November 18, 2009 10:03:00 AM
If you are lucky enough, your mother or grandmother had a recipe box that now lives in your own kitchen. I don''t know many cooks who actively keep one nowadays. I think the advent of instant recipes via the Internet, along with enough published cookbooks to warrant their own section in bookstores, have lessened the importance of saving passed-down recipes. And, many of these passed-down recipes have lost their relevance to today''s cook, with amounts given in pinches, or ingredients that include such items as oleo or prunes (lots of prunes in those old recipes).
I don''t have a personal recipe box; however, my mother had one. Nothing fancy. It was a gray, metal file card box, the large kind. Nothing cutesy for her; she was practical in an odd way. By that, I mean I''m not surprised at the metal box. Rather, I''m surprised she didn''t spray paint it gold. After she died, I found more than 10 cans of gold spray paint in her tool cabinet.
I took the recipe box and spent days reading the recipes while crying and laughing. Most of the friends she notated had long since died, and Ella, who cooked for us for years, was in her late 90s. I sat and remembered some of the dishes (like Ella''s pineapple ice box pie), thought about cocktail parties when I''d wander through the room loving the attention I got, and smiled with love at recipes whose name began with "Daddy''s -----."
When I was ready, I sat at my computer and began typing the recipes up, adding a paragraph to each describing an event associated with the particular dish, or trying to paint a picture of Daddy''s Sunday night suppers. This was good for me during my somewhat self-imposed aloneness.
About one-third of the way through this project, my computer died, infected by a virus that consumed everything in its way -- including my beloved family cookbook.
I still have the recipe cards and notes, but haven''t ever felt the same about writing the cookbook. I did, however, make recipe cards of a very few of the gems, with a few comments written on them, for a neighborhood tour of homes a few years ago. We served the items in a home during the tour and handed out the cards to visitors.
Kitchens of the past
My friend, Bob Raymond, who knows all and sees all, told me about a copy of a cookbook that chronicles the Kochtitzky family with recipes from various Hardys, Billups and other Columbians. I now have a copy on loan and spent a night recently reading through it. How fun to not only read the recipes, but to also read the names with Bob''s notes on how one person was related to another.
I am told the recipes were recorded by Marcella Billups, who was a dear friend of Jane Kochtitzky Quinn (sister of Julia Wade Kochtitzky Franklin and Morse Kochtitzky). I''ve never been very good at family trees, but let me try here. The parents of Julia Wade, Jane and Morse were Julia Morse and Otto Kochtitzky, known as Danny and Miss Julia. Nanna was Julia Morse''s mother. Other names in the book are Corrinne Stephenson, who is the grandmother of Rod Kochtitzky (married to Jane Hardy, Anne''s daughter). Her daughter was Marjorie Stephenson, who married Morse Kochtitzky. And, the book has recipes from friends and cousins.
One thing I''ve noticed with these recipe collections is that a particular item seems to be in so many recipes. In the Kochtitzky album it is prunes and dates. Who knew? Another is that these collections are a wonderful source for homemade pickle recipes. You can be sure they are tried and true. And, lastly, these recipe boxes will undoubtedly have some dandy cocktail recipes. You can be sure there were some lively parties with Navy punch, or perhaps log cabin cocktails.
I urge you to go to your aunts, mothers and grandmothers and ask them about their recipe box. Take the time now to sit down and let them tell you how the recipe came to be. Have them share remembrances of cooking with their own mothers; pick a recipe now and make it together and be sure to include your own children or grandchildren.
With today''s column, I''m including a few recipes from the Kochtitzky cookbook, along with the name of the person they were attributed to. The cocktail spread and garlic cheese should be great with crackers. There is no name with the cheese jelly, but I think it sounds delicious to have on the side of the plate with a green salad. I hope you enjoy these.
1 cup mayonnaise
One can Gerber''s strained baby spinach
One can anchovies, chopped fine (use oil from anchovies also)
Grated onion, or onion juice to taste.
(Source: Frankel Wolff)
1 pound rat cheese (preferably New York cheddar)
2 1/2 packages Philadelphia cream cheese
One button garlic
1 teaspoon salt
(Note: Contemporary cooks can use a food processor in place of a meat grinder.)
(Source: LaGrange Dupree)
1/2 pint double cream
1/2 package gelatin, dissolved in a little cold water, then put on the stove to heat
Add 1/2 cup grated cheese (let cheese melt and add the cream, whipped stiff.)
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
Pinch of salt
4. Blowing through History BOOK REVIEWS