Day Two: Creating this cookbook

What started as a simple* project to preserve memories for my cousin, and to keep my work, has turned into so many questions, and a few regrets.

The book I chose to begin working from and transcribing at first looked like a messy compilation of jottings and scribbles and recipes my great grandma collected from friends and acquaintances. As I thumb through it, it looks more like a mother-daughter collaboration between her and my grandma. Grams has imposed some organizational structure on it — her lines are sharp and crisp and clear, written in her elegant, sloping script –multiple cookie recipes per page, and more cookies on the facing page, and more cookies after that. Great grandma fills in the gaps with stroganoffs and dumplings and shortcakes.

I doubt they would’ve undertaken it, but for a fleeting moment I thought maybe they toyed with the idea of putting together their own cookbook. Maybe they shared and swapped the book over the course of years.

Why wouldn’t she have ever told me about it? Shown it to me? Talked about it?

Maybe it was a vestige of a life she left far, far behind. One it was too much to go back to.

I have so many questions.

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.


This week, last week, always

This week, last week, always

I have this friend. You might know her, actually.

My friend, she writes beautifully and precisely about horrible things. She curates words with a clarity of mind that leaves you with no mistake as to what happened, who is to blame, and what was at stake. I envy her this.

All I can seem to do is ramble on. Write 9,000 words about things I’ve been parsing since I was 15, each year adding and compounding to the total. If our savings accounts accrued interest the way our bodies do harassment, we could make up the wage gap, and then some. We could pay for our birth control, our preventive visits, our maternity care.
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