The great cookbook make

So I’ve undertaken this project.

After my grandma died, when we were dividing up her possessions and cleaning out her house, I asked for the recipe box. My cousin D let it go with one provision: I would make a book or somehow record the recipes and send it to him.

I agreed, and nearly a year and a half later finally feel like I’m in the mental space to be able to begin this project. I decided to include my great grandma’s recipes, too, and I have three books of hand-written, sometimes revised, jotted cookery notes. She didn’t fill all the internal pages of one book, for instance, but the front cover and title page are covered in recipes from chicken wings to pancakes to fish batter to “Drink” and “Punch. A photocopied recipe from her “beauty operator” was tucked into the cover, too.

I laughed at the recipe for “Pop Overs (good” because no one in my family has replicated her pop overs, nor has anyone even tried them since probably the mid-90s.

I began to cry at the recipe for oyster crackers, tucked under the headline “snacks” and snuggled into the whitespace next to “Stay in Bed Stew” from a Lucille K. My great grandma and grandma both made seasoned oyster crackers and I ate them faster than they could make them when I was a kid. My grandma would send bags of them to be in care packages during college. One set of the dishtowels I have is permanently stained with vegetable oil because a gallon bag of oyster crackers leaked in the shipment containing both. I still remember the apartment I lived in when she sent that box, and calling to tell her I’d gotten it and the bag had leaked.

So, yeah, it’s safe to say I’m not ready for this yet. But maybe it’s a good thing. Great grandma repressed and tucked things away, but grandma kept everything and tried to talk about everything. I need to open these books, and smell my grandmas again, and remember what their handwriting looks like — how different their lettering and spelling was from each other’s. One who was barely allowed to finish junior high school and the other, college-educated.

This is also a record of our culture, in some ways. I am descended from midwestern farmers and “townsfolk” and these recipes are a combination both of the food my great-grandma was raised making for the farm and dishes she and my grandma were given by other women. They faithfully wrote down the names of the women from whom they got the recipes, too, and for every aunt I recognize there are four more neighbors or ladies from church I’ve never heard of.

I need to test some of these recipes, eat the snacks and food they made with love and obligation.

My plan is to record some of this undertaking here. I can’t guarantee it’ll be step-by-step or thorough, but I can’t imagine there won’t be feelings or thoughts I’ll need to put somewhere, so — I hope you’re ready, I guess.

Maybe this is my final frontier with this grief. Doubtful, but maybe.


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