I discovered my mother’s cookbooks at age 5 when I discovered one with color photos of birthday cakes. What a find this was! I loved looking at these pictures, imaging the cakes in front of me on my special day. As I grew older, I developed a strong desire to just be in the kitchen, washing dishes, cooking, setting the table…it didn’t matter. It gave me a feeling of control and comfort to be in this room that was central to the home: the place where one could play with messy ingredients, mix them up, heat them and create a nurturing concoction. The place where it could be possible to make my Mom and Dad, my siblings and myself happy. What could be better? As I grew into adolescence, I found that studying the index of the cookbooks on my mother’s shelf,revealed more possibilities of this alchemical process: of taking whatever I could find in the cupboard and creating something edible (sometimes!). The kitchen then became my refuge. I have never lost my love of these stained and tattered volumes. When I find them in used book stores nowadays, I often bring them home. I flip carefully through the frail pages, where I find recipes written on old postcards, or envelopes, or notes written on the pages with stars, or crosses. They speak volumes about the woman who cooked for her family and friends using this manual. Her desire to please, get it right, evident in her earnest notes. “Don’t over beat”, “Try with artichokes”, “apples didn’t cook enough, “No GOOD”. Why do I find comfort in these pages? I feel cared for and comforted when I imagine someone taking the time to search for the perfect recipe, and then to actually carry out the work of creating this dish in order to nurture herself and those she cares about. I find myself traveling back to the days when “what are we having for dinner?” was the most important question of the day and this was quite enough to get excited about because we were lucky enough to have food and a kitchen in which to create a soulful meal.
Here is a recipe for Cream Puffs, found on a hand written postcard sandwiched between the pages of a vintage cookbook
1 c hot water
1/2 c shortening
1 C flour
Heat the water and butter until mixture boils. Reduce heat. Add the flour all at once and mix thoroughly. Cook 3-5 minutes, until mixture clings to spoon and leaves sides of sauce pan. When cool, add eggs, unbeaten, one at a time. Beat until thoroughly mixed. Drop by tablespoon on buttered baking sheet. Bake at 375 for 45 minutes. Be sure they are thoroughly done. should be dry on outside. Open on the side and fill with cream filling or whipped cream. Cream filling: 1/3 c. flour, 2 eggs, 1/8 t sale, 2 c milk, 7/8 c sugar, 1 1/2 t butter, 1 t vanilla. Moisten flour with some of the cold milk. Add this to hot milk, Cook 15 min. in double boiler stirring constantly until thickens. Beat eggs, sugar and salt together. Pour hot mixture over them, return to double boiler, add butter, cook, stir, until (thick??)…add to popovers.