Right now I'm

December 15, 2003

The Book

When Grandma passed away a little over two years ago (two years?), I spent a bit of time going through the VERY limited items my uncle considered allowing me to take away with me (as executor of her estate, he was allowed to do that - pissed me off to no end). Junk jewelry, my childhood toys, the dollies she made (he only let me take one at that time, then shipped the rest to me later that year, along with my mother's Hummels and some other stuff - I think his girlfriend put the box together and snuck them in without him knowing). No pictures other than the ones I managed to hide away in my lap while we were looking through the family photos for a selection to put on the picture board at her wake. Absolutely none of her paintings. He wouldn't let me even look at her collection of letters - from me, from Grandpa, from my mother, from her vast network of offshoot family members.

But this entry isn't about what I wasn't allowed to have. It's about what I was able to take away with me.

I don't know how, or even if I had the presence of mind to think of it, or if Grandma was somehow there and gently prodding my memory. It had been such an awful, messed up, blurry weekend that I was just grateful and relieved that I remembered at all. Even as I thought of it, I knew that this was one of the most important things to me. I almost choked on the instant anxiety I felt, that my uncle wouldn't let me have it. I think a crazy plan to break in at night and steal it mushroomed in my head, even in the same seconds that I thought of it.

My Grandmother's collection of recipes. "The Book". A stained, tattered binder stuffed full of little slips of paper and newspaper cut-outs. Precious bits of my childhood memories, contained in brief notes written in margins and on index cards. Recipes written in her hand, in my mother's hand, or from the friends and relatives that she considered to have cooking skills on par with her own. They were a very select group, after all. Traditional. Old fashioned. They did it the right way.

Every delicious dish I ever remember her serving is in that book, complete with the vivid memories of her cooking in the kitchen, recipe book open on the table. The times that she would try to prepare something from memory but couldn't remember a certain detail, she'd ask me to "Go get The Book." And I'd pull it out from the small bookshelf next to the dining table, careful to hold it tightly shut so the slips of paper wouldn't fly haphazardly to the floor.

I needed this. I needed to keep the connection to my Grandmother alive inside me. I hesitated for a long time, book in hand, trying to figure out a way to broach the subject with my uncle. All I knew was that I wasn't leaving without it, and I could dig in just as stubbornly as he could.

My uncle's girlfriend, bless her, saw me clutching it. In her thick French-Canadian accent she said, "Oh, you must take that with you. All the delicious things she used to prepare. You must share that with your family." And she gave my uncle a Look. And he didn't say a word.

I almost cried. I would have, had there been any tears left to shed that day.

Looking through the recipes makes me happy, bittersweet though it is. It will probably sound weird, but it's like my Grandmother is talking to me again - I can hear her voice in the way she wrote the recipes, or in the notations she added. It's a comfort even to just see her handwriting. And, too, it came to me as an eerie shock that I recognized my mother's handwriting - a neater version of my sister's. So I had this small connection to her, as well - one that I didn't have before.

I cherish this book. I'm almost nervous to handle some of the recipes, they're so old and worn, nearly transparent. But my Grandmother didn't have it - didn't gift it to me, as I know she did - just to be packed away, preserved, in a box. These recipes were meant to be prepared and shared, adding new memories to go along with the ones I have already. And maybe making them a tradition for my little family, in years to come.

So, here are some of my favorites. If you prepare any of them, I'd really love to know how they turn out.

A word, though, about how my grandmother wrote recipes. They seldomly followed the traditional "recipe" order - list the ingredients, then list the preparation directions. Usually she'd put some of the ingredients up top, then throw some surprise ones in there down in the directions. Sometimes she wouldn't put all of the ingredients or prep instructions in at all, relying on her memory. Plus, you know, there's the creative spelling and abbreviations. So. They've been formatted to fit your screen. And I've done my best to fill in the blanks where I can.

Excellent Zucchini Relish

This is a VERY prominent fixture in my childhood memories. This stuff is FANTASTIC. My grandmother would make it once a year, jarring enough to last us until the next fall. She's spend hours in the basement (where it was cool), grinding away at her hand grinder, going through huge amounts of zucchini. There was always plenty - the garden usually exploded with them. That's what I like about Maine - you cast down the seeds, and barely need to tend to anything before you have an explosion of veggies.

I'd put this on my hamburgers and hot dogs, and on my "nice" ham and cheese sandwiches. My grandmother would mix it into her potato salad. Aw, man, this stuff is SO GOOD, I'll have to make it sometime. But I'll have to get a grinder.

12 cups ground zucchini
4 cups ground onions
1 red pepper, ground
1 green pepper, ground
5 tbsp salt

2 1/2 cups cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
6 cups sugar

3/4 tbsp corn starch
1 tbsp dry mustard
3/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
3/4 tsp. ground tumeric
1 1/2 tsp. celery seed
1/2 tsp. black pepper

Mix ground veggies with salt and sit over night in an enamel kettle (big ol' pot with a lid). In a.m., rinse with cold water. Mix the cider vinegar with the water, add to sugar and stir until dissolved. Pour over veggies. Make a paste of the corn starch, dry mustard, ground nutmeg, ground tumeric, celery seed, and black pepper - adding just enough water for a paste consistency. Add to the veggies. Stir well.

Bring the pot to a boil, cook and stir over moderate heat for 30 minutes. Can in jars at once.

Here is some information on canning jars, the hot packing method used here, and the boiling water bath canning procedure. Also, has a whole section dedicated to canning.

Apple Cake

I've served this for family gatherings a couple of times. It's great with your morning coffee, or for dessert with a dollop of fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. This was a staple comfort food at Grandma's house.

2 cups sugar
1 cup oil
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon (optional)
1 tsp nutmeg (optional)

3 cups chopped apples
1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts or other)

Mix sugar, oil, vanilla, and eggs in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and optional cinnamon and/or nutmeg. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, mix until blended. Fold in chopped apples and nuts. Pour into a greased 13x9 inch baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour, or until a toothpick or knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Maine Baked Beans

This recipe needs no preamble. This is a staple dish in any Maine household. This recipe works well in a crock pot, too - just mix all the ingredients together, dump 'em in, and cook on low all day.

2 lbs kidney beans
1 lb salt pork (or more, up to 2 lbs if you love it)
1 tsp. salt
3/4+ cup molasses
2 tsp dry mustard
2 tbsp. brown sugar
2 cups water
2 sweet onions

Soak kidney beans in a cold water bath overnight. In the morning, put one onion, cut into large chunks, into each of the pots (2 bean pots, or 2 large baking dishes, or what have you). Put 1/2 lb of salt pork ("salt pork makes the beans!"), cut into chunks, into each pot. Drain the beans, and evenly divide them into the pots (leave enough room to add liquid for the cooking process). Mix salt, molasses, dry mustard, and brown sugar into 2 cups of water. Pour half of the mixture into each pot, and stir (I tend to double this mixture to make the beans extra saucy).

Put a cookie sheet under the bean pots as it may boil over into your oven. Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Cook for three hours or until beans are tender - monitor cooking process continually and add additional water and molasses to the pots as needed.

Pumpkin Bread

My Grandmother would make two batches of this each year - one batch right before Thanksgiving, and one right before Christmas. She'd wrap the individual loaves in tinfoil, and label who they were going to in permanent marker on a piece of masking tape. She'd keep one loaf for us, and I'd eat it for breakfast (and mid-morning snack, and afternoon snack, and after dinner) with a spreading of cream cheese.

2 cups canned pumpkin
4 eggs
1 cup cooking oil
2/3 cup cold water
3 1/3 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
3 cups sugar
2 tsp. baking soda

Sift together flour, soda, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg into a large bowl. In another bowl, beat eggs until thick and light colored. Add pumpkin, oil and water - mix until blended. Turn mixture into flour mixture, mix by hand until smooth. Fold in walnuts. Portion batter into three small loaf pans. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour. Cool slightly in pan. Turn onto cooling rack. Wrap in aluminum foil and wait one day (I don't know why, that's what it says!).

Home Made Kahlua

I don't know if she ever made this recipe or not (I was too young to consume it if she did, anyway). I thought it should be added to this entry simply because of the fact that I found about ten hand-written copies of it stuck in the binder.

4 cups sugar
3 cups water
3/4 cup instant coffee
1 quart 100 proof vodka
2 tbsp. Hershey's chocolate syrup
2 tsp. vanilla

Combine sugar and water in a large pot, bring to a boil, simmer 10 minutes. Put instant coffee in a small saucepan and add just enough boiling water to dissolve the coffee. Add dissolved coffee to sugar and water mixture, stir. Add chocolate syrup. Let cool. Add vodka and vanilla. Good instantly (heh, heaven forbid we should have to wait for the booze!), no fermenting necessary. Makes 2 1/2 quarts.

Chicken Divan

My Grandmother got this recipe from a lady who went to our congregation. She made it so often for my sister that my sister got sick of it. Grammy was like that - once she found a dish that company liked, she made it every time they came over. I don't get to make this one much - no one in my family but me likes curry and broccoli. But this is an excellent, excellent dish.

2 packages frozen broccoli (14 oz total), or one large head of fresh broccoli
2 cups cooked chicken (three breasts)
2 cans cream of chicken soup
1 tsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp curry powder
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
3/4 cup mayonnaise
3/4 cup bread crumbs
2-3 tbsp melted butter or margarine

Cook broccoli to desired tenderness. Arrange on greased casserole dish, place chicken on top. Combine soups, mayo, lemon juice and curry. Mix and pour over broccoli and chicken. Sprinkle on cheese. Combine bread crumbs and melted butter, sprinkle over top. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Elegant Chicken

This is another of her "cook it until they're sick of it" chicken recipes. This one I make every now and then for my family, because really, how can you go wrong with chicken and rice? One word of warning, though - the rice can easily be undercooked, so test it before you serve it.

1 1/4 cups uncooked rice (instant works well, too - use 2 1/2 to 3 cups)
1/2 cup sherry wine
1 can cream of celery soup
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/2 stick of margarine or butter, melted
4 whole chicken breasts
3 oz sliced almonds
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
paprika to taste

Place rice in bottom of oblong dish. Mix soups with a single can of water, margarine, and sherry. Take 1 1/2 cup of the mixture (or 2 1/2 cups for instant rice) and mix with the rice in the casserole dish. Place chicken breasts over rice, pour the rest of the soup mixture over the chicken and rice. Sprinkle with paprika, almonds, and parmesan. Bake at 300 degrees for 2 1/2 hours, or until done.

Melt In Your Mouth Blueberry Cake

Don't you just love the names of some of these recipes? This is an awesome recipe that Grandma would make during blueberry season. There was a huge bank of blueberry bushes near our house, and we'd go out in the long twilight with our baskets and pick these enormous blueberries. Two for the basket, one for the mouth. Two for the basket, one for the mouth. She and I would both come home with hands and mouths stained with blueberry juice. Our arms and legs, too - from slapping at the mosquitos with our stained hands.

1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
2 egg whites
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
2 egg yolks
1/3 cup milk
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder

Beat 2 egg whites and add 1/4 cup sugar, set aside. Cream 1/2 cup shortening, add remaining sugar and mix well. Add 2 egg yolks, beat until creamy. Add vanilla and salt. Sift flour and baking powder, add alternately with 1/3 cup milk. Fold in blueberries (carefully! don't mush 'em!). Carefully fold in egg white mixture. Pour mixture into greased 8x8 pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes.

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

The neighbor would usually have a ton of carrots left over from their garden. You ever seen the Bugs Bunny episode where he's in Jack and the Beanstalk, and he wakes up among carrots the size of trees? These were those kind of carrots. They'd deliver a bunch to Grammy, and Grammy would put some of them into a couple of batches of cake. One cake would go to the neighbors, who would usually give back some sort of preserves made from the proceeds of their garden.

1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup chopped pecans
3 cups uncooked grated carrots

Mix oil, sugar and eggs in a large bowl, beat until creamy. Sift together flour, cinnamon, salt, soda, and baking powder. Add gradually to first mixture, beat until well combined. Fold in pecans and carrots. Bake in 9x13 cake pan at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Allow to cool completely before frosting.

1 8 oz package cream cheese, softened
1 stick oleo (I had to look this up, it's just a stick of butter or margarine. What the hell is oleo?? Thank God for Ask Jeeves.)
4 cups sifted powdered sugar
2 tsp. vanilla (the original recipe didn't call for this, I like it with vanilla)
dash salt

Cream together cream cheese, butter, and vanilla. Gradually add sugar and salt. Mix well, until good spreading consistency. Spread thickly on cooled cake.

Lemon Squares

Yer basic lemon squares...

2 cups flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup margarine or butter
1/2 cup Crisco or other shortening
3 eggs
4 tbsp lemon juice (also works well with orange juice, lime juice, or probably any other kind of juice you fancy)
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder

Cut shortening and butter into 2 cups flour and powdered sugar until crumbly. Press into bottom of greased 9x13 baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden.

Blend eggs and lemon juice, set aside. Combine sugar, 1/4 cup flour, and powder. Add egg mixture and blend well. Pour over crust and bake 20-25 minutes, until set.

Rhubarb Sour Cream Cake

This, along with strawberry rhubarb pie, made an appearance every July. I associate it with my birthday and trips to Reid State Park (and battles with the black flies). Rhubarb sure is an odd vegetable, but do not discount it because of its oddity!!! It becomes sweet/tart with the massive amounts of sugar.

4 cups cut rhubarb
1 stick unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/3 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 cup sour cream
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. nutmeg

In a large bowl, cream butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Bean in egg and vanilla. Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt. Stir into butter mixture. Fold in rhubarb and sour cream. Spoon batter into greased 13x9 baking pan. Combine sugar and nutmeg, sprinkle over batter. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Cool on rack. Serve with whipped cream.

Salmon Loaf

I. Love. This. Stuff. I've never made it for my family, because the very name makes them poo-pooh it. It's not "fishy" or anything like that. It's rich and delicate and awesome. This was a frequent winter dinner at Grandma's house. She'd serve it with a cream sauce, but I liked it plain. We'd usually either have scalloped potatoes or rice pilaf along with it.

1 1 lb can red salmon (reserve liquid)
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. grated onion
1 tbsp. chopped parsley
1 cup milk
3 tbsp. butter
3 tbsp. flour
3 eggs

Drain salmon, reserve liquid in small bowl. Flake salmon into a medium bowl. Season with salt, pepper, onion, lemon juice, and parsley. Mix well. Prepare sauce with milk and liquid from salmon (you may not need all of it - don't make the mixture too runny) thickened with flour and margarine. Beat eggs until light colored, then add to salmon mixture along with the sauce.

Thoroughly grease a casserole mold or dish (8x8 or 10x10) and place in a pan of water to bake. Bake for 50 minutes at 350 degrees. Serve from casserole dish, or loosen edges and turn onto a platter.

Zucchini Bread

Same as the carrot cake, this recipe was pulled out to take care of the abundance of leftover zucchini from the garden. Yes, even after making a batch of relish. And same as the pumpkin bread, this was wrapped in aluminum foil and distributed among the worthy. Excellent with a spread of cream cheese.

3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
2 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups grated zucchini (unpeeled)
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
3 cups unsifted flour
1 cup chopped walnuts

Mix in order that ingredients are given. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour, or until a knife or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Use either a 3 quart bundt pan or 8x5 loaf pans.

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Original content belongs to ME.
Exceptions are noted.
Stealing really isn't recommended, or necessary.
©Laura Charon 2000 - 2003.