Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Aunts Cookbook...

Imagine my surprise when I received a cookbook this Christmas season that was written by my great-great aunts for my great grandmother and great aunt. We are not talking the usual family, plastic bound Kinko's version cookbook--this thing of beauty was hard bound and looked like a "real" cookbook. In fact, when it was first handed to me as part of a stack of other cookbooks there was nothing to indicate that it was any different than the any of the other old volumes. It was not until I opened it to see the publishing date that I realized that this was different, this was a gem!

I was so excited that I flipped through the pages immediately, reading the most peculiar recipes aloud and keeping the most delicious sounding to myself. There were a glorious 151 pages worth of my family recipes.

It was incredible.

When I had finally finished my lavish journey through the volume, I returned to the beginning to again study the note from my great-great aunts that read in part:

"This slight evidence of materteral affection has no inherent right to be called a cook-book. It contains, as will be seen, no general rules for cooking. It is conspicuously lacking in directions how to bake, boil or brew, and is eloquently silent on the frugal themes of the trying-out of fat, the making of soap, etc. It makes no claim to being either through, economical, scientific or systematic. It is merely a collection of family recipes."

I love this passage so much that I am considering including it in my own cookbook and giving them credit.

I guess what thrilled me so deeply about the discovery of this piece of family history is just how deep my love of cooking is embedded in my genes. I always knew that my paternal grandmother's family loved to cook, and that my maternal grandmother was a good cook, but this is evidence of relatives spanning several generations cooking and enjoying feeding people. In fact, the last section of the cookbook is recipes from my Great-great-great-great Grandmother...that is a lot of greats.

If you love to cook go out and find those family recipes--sure some of them may call for crazy ingredients and refer to cooking over a fire instead of on a stove--but they will bring you joy.

I leave you with one of my favorite recipes in the book (mind you I have never made it so I am literally referring to the recipe) from my Great-great-great-great Grandmother...

To Make Cowslip Wine

To 2 gallons of water add 2 1/2 pounds of powdered sugar, boil them 1/2 hour, and take off the scum as it rises, the pour it into a tub to cool, with the rinds of 2 lemons. When it is cold add 4 quarts of cowslip flowers to the liquor, with the juice of 2 lemons; let it stand in the tub two days, stirring every 2 to 3 hours, and then put it in a barrel and let it stand 3 weeks or a month. Then bottle it and put a lump of sugar in every bottle. This is a good wine against the consumptions or any inward complaints.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Not A Recipe To Share...

Sharing recipes is an act that has taken place for as long as people have been making food. It is a simple figure out how to make something really well, you write it down, and you pass it along to your friends. There are variations of find a great recipe in a magazine, you copy it, you pass it along to your friends is a popular one. So here is something that might surprise you...

I hate to share my recipes.

I know, this goes against everything that I have said about loving to feed people and really makes no sense since I am writing a cookbook, but hopefully by the time you finish reading this post you will understand.

Whenever someone takes a look at my electronic recipe file the first question always seems to be, "Why do all of the recipes say 'NOT A RECIPE TO SHARE' in bold accross the top?" No one notices my maticulous organziation, my attention to detail, or my consistency in termonologoy. No, it is always the fact that I, being someone who otherwise is a giver and a sharer, have plainly written across 95 percent of my recipes a statement of selfishness.

Please understand...

My dislike of sharing recipes revolves around three distinct issues...

1. I worry that people will change my recipe or make it incorrectly and then the people that they are feeding will think that I am a horrible cook.

2. Sometimes, people will pass my creations off as their own.

3. Genetics. (Confusing, but you will on).

Issue One: It has happened to me more than once that I have passed along a tried and true recipe to a friend or family member and have had one of two things happen: 1. They tell me that it was great, they made eight substitutions and told everyone that it was my recipe (better yet, it was horrible, they made eight substitutions, and cannot understand why I thought it was good in the first place); 2. They make it for me, I taste it, and it tastes nothing like when I make it...being that I am a perfectionist I spend the rest of the night wondering if it is their cooking or my recipe that caused the problem and likely do not sleep for at least a few days.

Issues Two: It really drives me crazy when people do not give credit where credit is due. Here is a great example..."Wow, Suzy, this cake is amazing!" (I gave Suzy the recipe for the cake). "Thanks, Janet, it is just something that I whipped up from an idea I had this afternoon." Really? For those of you that know me you know that this is followed by me shoving a glass of water in my mouth and taking a long, slow sip to keep me from saying what I am thinking. Note to self: No more recipes for Suzy.

Issue Three: My grandmother's housekeeper, let's call her Kelly to avoid revealing her true identity, had worked for my grandmother for over a decade when she mistakenly gave my mother the infamous Veggie Casserole recipe without first consulting my grandmother. When I say World War III in describing what went down when my grandmother discovered this, it is not an exaggeration. Kelly nearly lost her job that day, I nearly lost my mother, and no one EVER gave away a recipe of my grandmother's again without consulting her first or at least making sure that all involved could be trusted to keep thier mouths shut.

This post came to mind because I was just making some amazing pretzel treats that my friend Nicole recently passed along the recipe for. I had been asking her for the recipe for over a year. Some people might have been annoyed that it took so long to get it to me, but I completely understood. I worked the angle that others have worked with me, slow and steady until I broke her. She finally gave me the recipe for Christmas on the condition that I do not share it, and I was probably one of the few people that COMPLETELY understood where she was coming from. I love her for not wanting to share...

So, please know that I write this cookbook with strong reservations...sometimes the thought of sharing all of these recipes nearly puts me over the edge. However, in the end I feel that it is worth it and I can just hope that people follow directions, give me credit if I deserve it, and that I can buck the genetic part of it along the way.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Ho Humbug...

One of my friends coined the term Ho Humbug today and I thought that it was a brilliant way to describe a lot of attitudes that I encounter this time of year. People are sick of shopping, sick of crowds, sick of Christmas carols that started in October, and sick of pine needles shedding on their rugs. Yet you can feel them WANTING to enjoy the season, but these other annoying things keep tugging at their patience.

With all of this frustration in the air, the one thing that I almost never hear people complain about during the holiday season is baking. Some people bake with their sister's every year, some with their children, some by themselves, some with friends. Whatever the tradition, it is something that people look forward to as soon as the Thanksgiving dishes are cleared.

What is it about cookies, breads, cakes and tarts that can turn the biggest Scrooge into a smiling Santa?

There is a joy that comes with holiday baking that is inexplicable. If you asked Sally to make the same 3 dozen cookies that she makes with a twinkle in her eye in December in June, she might grumble under her breath and consider an abrupt, "no" response. Is it because it is cold in December? Is it the fact that holiday baking is often laced in tradition? Is it the joy of feeding others?

I personally love everything about the holiday that I celebrate, Christmas. I even go so far as to make sure that all my Christmas shopping is done by Thanksgiving, so that I do not have to deal with the crowds that make me crabby and instead can enjoy the traditions that I love so much. I am looking forward to making my Christmas cookies this weekend, my great-grandmother Zelma's caramels the following weekend, and maybe even trying a new recipe or two. Something about washing dishes while listening to carols makes the whole process a little more tolerable, and watching my guests indulge in my sweets puts a smile on my face.

Whether your tradition is one that I described above, or heading down to your favorite bakery and buying your treats, enjoy every bite! Cookies always taste better during the holidays!

Happy baking!