I was rearranging my bookshelves the other night–they look so much better now, you’ll be happy to know–when I found myself clutching my grandmother’s yearbooks, which I’ve written about before and which are chock-full of wonderful details about her life and things that I know I’ll treasure forever. I don’t know how I got lucky enough to be the person in my family who gets to keep them, but I’m so happy I am, even though I feel a pang when I look at or touch them.
Anyway, I’d carefully placed them in their new spot on my shelves when I glanced down and saw another book of my grandmother’s that I’m now the owner of. This isn’t like her yearbooks, though; it’s quite different. No, this is The Settlement Cookbook.
Subtitle: The Way to a Man’s Heart.
My grandmother wrote her name and the date–1942–inside the front cover of the book, which was authored by someone named “Mrs. Simon Kander” (I love that the publisher included the “Mrs.”). It was published in 1941, so right in the throes of World War II, and I’m fairly certain that, by that point, my grandfather was overseas in Europe, so maybe my grandmother was trying to bolster her recipe repertoire for when he got back. I don’t know. What I do know is that this book is a veritable encyclopedia of food. Who knew that there were so many ways to prepare a rice ring? Does a potato chocolate torte–made with freshly cooked and riced potatoes–sound good to you? How about sardine pasties, or something called a “snack porcupine”? Mrs. Kander has included all–and many, many, many more–of these recipes inside her book, which weighs in at a whopping 622 pages. In the back, she’s even planned out some hypothetical menus for events like “corn on the cob dinner” or “mock steak dinner.”
On the first page, my grandmother has transcribed a recipe for bread and butter pickles, which calls for six quarts of sliced cucumbers and instructs the cook to “be careful to avoid boiling, as that makes the pickles soft” (ha! Hello, I’m twelve). On the back, she’s written down a recipe for barbecued franks with a Worcestershire-based sauce. I don’t know how or why she came to choose those particular recipes to jot down, but I do know that her handwriting in 1942 looks exactly the same as it did last year, which is both comforting and so sad, and I also know that Mrs. Kander’s expansive and detailed collection of recipes didn’t much help my grandmother in the culinary department; she was never a great cook. (Thankfully, she and my grandfather were already married, so clearly cooking ability was not the only way to a man’s heart.)
Still, this is another one of those irreplaceable items that I feel so lucky to have. The dog-eared and stained pages make me feel close to my grandmother–I like thinking of her standing in her kitchen, her brow furrowed as she stirred whatever was simmering in a pot on the stove. And who knows? Maybe someday I’ll have an occasion for which I need to make a “snack porcupine,” and when I do, I can smile, wipe my hands on my apron, and say that I got the recipe from my grandmother’s old cookbook.