My mother had few sentimental genes. Finished with formal schooling at age ten, she began cleaning houses to supplement a meager family income. After the death of her husband, when the “estate” left next to nothing for survival, she returned to menial work once again. She probably never heard—or if heard would not have understood—the term “mantra,” but God, family, hard work and generosity were syllables whispered often providing fuel through hard times. When she died at age 81, I—her only child—became the owner of her small house, and after selling her household goods and the car, approximately $1500 in cash remained to divide between her two adult step-children and myself. Few tangible keepsakes could be distributed to the grandchildren, but memories of unqualified love and acceptance and lots of good meals were distributed via her unwritten will.
Except… While going through Mother’s cupboards after her death, I found a few recipes written on cards and one or two recipe books with splattered pages. Memories returned like a flash flood. Mrs. Coulter’s Chocolate Cake. 14-Day Sweet Pickles. Seven Minute Frosting. Dill Pickles. Not many cards and one or two books, those few now in our daughter’s possession. Most recipes rested in her head and thus I have no idea how she made that delicious fried chicken which sizzled in a cast iron pan early on Sunday morning, to be then tucked into the oven and ready for after-church dinner.
These thoughts came tumbling back the other day as I opened my laptop computer to find a recipe for date bars. Again when I returned to the electronic world to find new ingredients for pork cutlets. Oh yes, I have a recipe box stuffed with a few of my own splattered cards, especially old standards like chocolate chip cookies (updated for high altitude!), banana bread, refrigerator dills, pie crust. But stuffed into most sections of the box are those recipes I copied from a magazine or newspaper or ones I begged off friends. And rarely used! My children will inherit even fewer “hard copy” recipes than I did, and I’m guessing that situation will be even more common as the technological years fly by.
But I don’t mourn this lack of food mementoes from my mother, nor the fact that my children will inherit only a few from me. While it would be nice to have more written records of that delicious food from my childhood, far more important are the memories which cannot be lost, ignored or stolen. Fresh-from-the- garden produce. Date filling between two sugar cookies. Dark chocolate cake with fluffy white (seven minute!) frosting for every birthday. Chicken noodle soup. And those pickles…