Greaty’s Cookbook

 

Time tested sources of favorite recipes...
Time tested sources of favorite recipes…

 

 

 

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.

 

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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.

Marietta Cookies

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.

 


M.A.B. Brownies

1 c. margarine
2 c. sugar
3 c. flour
4 eggs
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)

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Martin’s House of Books

Most days she loved her work. She loved the ‘standing on the threshold’ tentative bravery of the sixth graders she taught: their readiness to explore new territory. She liked searching out accessible translations of classic works–a modern Odyssey, perhaps,– and sorting through the latest young adult offerings to find the finest, most meaningful, most compelling pieces to share with her class. She even liked grading their essays, although with two a week, it was a never-ending chore. But she saw their growth, in thought, in craft, in expression.

That was most days. Some days nothing clicked and many things grated. The students snickered and tweeted; parents complained; the school administration badgered her with reminders of soon-due reports and the necessity of administering state-mandated testing during precious class time.

On those days, she looked at her students, who were not looking back, and doubted she was even making a dent. She pondered how to respond civilly but cogently to the note from the parent who thought her son’s English homework was taking precious time away from his basketball participation. She got out her big paper calendar and tried to see how she could fit the damned tests into the schedule of lessons and still cover all the essential topics. And she wondered why she was pouring herself into this thankless, thankless job.

On those days, she wished life came with a backdoor which she could just walk out for a while, leaving all the hassling behind.

On those days, she packed up her things after the school day ended and went to Martin’s House of Books.

She’d leave her car at home, dumping the heavy bag of schoolwork in the corner by the china cabinet, and put her canvas shopping bag, neatly folded and waiting on her desk for just these excursions, into her purse. And then she’d walk the half mile to Martin’s, down the hill, past where the neatly creepy gothic manse perched, and onto Alder Avenue, a working class street with bars and resale shops, automotive supply retailers, convenience stores, and sturdy old family homes.

It was in one of those sturdy, broad-porched houses that Martin Dempsey had his bookstore.

She always stopped on the porch to look at the clearance books; they stayed on the little shelf centered in front of the picture window until they sold. Some had been there since the day she discovered the shop. She’d open one of them–a vintage copy, say, of James Michener’s Hawaii–and hold it up to her nose: musty and crisp all at once. The pages were yellowed with age, and finely spotted.

She’d pull on the screen door and go inside. The house had no vestibule. A step through the door took her right into the first common room. The stairs stared right at her; Martin sat at his desk just to her right. And everywhere there were books.

The cookbooks lined the facing wall, and she always browsed through those first. She could spend an evening with a good cookbook, and if it was a cookbook memoir–well, she’d turn off her phone. She loved the classic food memoirists–MFK Fisher, Gladys Taber–and she liked the sassy new blogger-type writers–I Loved I Lost I Ate Spaghetti; Lunch in Paris: a Love Story with Recipes.

She’d say hello to Martin and survey the cookbooks, checking to see what was new. Well, new to Martin–all of his books were used, of course; rarely did he offer anything printed in the last year.

While she looked, Martin would slide off his stool behind the desk, and, as he put it, “pop into the kitchen.” He’d put the tea kettle onto his gas stove. This was Martin’s actual kitchen; he lived in the bookstore, and often she could smell a delicious roasting dinner. He lived alone, Martin did, —alone with thousands of books— but he believed in what he called “real meals”, and he made good use of the cookbooks on his shelves.

By the time she had explored the cookbooks–maybe setting aside a Jacques Pepin or something by Alice Waters–the tea was steeping in Martin’s little turquoise ceramic pot, a pot which had been his mother’s. He would bring out two sturdy mismatched mugs from the local pottery–one might have hand-painted pansies, the other a rustic plaid pattern,–and a delicate china plate. One of the things she liked so much about Martin, one of the things they shared, was a reverence for everyday objects with history. He used his mother’s dishes, things he’d eaten from as a child, that reminded him of that special woman. He made his living sharing the literature from the past century–sometimes, his books were even older than that.

There’d be two cookies on the china plate, large flat cookies, golden, sugar-studded, crispy brown on the edges. The cookies crunched and exploded; they were all butter and sugar, outrageous flavor. Martin made them once a week and shared them, he assured her, only with his most cherished customers.

They would settle in, with their mugs of Earl Grey, for a chat; she sat on a folding chair on one side of the counter, and he climbed back onto his stool behind it. One of the cats (there were two; the other was a woman-hater) came and curled up under her chair. It would yowl softly, hopelessly, wanting a chunk of cookie, knowing that would probably never happen. The tea and the food sat next to the adding machine he used for a cash register. He took cash and he took checks, Martin did; he didn’t deal in plastic. She could leave her credit cards, her debit card, at home.

Martin, who was cranky, opinionated, and very, very kind, would prompt her. “What,” he would ask, “are the little shits up to now?”

She would talk it through; Martin had taught high school history for 25 years, and he would guide her so that she didn’t stumble down into the land of misery. She would start out bemoaning the woeful receptivity of modern children to literature and thoughtful inquiry. And he would agree. But by the time she was finished, she’d be acknowledging that the latest project, in which the children wrote letters to characters or illustrated book jackets, was actually working quite well.

Martin would listen carefully. He was an odd looking man with parts that didn’t quite match. He was tall, but his face was round except for a jutting chin. He had slender shoulders and strongly muscled arms. His eyes were the piercing blue found in the Irish isles he loved so much. He had straight lank hair, gray and brown and white, and it fell, a limp bang, into his eyes.

These days, he seldom left his shop; a friend came in on Wednesday mornings and spelled him so he could take his big old muscle car out, do his shopping, pay his bills,– which he did in person, not by mail, if possible. He went to St. Nicholas Church’s 8 AM Mass on Sundays. In his youth, he had served in Viet Nam, and afterwards, he had not come home; he had gone to Ireland, to the Pacific Northwest, to Nova Scotia, back to Ireland. Had there been someone special there?

She wondered.

He came home finally, got married, got his schooling, took a teaching job. They’d never had children, and somewhere in that net of years, his wife had left. He retired early to care for his mother; she had left his father, too, but she moved into a house–this house–two doors down from the old man.

Martin kept his father updated throughout his mother’s illness. The old man brought the dog to visit and took care of his wife’s garbage and yard work. She slipped away in the middle of one night, without fuss or bother, as Martin nodded beside her bed.

He started sorting through her things, through her hundreds and hundreds of books, and then just gave up, moved into the house, built shelves, and opened a used bookstore. In the beginning, he closed on Thursday and Friday and traveled the state, going to sales and thrift shops, collecting even more books; now, people brought their books to him; his inventory grew and shifted, ebbed and flowed, and he stayed closer and closer to home.

She’d learned all this through the course of several visits. He would also tell her of some specific teaching disaster that would make her laugh–one time, he said, his students were so angry at a pop quiz (given because he had been so angry at their lack of preparation for his class) that they stormed out of the school when the bell rang and somehow hefted his Volkswagen Beetle onto the roof. It made a fetching sort of hood ornament, he allowed now, but in the day, he had failed, pretty much, to see the humor.

They had, he said, a helluva time getting it down.

He had refused, of course, to press charges, and some of those ‘boys’ visited the shop monthly now, small children, older children, grandchildren, in tow.

As they talked, they would savor their cookies, crumbs bursting onto counter and books, and she would lick her fingers and pick the crumbs up and eat them. The cat would sigh. When the tea was gone, Martin would clear his throat and clear their dishes away; conversation time was over. She would prowl through the shop.

Children’s books rested in and around and above the fireplace on the wall to the right of Martin’s desk–lots of Beatrix Potter, and an odd jumble that delighted her–every episode of the Babysitter’s Club; Anne of Green Gables; Lois Ehlert picture books; a series she especially liked by a British author about a boy named Tom and his stuffed monkey, Pippo; a random copy or two of a Hunger Games volume. The classics–Black Beauty, Mutiny on the Bounty, The Secret Garden,– were jammed onto shelves right inside the fireplace itself, paperbacks, hard covers. She often chose her next class read-aloud from inside Martin’s fireplace.

Then, ignoring the really old books and first editions housed behind Martin’s desk, she’d move back into what must have been his mother’s dining room. He had shelves from floor to twelve foot ceiling, and the room was a cave of fiction, with one wall of nonfiction and biography. She always found something there to soothe her–a Rosamund Pilcher or a Marcia Willet, Maeve Binchy, Jane Austen–something light and faraway, with likable, believable people and troubles that resolved by the end of the book.

She would take the books she’d chosen and leave them on the counter; Martin, who was reading, would grunt. And she would head upstairs, to where the paperbacks waited, in two old bedrooms, on wire racks that turned. High, unwieldy stacks crowned each rack, so that she didn’t dare actually turn them; she would snake through. She had a couple of mysteries she liked; Lord Peter Wimsey was a good read, and she liked the exploits of Dame Frevisse. There was a contemporary series about knitters in a seaside village that seemed to be a breeding ground for murders; those were fun and required no literary criticism or unraveling of symbolism on her part.

The back room held spy thrillers, cowboy series, military books. She didn’t usually go in there. Through a door on the back wall, always cracked open, she could see Martin’s Jenny Lind style bed, gleaming wood, chenille bedspread tightly pulled and tucked under the pillows. On the wall above, two pictures hung: a red toned Jesus with his sacred heart; the blessed Mother all in blue.

And then she would go downstairs, put her paperbacks on top of her other finds, and Martin would tot up her costs. She’d pull out her canvas tote, and they’d pack up her loot and say goodbye.

At the door, she’d always turn slightly and Martin would give her this funny little salute, first touching the index finger of his right hand to his right eyebrow and then pointing at her. She would smile and let the door slam gently behind her, swinging her bagful of books, swinging down the porch stairs, out onto the sidewalk.

Those were ‘can of soup’ nights; she’d heat one up on the gas stove, and eat at the table with a book splayed open next to her. She’d forgo doing any schoolwork, instead running a hot bath, soaking while she read. Often she’d finish the book in bed.

She’d think about Martin and his students and wonder–she, who was a relative newcomer to this town–if any of her sixth graders had descended from those boys who muscled that little car up onto the high school roof.

The next day, she’d walk back into her life, and always it turned out to be better. She was relaxed, the kids were in tune, the obstacles and irritations were bearable. She loved her work, even knowing that a different day would roll around, maybe next week, maybe next month. Knowing, too, that Martin’s House of Books was there, a doorway into a different world, an escape hatch when she needed it.

The Carrying of Cookbooks

Streusel topped muffins

This cool and foggy May Sunday morning, I’m baking streusel topped muffins to warm us up. The recipe (a coffee cake recipe; I prefer to use a good coffee cake recipe to make my muffins) is from what we call ‘the new cookbook’–a version of the red-checkered Better Homes and Gardens recipe book. My sister-in-law Mary gave me my first copy when I first got married way back in the early eighties; that copy lasted until about 1994, when my husband and sons got me the latest edition for Christmas. Jim, who was four then and very literal, dubbed it the new cookbook because of its recency, not its title. Twenty years later, when we’re discussing where to find a recipe, we might say, “That one’s in the new cookbook,” and the seeker will know to go grab that twenty-year-old book.

I read a fable once about a man who drowned because he refused to let go of a trunk filled with his prized possessions. And I’m on board with that; our things should not own us. Every so often, I go into purge mode and really think: do I need this? Does this add anything to my life? Would anyone be at a loss if I got rid of this? Have I used this within the past year?

And so blouses that I like but will probably never wear again, books that were mind-opening when I was 32, jewelry with broken clasps, scented candles, tape players,–they all land in a box for the thrift store. I have cookbooks on my shelf, however, that I’d be hard-pressed to let out of my grasp, even as the waters swirled around my ankles.

My Betty Crocker cookbook holds together with packing tape; it has a pie chart photo on the front featuring, among other culinary treats, a fondue pot full of pale orange stuff. My brother Sean and I bought that book for my mother in the very early seventies; we bought it with money saved from baby-sitting and paper routes, and when Mom opened it, she blurted, “No! You spent TOO MUCH!”
We were so proud; that was Mom-speak for, “What an incredible thing!” The Betty Crocker Cookbook was Mom’s cooking bible, and her old version came out just past World War II. We knew we had given her a gift she would cherish and use, and when it came to me after her death, the cover was already wobbling apart. I used it enough to seal the separation and the packing tape came out.
I make the recipe for Hungarian Goulash in this volume; it’s a recipe I met under the name ‘Beef Paprika’, and that’s what we still call it. A dear friend, Pam Hall, fixed it for a dinner party when we were running with the same crazy post-college crowd, and my companion then and I fell in love with it. It was a recipe that Pam’s mom, a truly gifted cook, was testing for the Betty Crocker kitchens. It’s re-named Hungarian goulash, in Mom’s cookbook.
Pam is gone now, too, and I never follow that recipe without thinking of her openness and generosity; nor do I ever use the book without memories of meals at my Mom’s. (And…I love the picture of Betty Crocker on the back of the book; she had been revamped for the Women’s Liberation movement of that day, and sports a smooth page boy haircut and an ascot type collar. She looks as if she could be bringing home the bacon before cooking it up in pan…)

From that same era, I have a slim paperback volume, Betty Crocker’s Dinner for Two Cookbook. That was a wedding shower gift from another dear friend, Sharon, a high school friend who stayed close during college. We lost the reins of friendship after that, but I still think of her fondly whenever I gently open this aging book. One section talks to young couple-cooks about stretching a budget; I used those recipes a lot. I still make the ham and bean skillet fairly regularly, and there’s a concoction made from leftover ham, cheddar cheese, and Bisquick–Bisquick’s big in a lot of these 1970’s recipes—and sprinkled with sesame seeds that’s a nice side with a steaming bowl of soup.

Last month, there was a potluck at Mark’s work for a departing colleague; most people signed up to bring a dish, but Mark was tapped by his colleague Debbie to bring what we call ‘Lee Brothers.’ It’s a mac and cheese recipe from a book that my darlin’ niece Meg gave me–The Lee Brothers’ Southern Cookbook. There they are on the cover–Matt and Ted Lee, their waists about as big around as the circumference of my knee–and I turn the page to find recipes with no regard whatsoever for modern diets and cholesterol concern. The mac and cheese recipe is actually listed under vegetables, with the argument that school cafeterias always considered macaroni and cheese a vegetable side.
The dish calls for whole milk, lots of cheddar and Swiss cheese, butter…it is oozey and fattening and totally wonderful. (How do those Lee boys stay so thin? Do they EAT their own cookin’???) For the potluck, Mark mixed it up the night before and rolled it into the crockpot, letting it cook on low all morning at work. There were no leftovers to worry about when he brought the crock pot home. (This recipe, by the way, is easily available via a quick Web search; I needed it just post-move when cookbooks were still packed away, and opted for the easy route.)
I also favor the Lees’ recipe for Hoppin’ John at New Years’ time.

Meg, like the Lees, is now a South Carolinian, and she gave me, also, Baked by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito. Lewis and Poliafito opened their first bake shop/cafe in Brooklyn, but they followed it, I believe, with one in Charleston; when I visited Meg, we visited that (no longer run by the founders, but still–quite, quite yummy.) This book yields the closest recipe I can find to Starbuck’s Reese’s cup cookies. I can’t find those cookies in any of the Starbucks in this area of Ohio; I insist on braking for Barnes and Noble stores in New York and PA–not a hard sell with my boys–on the off chance of finding my favorite cookie in their attached cafe’s—and usually my luck holds. Meanwhile, I strive to re-create those cookies in my kitchen; Baked offers a pretty darned good approximation in its peanut butter cookie recipe.

Mark gave me a chicken cookbook, the Reader’s Digest Great Chicken Dishes, when we lived on Orchard Street; its chicken corn chowder recipe was a great thing to cook when in the law school years, with hungry young law students visiting for meals. (Mark’s young classmate, Todd, used to pass him notes in the midst of challenging class sessions. “I’m hungry; I need soup,” the note might say, or, “I like chicken corn chowder.”)

I have a stack of those little fund-raiser compilation books with the plastic spiral bindings; they yield the best recipes for things like no-bake cookies, Buckeye-style Rice Krispy bars (corn syrup and peanut butter instead of marshmallow; a topping of melted chocolate chips; these don’t last long on my counter), and never-fail pie crust. I go to Julia Child for roast chicken (and one of these years, she’s going to show me how to make French bread). My Joy of Cooking helps with everything from how long to cook a roast of beef to a reliable recipe for raspberry bars. And Alice Waters’ Art of Simple Cooking is my go-to for risotto; my homemade broth is forever enriched by her technique of roasting the bones and veggies before immersing them in a deep, long simmer.

I also have notebooks full of recipes clipped from newspapers and magazines or printed from the Internet; my son Jim helps me organize these by numbering pages and creating tables of contents. This is where Mark’s parents’ recipe for “Dom’s Mom’s Meatballs” resides and my sister-in-law Mary Ann’s directions for Buffalo Wing Dip, along with a classic cheesecake recipe that can’t be beaten and Louise Pelletter’s directions for a long-simmering red sauce.

I suppose I could add my favorite recipes from each of the cookbooks I’ve mentioned; type them out, save them to a thumb drive, print out a copy and paste them in a notebook. That would be efficient, maybe.

But I am not so interested in efficiency in this process.

Everyone once in a while my Jim, who is a lover and a maestro of lists, will sit down with a cookbook and start listing recipes we should try. So we will experiment, say, with parmesan crusted chicken–very, very delicious-or pepperoni bites, a classic seventies appetizer treat. Our repertoire, getting just a little bit stale, expands.

And my cookbooks give me the sense of continuity, of gifts, not just of the physical book, but of the tastes of the giver, and their care for my well-being. The cookbooks I’ve gifted to myself give me the sense of the passing on of important techniques and processes–a true home-making tradition not limited to an age or a gender, but an essential part of any life. I like to open and savor them; I like to read the intro’s and anecdotes.

I have worked with young people immersed in strong passed-down traditions; I have worked with young people whose lives don’t have the shape and the girding this kind of passing-down provides. I feel for that second group, having been lucky enough to have both, the passing down of lore from family and friends, and the acquiring of new traditions along the way. But I know that, with caring friends and personal curiosity, good stuff can be shared, and traditions can be begun.

That’s why my cookbooks travel with me. I’d let go of their trunk if I had to choose between them and the deluge.

But it wouldn’t be easy.

Of cookbooks and aprons and cooking from scratch…

It’s funny how things converge.

The Earth Day Fair convened in the common rooms at the College last Saturday. Fascinating people were there with fascinating stuff. Some women displayed repurposed furniture painted with milk and chalk paints; they had a bench made from an old Jenny Lind bed, and vintage chairs and tables, all beautifully appointed with rich colors and contrast.

There was a bike connected to circuits–one could (I didn’t, but it was great fun to watch my colleague JD) pedal and pedal and pedal until one generated enough energy to light an electric bulb.

A woman sat with an awl, engraving intricate designs on dried gourds, and, in this city with deep ceramic roots, an artist slapped a clumsy blob of clay onto a wheel and spun it, magically and methodically, into a graceful pot. He talked, all the while, with some young Earth Day Fair visitors about the clay and the process and the importance of the art.

A watershed conservancy displayed hand-painted water barrels. Jewelers and fabric artists offered vibrant wares. Students in the biological sciences programs sold plants they had started from seeds–watermelons, morning glories, cucumbers.

And Nick of Shanachie Books had tables set up in a horseshoe display, brimming with gently used books, all with themes related to Earth Day. Right on top, waiting for me, was Gladys Taber’s Stillmeadow Cookbook.

I bought the book and spent the rest of the day marching toward a quiet space of reading time.

I can’t remember when I discovered Gladys Taber’s work; it might have been when I volunteered at the Mayville Library when Jim was an infant. Her writing grabbed me, and I read all of her books that I could find.

There’s a genre, I think, of post-World War II writings–city refugee books by women writers who fled the metropolitan life with their families and, prepared or not, skilled or not, cognizant of just what they might be getting into or not, set up housekeeping in some charm-filled, drafty, many-roomed, historical country house.

Shirley Jackson wrote about that transition in her wonderful, funny memoirs–such a contrast to her scary, scary books. Madeleine L’Engle detailed her family’s move to New England, to the land and house they dubbed Crosswicks, the home of the real life star-gazing rock.

And Gladys Taber wrote about it in her memoirs about Stillmeadow, the farm that, if I remember correctly, she and her husband bought with another couple. One husband died, I think; the other left, and the women and the children stayed on and created a rich country life.

I remember a professor, in undergrad English major days, expounding on how seldom US writers wrote about food. If I had read Gladys Taber that early on, I would have argued with him. In her gentle stories about the children and the house, the land and the visitors, Taber considers food an indispensable part of her narrative. I remember finding a recipe for stew embedded in a story about visitors from the city who came to visit and fell in love with Stillmeadow. I copied that out, longhand, yea those many years ago, and took note, too, of other Taber kitchen tips.

Finding Gladys Taber’s Stillmeadow Cookbook was a real coup. Originally written in 1947, my pristine copy was reprinted in 1965. Taber’s wonderful introduction tells the story of her cooking development–from newlywed disasters to hard-won competence on the farm. I am savoring my browse through this book–it’s a cookbook-memoir, so it’s good reading–and I have marked out several recipes to try already.

Luxuriating in this lovely, reminiscent, ramble through a cookbook from a simpler (maybe) day, I realize this week presents other echoes of that cooking time. Terri Mercer posts about a wonderful event her organization is having–an event that calls participants to share their stories about aprons. I am plunged into memories of the late fifties and early sixties, when my mother kept her Sunday dress on to fix Sunday dinner, but protected it with an apron.

And an article in our local Times-Recorder about people struggling to eat on severely cut food stamps made me think back to the days of one income, seven healthy eaters, and the never-empty cookie jar. (The article centered on people in a small town that straddles two counties. Because of food distribution regulations, people on fixed incomes can’t cross the county line to take advantage of local food pantries, so a woman who can see a food pantry from her living room window can’t get food from it to supplement her empty larder at the end of the month. Instead, she has to drive ten miles to a pantry that IS in her county. There’s no meanness involved; the big-hearted operators of the food pantry are constrained by the regulations of the food distributors who help them feed hungry people.)

All of this got me pondering about cooking and food and how our attitudes toward those things have changed in my lifetime. I think about my lovely former student who said that her favorite food was mac and cheese. I told her I’d discovered a great recipe, and she jutted her chin toward me, puzzled. Her mac and cheese delight came from a box mix; she had never eaten the made-from-scratch kind.

I think, too, about a young mom who was placed as a worker with a Literacy Volunteers Association I worked with long ago. She was maybe just 20, had two young boys, and her husband was unable to work. She went to a government sponsored food pantry and brought the bag of groceries they gave her to work. She was disgusted; the bag was full of things like flour and sugar, rice and pasta.

“What am I supposed to do with THAT?” she asked. “My kids can’t eat that.” She had never yet, in her young life, baked a cookie from scratch or cooked a meal that didn’t start from a mix.

I am drawn, by Terri’s apron tales, by Gladys Taber’s recipes, by the challenge people have in trying to stretch their food budget–and food stamps, for those that need them, have truly shrunk in amount—to looking back to the days of Sunday dresses covered by aprons and simmering stews and family dinners. Maybe we have thrown the turkey out with the bathwater; maybe, although I have no intention of making bread from scratch, giving up my KitchenAid blender, or doing without my microwave, we can learn something from the days of cooking from scratch.

The Farmers’ Market opens tomorrow morning. What a perfect time to think about how I cook and how we eat.