Tuesday, February 10, 2009


There are whole generations and centuries of good Southern folks whose lives were lived quietly, unobtrusively, uncelebrated save for their way with a cake, a pie, a recipe for chowchow or preserves or perhaps a sublime custard which, when cranked and iced and stirred in the old wooden ice cream freezer, became the food of gods.

Books and drawers and albums and files are filled with handwritten receipts; little boxes of quaint cards are inscribed with measures and methods of a time far ago, testament to the perseverance of family favorites. And a good half of the pages bear the names of the creators, the copiers, the carriers-on of a tradition older than memory---the naming of a recipe for the hands which created the original.

And for most, that one bit of history is the only claim to lasting remembrance for these women---the homesteaders, the keepers of the gardens and sties and springhouses, of dairy-rooms and honey-sheds, of smokehouse and brew-room, of kitchens plank-floored and bare save for a scarred plank table and a few wall-hooks for utensils.

And the years of rationing, of doing without and making-do with what could be had---ingenuity and hard work triumphed in those times, and families were fed. Who is to remember and celebrate those cooks, if we do not?

My own great cluttered drawer of clippings and lined paper and curled brown bits of sack and calendar holds myriad recipes named for an aunt, a friend, a church lady whose delectable dishes caused gridlock when she set down her tray.

There are treasures like Maw’s Caramel Pound Cake, Mrs. Thornton's Watermelon Preserves, Mammaw's Pineapple Layer cake---they're all there, along with Maw's Lime Pickle (always referred to in the singular by her, and the name is sacred in the family annals), Aunt Mary's Creamed Corn, Aunt Lucy's Candied Sweet Potatoes (and they WERE---nearly pound-for-pound with sugar in the syrup; they would almost stand in for fudge), Mother’s Banana Bread and Karo Pecan Pie, as well as Chris’ Homemade Cookies.

Perhaps my strong feelings on this subject have come too much to the fore, as I have been rambling through old journals and albums, kindling memories of things to write about. And most of it is family remembrances and recipes and little wisps of where-we-come-from to pass on to the new branches of our family taking up the kitchen torch. I've just been so immersed in all the remembering---it's very important to me to hand down whatever I can to enrich the heritage as we remember it, and to steward it for the future members.

So, I'll just keep referring to all the old recipes and the old ways by their proper names---the names of the women and several men---Chris’ Spaghetti Sauce, Daddy’s Dishpan Salad and his unforgettable pitted pork. Some of the names would now be lost to time, save for their talent in the kitchen.

I will not let their work and their names be lost. And I'd love to hear the names attached to other families' recipes.


Southern Lady said...

Rachel, I loved this post. I, too, have a little recipe box stuffed with recipes from family and friends who are no longer with us.

When I use their recipes, it warms my heart and brings to mind fond memories of when they would bring the same dishes to family gatherings.

Keetha said...

That's so great. I totally relate.

I have an Aunt Edna's Seven Layer Salad, that I've made for years. The recipe card says Aunt Edna's Seven Layer Salad. My mother told me a couple of years ago that wasn't Aunt Edna's recipe. I still don't know that I've recovered from that shock.

I read somewhere an article about the Jackson, Miss. Junior League cookbooks. It mentioned that back in the day the recipes were contributed to Mrs. John May. A few years later it was Mrs. John May (Kathy). Still years later, it was Mrs. Kathy May (John) Come a long way, baby.

Kouign Aman said...

I have 'grma B's recipe', in OUR Gma B's handwriting. It calculates out to being greatgreat gmas recipe.

racheld said...

I love it that all the recipes and the old methods travel down through Time into our hands, but they're just passing through.

I upended the "recipe" drawer in my parents' kitchen into a box and put it unapologetically onto "our" truck when we dismantled the family home before sale. And I think I've used maybe one recipe---Mother's Karo Pecan Pie. I got it out for a picture of her handwriting, and noticed for the first time that it had 1/8 tsp. cinnamon.

I'd never noticed.