Something my mother and myself, and to some extent my mother’s mother, had in common, is the obsessive clipping of recipes. I began as a teenager, tearing recipes from the Sunday edition, storing them in a folder. The folder changed to multiple folders, then to a two-drawer filing cabinet, topped with a stuffed basket of wonderful edible possibilities glowing from scraps of magazine pages waiting to be sorted and filed.
Upon my mother’s death, I ended up with bags and bags of recipe clippings, some of which had been my grandmother’s. I couldn’t throw them away without looking through them. First of all, there might be something hidden amongst the papers that had some personal relevance. Secondly, it is like a journey back through decades, through my mother’s married life. The innocent times, post World War, when science and convenience foods would save us all from heavy labor and devastating illnesses through better nutrition and medicines. Recipes featuring the new packaged gelatins, junket tablets, buttery cream sauces and gravies. Thirdly, the love of cooking was perhaps the only strong link between my mother and myself. With forty-two years between us in age, too much history had happened in between to make us easy with each other. My generation selfishly and unquestioningly enjoyed the product of the efforts of her generation to make the world safer, healthier and more free. She had made dresses out of her aunt’s curtains as a child; I had everything I needed, therefore acted as spoiled as I was. Yet I sat on the kitchen counter feeding vegetables through the meat grinder for holiday stuffing, learned how to tell when baked goods were done by the smell, beat up bread dough and caressed pastry. Food wasn’t just good to eat, it was how my mother fully expressed her love for her family. The hard work planning, shopping, coordinating, preparing and serving nutrionally balanced meals. I learned that from her in my own way. I raised my children vegetarian, preparing all the meals, reading labels and shopping around for the best foods, trying to keep likes and dislikes in mind, never using a microwave or food processor, but making each slice personal.
Going through the bags has taken me several years. It has been hard work. Being sentimental and having always been labeled as too sensitive, I am overwhelmed in the task. I think of my mother cutting, writing, making original recipes. One for peach crisp from a yellowed scrap of a New Jersey newspaper of 1959 was clipped two years before I was born. When she had four happy children still at home, in the house she and my father built amongst the trees in Point Pleasant, which I barely remember. Four hungry mouths to feed, plus my father who loved to eat, and relatives who would drop in for a game of cards. Mom would bake cakes, make sandwiches, happily feed the crowd. She wrote a cooking column called Beth’s Secrets to help support the large family. Mom entered the Pillsbury Bakeoff and won third prize, which included a trip to San Francisco for the judging. She decided that no matter what, the family would have to move to California; she was done shoveling snow.
Then there are the recipes dated when I was in high school, in college when there was just the two of them and only three of us kids left but all grown and flown. These are the ones that hurt the most, just as the ones I clip now do, too. When in our lifetime would we ever make these? Who for? Yet she still clipped up until the end. She had mountains of magazines that she hadn’t read, and as I bundled them up to recycle she insisted I leave the cooking ones because she would still go through them. I have the same bug. I have to look, I have to clip. Then when I want a recipe, I can’t find it, or I’m in a hurry and look in one of the hundred cookbooks I inherited from her, or more commonly now, Google it.
As I finish finally the last batch of her clippings, I find I’ve gleaned a small pile from it, recipes that I may just use sometime if… if I have grandchildren, if I have more mouths to feed. For recipes are hope for the future, a happy future when people can meet over a good meal and peace can reign if not on Earth, then just for a few hours over the dinner table.
My own bag of recipes is waiting for me to sort, although I’ve been much more discriminating since living alone most of the time. I really don’t want to put my children through the same emotional wringer of sorting through bags and files, but then, maybe they would just toss them. They are of the Internet age after all. I have reached to throw the clippings and files all in the recycler but something has stopped me. Perhaps that link with my past, perhaps the love of cooking, or maybe I know in my heart that if I keep them, I haven’t given up
hope for a happy future, highlighted with family and friends around a dinner table.