Bringing Edible History to Life

I’ve been thinking about my maternal grandmother a lot since I got into canning a couple years ago.  She fed five kids (in addition to grandpa and herself, of course) for years often with little more than a hope and a prayer.  My mom was 13 (1961) before they had indoor plumbing and running water, so the conditions were labor-intensive to just get hot water, let alone hot meals.  Grandma was still cooking off her cast-iron wood stove when I was little, although there was now a gas line that made things easier.  While there were countless chores, income was scarce and had to stretch to fill the needs of a family of 7.  Grandma always had a garden, and most years she canned food to make it last through the winter.  The nearest supermarket was 20 miles and a mountain pass away, and with only 1 car, which she couldn’t drive anyway, trips to town weren’t something that happened with regular occurrence.

When I was little, she still had her garden every year, but she didn’t can much at that point with all her children grown.  I was 17 when she died and there have been numerous times since that I wish I could still ask her advice, listen to her stories, and just take the time to appreciate her like I don’t think I did when I was a teenager.

A few months ago I went through all my cookbooks and came across an old cookbook printed on mimeographed paper from typewritten pages.  This was pre-computer, pre-photocopier type stuff.  It was made of recipes collected from the local grange where I grew up.  All the recipes were attributed to the (mostly) women who submitted them.  There were names I hadn’t thought of in years, and to my surprise, even my mom and Grandma.  Grandma had an oatmeal raisin cookie and a Crisco frosting.  The oatmeal raisin cookie recipe has been passed down in our family for four generations.  I got it on my wedding day from my Aunt.  My mom had a rhubarb cake recipe she never remembers making and thinks she probably copied it out of a magazine.

That find got me wondering if Grandma had a recipe book or cookbooks and what happened to them if she did.  Yesterday, I got my answer.  My mom was up for a visit and she gave me an old 3-ring binder with two spiral-bound cookbooks (though most of the plastic spirals are gone) interspersed with handwritten recipes and newspaper clippings, all of which have yellowed with age.  A lot of the newspaper clippings are from the early 60’s, which I now realize coincides with when Grandma got electricity and explains why a lot of those clipped were cookies and cakes.  She could now cook such “frivolous” treats as desserts much easier with electricity! My aunt was also there, and she had brought (all the way from North Carolina) Grandma’s apron that she wore when cooking or canning to give to me.  I feel much closer to my Grandma now that I can cook from her saved recipes while wearing her apron.  She’ll be with me, in some way, whenever I’m in the kitchen.


The earliest newspaper clipping I found was from 1939 and in addition to a movie ad for an Errol Flynn movie, contained recipes for a jam spice cake and a noodle ring, which I still can’t quite figure out what it is.



One newspaper printed such culinary jewels as pig’s feet jelly.  I’m sure pig’s feet were more abundant and our current “nose-to-tail” trend was more of a necessity than novelty in those times. I must admit, though, I am curious about the recipe.  I imagine it would be great for sauces, stews, or gravy.


What makes this book priceless to me is to see my Grandma’s (and even my two great-grandma’s!) handwritten recipes.  It’s like getting a piece of her back and getting to work with her in the kitchen, which is what I really long to be able to do.  I woke up too early this morning, but as I lay there debating whether or not to go back to sleep, I remembered seeing a waffle recipe in the book and decided there was plenty of time for waffles.


I dug it out and pinned it to the refrigerator so I couldn’t spill something on it and got to work.  I had everything on hand and, while the waffle iron heated, I was able to whip up the batter in just a few minutes.


In no time at all I had a beautiful batch of waffles and topped them off with blueberry syrup I made last year.  The recipe may have been labeled “Plain Waffles,” yet they were anything but for me.  There were rich-tasting with a hint of crunch on the outside and warm and fluffy on the inside.  The syrup pooled in the waffle wells and soaked into the waffle, making each bite taste of warm, sweet blueberries.  I think Grandma would have approved!