Monday, December 8, 2008
The method to my madness
I’m not sure what it is about me and cookbooks, but I’m pretty sure it’s genetic. As I’ve patiently explained to Ryan, there is no real good reason that I have about fifty cookbooks, ranging in specialty from Indian food to 1970s Lutheran cooking madness, but I love each and every one of them.
Just like my mom does. Just like my Aunt Sue does. And just like both of my grandmas did. Some of my greatest treasures are cookbooks I got from my grandmas, their handwriting populating the corners of recipes that they tried and liked, recipes that they meant to someday make for their families and recipes that totally flopped when they tried to reproduce them in their kitchens. (A note from one of my grandma’s cookbooks: “BAD!” OK, grandma – I won’t make that one.)
When I would go to church festivals with my mom or if we were anywhere that sold an organization’s cookbooks, my mom would always buy three – one for her, one for my Aunt Sue and one for my Grandma Boots. I now have many of those cookbooks that once belonged to my grandma and there’s something right about that. And now if I see a unique cookbook, I’ll buy three copies – one for my mom, one for Suzie and one for me.
My Grandma Boots is currently in a nursing home and she’s gone to that place in Alzheimer’s where many people can’t reach her. But some of the best times that I had visiting her in the home when she was coherent were the times that I’d pick up a current copy of “Taste of Home” or Paula Deen’s cooking magazine and bring them in to page through with her. We would talk about the things that I would make for Ryan and how much recipes changed – how Chinese food used to be a rarity for American housewives to make and how now everyone has a go-to recipe for their own version of Sesame Chicken.
No matter how much my grandma’s mind has slipped over the past decade, there is one moment that cemented her reputation as one of the ultimate bakers in my mind. I was living in Wisconsin and tried to make a cranberry cake with a buttercream sauce. My mom always made it for me, it was one of my favorites and I wanted to try to recreate that dessert for some friends. The cake turned out fabulously, but the sauce never thickened properly.
So I came home and had coffee with my grandma and grandpa. When I told grandma what happened to the sauce, she immediately narrowed her eyes. “Which cookbook did you use?” I told her which one. “Whose recipe was it?” I told her the cook. “Hmpfh,” Grandma said. “Well, she can’t cook.” Grandma turned to where she had her handwritten recipe files. “Next time, use this one.”
And next time I make that cranberry cake, Grandma – I will.