterscotch, peanut brittle, milk shakes.
Everything was slower and harder but well-savored.