By Christine Bronson
The chill is in the air. It is autumn, the time of year I turn inward, start making soups and begin missing my mom.
There is one place that holds the best of keepsakes: my recipe box. While I have categories sectioned off for casseroles, desserts and breads, there is a special one I have labeled “Love, Mom.” It is here that I linger, not so much in search of tonight’s dinner idea, but to think about the connection my mother and I shared in the kitchen with our love of recipes.
Not one to buy paper for notes that originated in, or for, the kitchen, she would jot down recipes on the blank sides of ad inserts from the local PennySaver. I lived some 500 miles away from Mom after I got married, so recipes arrived in my mailbox.
Sometimes I would get a recipe on the inside of a card, one from the assorted “all-occasion” variety that school groups used to sell as fundraisers. The two of us had a running joke about one particularly cheesy card. The sentiment written inside was so bad, we decided, that we agreed we’d never actually send it to anyone.
Sure enough, she copied her apple harvest cake recipe right inside of it and mailed it to me. As I write this, I can smell the cake now baking in my oven. The well-worn grease-stained card is on my kitchen counter. I wonder if she can see me laugh out loud.
Mom’s sidebar scribbles were the advisory critiques, like “I added nuts.” She would often supply the recipe’s nearest thing to a pedigree. For glorified beans she squeezed in “Joan’s recipe from Homer’s mother.” (If you’re wondering what transformed the baked beans to the level of glorified, it was this: prunes. And, no, I haven’t had the courage to make this yet.)
Other marginal notes added editorial flavor. “Had this stew at Stackie’s. Delish!” Or simply, “Enjoy!” One faded yellow scrap has written in Mom’s once-neat script, “For your spare (?) time here’s a good recipe for cookies. Hope I have time to make some. I am making borsch today. Igloo cake is now in the oven.”
Igloo cake. Now there’s an image. Mom would use her stainless steel Revere bowl, the biggest one it made – the only one she owned – to create what became an annual tradition at Christmas.
I remember her recipe called for a dozen eggs – that alone was pretty amazing to my 10-year-old mind. Baked in the bowl that had the flat bottom, this gigantic pound cake was inverted on a platter, and topped with white icing.
Then she carefully used a toothpick dipped in blue food coloring to create the illusion of ice blocks, piped decorative icing around the base and outlined the “doorway” excavation.
To finish it off, Mom used a three-inch Santa wax candle, the kind that every five-and-dime used to sell at Christmastime in the 1950s. A twisted black licorice suggested a plume of smoke from the chimney.
Mom passed away in 2008. I salvaged more of her favorites that were wedged into her dog-eared favorite cookbooks. Now, akin to a museum curator, I have started to transcribe these precious originals. I am treating them as the treasured artifacts of a relationship, kitchen-tested, tucked in my recipe box for safekeeping.
They are there any time I need them, to see faint traces of her vanilla extract and, more, the sweetness of what a mother and daughter could share, measure for measure.