For a long time after my grandmother and grandfather had both died, this cookbook still held the fragrance of their home. I can’t begin to describe what that smell was like. I just know that when I would open this book and stick my nose right in the crease of those slick, shiny pages I felt as though I was being transported back in time.
And they were good times.
Working in the kitchen with my grandmother was an experience. She had her way of cooking, her way of saving and conserving, her way of making things taste oh-so-good. This was her favorite cookbook. Even today as I pulled it from the shelf to take this photo, I found yet another scrap of paper on which she had written a recipe for a coconut pie, one that I had not seen before. Papers and note cards are stuffed throughout, in places where a recipe was marked so it would not be forgotten. I love that those handwritten notes are still surprising me.
We all know someone in our lives who could or can today prepare a certain food that just makes the mouth water. For me and I think for most of my family it was her ‘sweet rolls’ as she called them. Cinnamon rolls fresh out of the oven, swimming in a thick mixture of butter, brown sugar, and pecans. Even before she would bake them you could smell the yeast dough as it would raise in that big yellow mixing bowl she had. But get them in the oven and the perfume filled the air and lingered for several hours.
Somehow we would find out that she was baking, and like magic we would appear in her kitchen. Just as years later, when grandpa was alone after she died, he would find my kitchen on the days when my neighbor and I baked holiday cookies. He just had to sample those cookies, and we all had to test those rolls to make sure they were good enough.
Grandma was so good at putting together a good, hearty lunch for grandpa, and whoever in the family could join us. I usually set the table, and helped with fixing the food…in whatever ways she would allow.
There still exists in the family stories an episode of grandma and I preparing a meal together and making sure all the food was cooking properly. We had a pan of frozen green peas cooking on the stove top. Grandma was a little concerned that we get these to taste right…so her advice to me was,
“Don’t forget to salt the pea water.”
I knew what she meant, and so did she. But we started to giggle. This became even funnier because of who said it, this woman who never would let anything off-color leave her lips.
To this day I don’t know how we managed to get food on the table. Soon the word was out about her famous remark, and no one in the house could keep from laughing. I still laugh about it, as I’m sure she does from her peaceful place where her soul resides.
That cookbook was published in 1941, when the world looked quite different than it does now. When cooking in your own kitchen was the norm, rather than jumping in the car to go get fast food. When family and friends would frequently, if not daily, gather around the table and share a meal. Those are the ideals that shaped the cook my grandmother was.
Occasionally I try to imagine her standing in my own kitchen with me, telling me how long to cook that roast, or fry that chicken, or showing me how to make the homemade noodles that would melt in your mouth….and stick to your hips!
I recently bought a brand new Betty Crocker Cookbook. Already I’m making notes on the pages about what recipes we’ve had that we liked. Yet I still go back to this one, from 1941, and read the how-to’s and look at the photos of how to set a pretty table.
Yup. She’s still in the kitchen with me.