December 1, 2007
Writer: Carma Sutherland
Preserving the Past with Recipes
By Carma Sutherland
(LDS Life, December 2007)
While planning menus for holiday dinners, I reached for my red and white vintage recipe box. It contains recipes that belonged to my mother and step-mother on rows of yellowed index cards. The mostly handwritten cards conger up memories of some family event or an evening meal eaten around our kitchen table.
Peppermint Ice Box Cake was the first card I pulled out of the dessert section. The recipe sounded festive, but the handwriting was what held my attention. I recognized it as the fine, angular hand of my mother which I hadn't seen for awhile. A flood of memories and longing came over me. I can recall a happy youth and wonderful family parties with food at the center
Mom was in a fatal car accident when I was 12 years old, but. Dad later remarried, so my stepmother's recipes were filed in the same sections and categories in-between those of my mother's. Similarly, my life's memories are a blend of the lives of two wonderful mothers.
I could always tell when my stepmother, Lorraine, had been baking bread. The aroma wafted from the kitchen into the air and I recognized it as soon as I came into the yard from school. It gave me a sense of security and stability that was so needed during that time of my life. The recipe was for Swiss Bread, brought with Grandma Hasler when she emigrated from Switzerland. The loaves were braided European style, from ropes of soft pliable dough. It wasn't just any bread--it was the best bread I had ever tasted.
I suppose that recall to my senses is why baking is my favorite part of cooking. I would prefer making yeast bread, cookies, cakes or pies when given a cooking assignment bread or dinner rolls were always taken to Thanksgiving and Christmas get-togethers at Grandma's house with cousins, aunts and uncles who all lived in Kamas, Utah. A wonderful bread or dessert is sure to bring compliments or an atmosphere of celebration.
The baked food at holidays and family reunions was a smorgasbord made from recipes that had been shared by friends, family members or Relief Society sisters. Recipe swapping is part of our LDS culture. Some of the best recipes in my collection are from wonderful Relief Society sisters. There is something bonding about cooking from a recipe shared by a trusted friend. A shared recipe is a gift that brings pleasant thoughts of that person throughout the preparation and enjoyment of it.
The red and white box doesn't just contain recipes. There are notes on gardening and children's games. One card even contains marital advice. That particular card from my stepmother's file had this note: Recorded in the pages of an old cookbook published about 1871, among the formulas for storing away fruits and vegetables, was a little piece entitled "How to Preserve a Husband." It read: "Be careful in your selection. Do not choose one too young and take only such varieties as have been reared in a good atmosphere. When once decided upon and selected, let that part remain forever settled. Some insist on keeping them in pickle, while others are constantly getting into hot water This makes them sour and bitter. Even poor varieties may be made sweet, tender and good by garnishing with patience, well-sweetened with smiles. Wrap in a mantle of charity, keep warm with a steady fire of domestic devotion. When thus prepared, husbands will keep for years and improve with age."
The cards have been through more than four generations of meal preparation. I view the collection as a treasure and though I have over 300 recipe books in my personal collection, these yellowed cards are valued most. I shutter to think that I almost tossed them into the waste basket one by one when I went through an organizing streak of putting recipes on a computer program. They have become one of my most precious possessions.
I think everyone should have something written in the hand of their loved ones. Unfortunately, like other folks in Rexburg, many treasured handwritten family journals were lost in the Teton Dam flood. So these recipes are a sort of family history for me. They have become a part of me, who I am, my history and my legacy. Perhaps the red and white box will sit in a granddaughter's kitchen cabinet and she'll prepare something for her family from a yellowed recipe card.
During the holiday season, as you focus on cooking and eating, it is my wish that you will celebrate life itself and the significance of bringing a family together to share your own favorite foods. Happy Holidays.
P.S. I'm always happy to share a recipe.
Carma Sutherland is a retired member of the faculty in the Department of Home and Family at Brigham Young University - Idaho