My mother recently mailed me a care package and she included three of my grandmother’s handwritten recipe books.
They are all written on lined paper, and they are in various states of decay. Rips, stains and smudges prove these books were well-loved and well-used but unfortunately that use has diminished the legibility of many of the recipes. I have recently finished typing out all the recipes, at least all the ones I can read, and scanning the pages into my computer; they are so fragile that I doubt they will be legible for much longer. Technology can be an amazing thing! I have increased the contrast on the scans which has been incredibly helpful in deciphering various ingredients or notations that would be otherwise impossible to see.
Throughout this process, I have decided to try and make all of them. Well, all the ones that are complete, as some are missing measurements or instructions.
Instructions! Let’s talk about those, shall we? Most recipes I use have them. For a newbie cook like myself, having directions is an absolute MUST! But in these notebooks, they are sorely lacking. All I can assume is that my grandmother just knew how to make things and didn’t need written directions. A pie? Sure, let’s throw together a pie from memory. Cookies? Cakes? Yep, no problem.
I, on the other hand, have never made a cake and have only ever made a pie once. I require instructions, directions, little pictures with captions…something! And when there are instructions, many are none too helpful.
- Dark Fruit Cake – “Cook in slow oven”
- Cookies – “Cook in hot oven”
- Pudding – “Bake 30 minutes”
- Cookies – “Roll then bake quickly”
- Cookies – ”Roll out in balls. Press with a fork. Bake. Very good.”
Even some of the ingredients leave me guessing:
- “1 1/2 cups icing sugar (maybe more)”
- “2 unbeaten eggs, beat well”
These are going to be fun to try! Hehe Or frustrating…only time will tell. “Butter the size of an egg”? “A walnut”? At least that gives me a visual.
Another interesting thing I’ve noticed about the notebooks is that you can actually see that passage of time as you move from the oldest one to the newest.
The first two notebooks are filled with recipes calling to fairly generic ingredients: milk, sugar, butter, vanilla, salt, various spices, flour, shortening, baking soda and powder.
Once you get into the third book, which is the most recent (I’m guessing 50s and 60s maybe?), which is the first one written in ball-point pen, you suddenly start seeing ingredients like: Maple Leaf Lard, Rice Krispies, Cornflakes, margarine, Crisco, Arrowroot cookies, Graham wafers.
The third book also started filling in the missing pieces of the first two. Suddenly my grandmother was writing instructions like:
- Bake in slow oven 325 degrees 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hrs
- Bake 350 for 1 hour in round pan.
I was finally able to approximate a “slow oven” at 300 or 325 degrees and a “hot oven” at 375 or more.
The other cool thing about all three notebooks is that she noted the source of almost every recipe. There are so many names of people, relatives, places…even a date on one recipe (Dec 14, 1937). Many of them are simply labeled “Mother’s” so technically I have a good number of recipes that are from my great-grandmother, as well as the odd two or three that are labelled “Grammie Irving” such as a yummy sounding Spice Cake recipe.
All together, I have almost 200 pages typed out, one recipe per page (with a couple exceptions). I think I’m going to look at getting them printed and bound…then, I’ll start baking!
I plan to create a new category on this blog and any time I try a recipe from one of these notebooks, I’ll categorize it accordingly.
Now I just need to think of a catchy category…..