Greaty and I are making jubilee jumbles in her warm, sparkling little kitchen, with its organized and well-stocked cupboards. I love it that she always has things like canned milk on hand–she tells me that, when I set up housekeeping, I should always keep canned milk or powdered milk in my cupboard, just in case I’m in the middle of a recipe and realize the milk is gone–or gone bad. (Of course, she adds thoughtfully, if you’ve got milk gone bad, you can make a cake, too.)
She’s thrifty, my Greaty, born in 1925, a child of the Depression. She likes to tell stories about that time; I like to hear them. They say that communication and understanding skip a generation, so that kids and their grandparents click when kids and their parents don’t. With me, it’s two generations; I love my mom and my grandma to pieces, of course, but Greaty is the one who really gets me.
I like everything old and weathered and seasoned; Mom and Gram say, if it’s old and doesn’t work, chuck it and buy new. Greaty tells me stories about the making-do she and her family did during the twenties and thirties. They never threw out a piece of cloth; they’d turn a shirt inside out, make it into a smaller shirt for a younger child, salvage the buttons, save the bits and scraps to make quilts.
I have one of those quilts on my bed; Greaty made it with her mom and older sister Gwyn; it’s a crazy quilt with tiny pieces of everything from cloth flour bags to Aunt Gwyn’s best velvet dress. The stitches are infinitesimal and regular; the pattern is wild; the colors blend and flow. I love that those three women, challenged by the economy, chose to create a thing of lasting beauty from the little that they had.
Another thing I love is the cookbook we’re using. It’s one of those fund-raiser cookbooks, from the Town of Wales Old Regular Baptist Church, and it was published in the 1950’s. It was a time, Greaty tells me, when people were finally realizing that all the ingredients they needed were on the shelves–you didn’t have to make up substitutions for eggs or butter or sugar. If you needed the stuff to make cookies, it was available.
That, says Greaty, and the fact that the women were home again, their overalls traded in for housedresses, made cooking and baking very popular in the 1950’s. She and Grumpy had just moved to Ohio then; and in their small town, it was a big deal when the ladies of the Baptist church decided to put a cookbook together.
It wasn’t her church, Greaty–a confirmed Congregationalist– hastened to inform me, but her best friend, Ardyth was a member, and Ardyth, whose job was to collect all the recipes, kept her apprised.
Greaty tells me the stories behind many of the recipes. Bertie Bohldocher and her daughter Lillibeth, when they heard about the cookbook project, went right to the library and took out some French cookbooks. So the recipes for vichyssoise and bouillabaisse are from Bertie and Lillibeth, but, says Greaty, neither one of them ever cooked such a thing in their entire lives. They just wanted to go on record as being aficionados of grand taste. And so the recipes are their testament…and probably, says Greaty, those are the only two recipes in the book that have never been tried.
Greaty’s book has fallen apart so many times the tape has been taped and taped again; finally she pried apart the yellowing pages carefully, copied the backs at Staples, and pasted all the recipes into a notebook. That notebook is open on the counter today. Like a greased baking machine, we work together, reaching for measuring cups, passing over the eggs, grabbing flour and brown sugar from the pantry shelves. We have been doing this since before I can remember.
“You’re 16, Ash,” she says to me, “and I’m 89, but we don’t need words to talk to each other.” It makes me glow. I love my Greaty, and I know I am lucky, lucky, lucky to have her, healthy and funny and a vital part of my life.
The cookies are in, and we sit with tea. One of us gets up every few minutes to rotate the trays in the oven, then a few minutes later to put the bottom tray on the top shelf and vice versa. The cookies will be perfectly done, with those nice crisp buttery brown edges. When they’ve cooled, and we’ve eaten a few each, we’ll make a batch of browned butter frosting, a recipe in Greaty’s head, not her book, and frost the ones we haven’t eaten. I’ll take a plate to Mom; Gram will visit Greaty and get her share.They like their modern conveniences, Mom and Gram do, but they always love our home baked goodies.
Greaty leafs through the cookbook. “Look,” she says, “here are ‘MAB’ brownies. That’s a recipe from Mabel Ann Brown, and there’s no chocolate in ’em. She always said, MAYBE they’re brownies..and maybe they’re not. Hence, the name, which she thought was a good joke on her initials.”
We’ve made that recipe–they’re buttery good, with pie filling spooned over the crust layer, and then little splots of dough melting on top of that. When we have bake sales at school, people beg me to bring MAB brownies. I always say, “MAYBE I will,” and laugh to myself.
There’s a recipe for what Greaty and I call buckeye krispie treats…crisp rice cereal mixed with a boiled concoction of corn syrup and peanut butter and spread in a pan. We top it with melted chocolate and butterscotch chips, and we melt them in the microwave, which was not a foreseeable option when Greaty got this book. But the recipe still works perfectly.
There’s a recipe for the most wonderful fudge in the world, which has become a family treasure. Even non-bakers Mom and Gram can’t let Christmas go by without making a batch of that special fudge.
Greaty and I usually head right to the ‘Cookies and Candies’ section, but she says there are great meal time recipes in there too–a wonderful method for Swiss steak, and a no-fail recipe for roast chicken.
“When the Baptist ladies finally got the book together and ready to sell,” Greaty tells me, “I bought three copies. I sent one to Gwyn, who loved it too. I kept one to use. And I bought one for your Grammy, but she said, ‘Oh, poo, Mom; I’m not using those old lady recipes.’ She hurt my feelings, I’ll tell you. I asked your mom if she would like it, when she first married your dad, and she laughed. Cooking wasn’t on her list of things to do, she informed me.”
I think of Greaty putting the book away, hiding her hurt feelings with a laugh and a shake of her head. I imagine her selling the book at a Congregational Church rummage sale, picture one of the Baptist ladies finding it, getting HER feelings hurt because nobody wanted that very special collection.
I don’t know why–it’s such a little thing–but it makes me ache. I put down my tea, and lean forward to give Grammy a big hug, but she’s bending away from me, reaching into her capacious black purse.
“And isn’t it,” she says softly, “a good thing those women said no? Because you’re the one that will appreciate it. If they’d taken it, it would just have gotten thrown away or left behind. But now, I can give it to you.”
She hands me a manila envelope. I open it and slide out a perfect version of the Wales Township Old Regular Baptist Ladies’ Guild Cookbook, 1952. It’s in pristine condition, although the edges of the pages have turned a rich golden color…almost the color of the edges of our jubilee jumbles.
“Oh, Greaty,” I breathe, and it’s a moment too big for awkward, fumbling gestures. So I just grin and say, “I promise I will use this and use this and use it, until it’s in worse shape than yours.”
She grins back and gives me a quick hug, and we start to make the frosting.
I was looking through cookbooks this week, and, in one my retired colleague Crisanne (a great colleague but not, as yet, a great grandma) gave me, I found a recipe called ‘Marietta Cookies.’ I made the cookies—they’re different and delicious. The name intrigued me, though—was ‘Marietta’ a person? Were these cookies that someone from Marietta always served? I couldn’t discover any answers, but I did find the same exact recipe, under ‘Potato Chip Cookies’ on cooks.com.
The recipe for MAB brownies follows, too; we’ve often speculated about the name. That comes from a book my mother-in-law, Pat Zanghi, was kind enough to share many, many years ago. The cover is falling off; I may soon have to go Greaty’s route and take this book apart in order to save it. The recipes, of course, remain tried and true.
The directions here are just as they appear in the cookbooks.
1 c. butter or margarine
½ c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
¾ c. crushed potato chips
½ c. chopped nuts (I put mine in the food processor and pulsed them fine)
2 c. flour
Cream together the butter, sugar & vanilla. Add potato chips & nuts. Stir in the flour. Roll dough into 1” balls. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Using the flat bottom of a water glass dipped in white sugar, press each cookie until flat. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-18 minutes.
Contributed by Betty Stover
–from Iliff United Methodist Church’s Sharing Our Best (2009, Morris Press Cookbooks). The church is in Crooksville, Ohio.
1 c. margarine
2 c. sugar
3 c. flour
1 tsp. vanilla
1 can fruit pie filling (or make your own)
Cream 1 and 2, add 1 egg at a time beating after each. Add flour and vanilla. Spread ¾ on greased cookie sheet. Spread on pie filling, then spoon on remaining batter. Bake 350 degrees, 30 minutes.
Contributed by Bev Barnes
—from Cooking With Love 1987, compiled by members and friends of the Laona United Methodist Church, Laona, New York (Walter’s Cookbooks, Waseca, MN)