The New York Times Dining & Wine section recently published an article titled Between the Recipes, Scribbles Speak Volumes. Author Kate Murphy celebrates the “ghosts [who] linger in old cookbooks, possibly the most annotated form of literature.”
I was born into a family of writers. Proofreader’s marks are the only scribbles in the one cookbook I inherited. I pine for the treasure I didn’t receive from the cooks in my family—the notes and musings that would reveal the kitchen triumphs (and disasters?) of my Hoosier forebears.
On the other hand, my husband’s family is full of great cooks. Their extended Chicago Polish-Italian clan eagerly contributed when my sister-in-law decided to produce a family cookbook one year. Being a writer—not a cook—myself, I most appreciate the headnotes, the writings that family members use to introduce their recipes:
“Bernardi Antipasto” begins, “Bruno and his dear friend John perfected this recipe. As usual, there is enough for an army, however, your friends will still beg you to make more!” The recipe yields twenty-five pints. That’s all you need to feel like you know Bruno Bernardi.
I teach a workshop occasionally on writing your cookbook-memoir. I encourage my students to write lengthy personalized introductions (“headnotes,” for the writers out there)—the stories behind each dish, rich with the details of who, how, and why each was prepared. The recipes you love are an important part of your heritage and a gift to pass along to future generations, I tell my cook/memoirists. When those recipes are accompanied by stories, your gift becomes one-of-a-kind record of your place at Life’s table.
And yet those headnotes, however lovingly recorded, don’t replace the incomparable gift of handwritten notes on a stained page. “Recipe reviews and comments on Web sites . . . just aren’t the same,” says Laura Petelle, quoted in the Murphy’s article. I have to agree. In our digital age, when electronic communications have largely replaced written records, I long for those loving, handwritten notes in the margins of cookbooks and on recipe cards.
Paging through my one inherited cookbook, A Cooks Tour of Muncie, compiled by the Altrusa Club, I’m delighted to come across one that brings back a special memory for me—a recipe for Buckeyes. I thought these were only known in Ohio (the Buckeye State). The only time I’ve tasted them was at the 2007 Nashville APH Conference, which featured a competition between regions to decorate tables on which they displayed their personal history products during an event called Town Square.
Those homemade Buckeyes displayed on the Great Lakes Chapter’s table might just be what convinced the judges to give the Great Lakers first prize.
You might enjoy making some to share with friends. Be sure to leave a few stains and notes on the recipe!
About today’s contributor: Sarah White provides personal history services for individuals, families, businesses, and communities through her business, First Person Productions. Sarah is President of APH, the Association of Personal Historians.
Buckeyes photo by Fran Morley. Other photos from Sarah White’s family collection.