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Uncovering the Past Through Recipes

by Elizabeth Ryan 


Tags: Great Writing, recipes, cooking, Gastronomica, Elizabeth Ryan,

recipe-boxHarriet Bell penned a quaint little piece in Gastronomica called “The Secret Lives of Recipes,” in which she shares her affection for old recipe collections, and her musings about the lives of those who once owned the cards. Bell starts by sharing how she came to acquire her mother’s recipe box when she died and explains, “like my mother’s, these well-worn boxes with food-stained cards offer clues to what American women were really cooking for their families and friends, and often glimpses into more personal aspects of their lives.” Here’s a little taste of what she means:

“The red-and-white metal box is the saddest in my collection. This woman (Polish, perhaps, because of the shorthand recipes for chrusciki [cookies] and paczki [doughnuts]) divided her recipes in alphabetical order by recipe title, rather than by category. Each divider has a letter handwritten in script and Roman…much like the embroidered samplers from earlier times. That first divider has penciled subway directions (“New York City to John’s”) that read, “Take the BMT Broadway line at Times Square…” John lived on Bushwick Avenue in Brooklyn. I’m guessing the relationship didn’t work out: There’s an almost-full packet of blank index cards in the back and not more than ten handwritten cards. Did John dump my heroine, or was it the other way around? Was her heart so broken that she couldn’t continue with her recipe box? Hey John, you missed out on Meaty Ring, Choc Mayonnaise Cake and those Polish goodies!”

Source: Gastronomica (article not available online)

Image by prettytypewriters, licensed under Creative Commons.