I've spent the last few weeks gathering, typing and assembling some of the recipes we grew up with in our family. Traditional stuff like the Christmas Tree coffee cake and decorated Valentine cookies my mom made every year, and the cookies and goodies my grandmother made. Mom also carried over some of the main dishes of her family, added some from my dad's family, and added in a few she discovered along the way.
My best friend, Julie, called Friday night, and we got talking about those recipes. I mentioned one for a cherry dumpling, which is a slightly sweet fluffy dumpling cooked in slightly thickened cherries with juice, served hot. Mainly I mentioned it because I ran across one for a caramel dumpling made much the same way, but cooked in bubbling homemade caramel sauce. Something made her pause - she sort of remembered something like that from when she was little living in Iowa. She then mentioned her grandmother making a bread with All Bran cereal, just kind of shaking the stuff in until it looked and felt right - and the fact that somehow they were alone in the house one day when her grandma made a loaf. They promptly sat down and ate the entire thing!
These recipes have turned up in books of poetry, scrawled on tiny slips of often written in faded pencil. They can be as obtuse as just a list of ingredients, or have notes like "add enough flour to make a roll type dough." Many appear to be variations on one particular recipe, and that one may actually be from as far back as one of my great grandmothers. They cooked on woodburning stoves - I even remember the one in my grandmother's Michigan kitchen! She'd have the thing going in the mornings to warm up the house and it was always a welcome treat first thing in the morning.
"Aunt Elsie" - absolutely no relation, but never called anything else - lived across the street and cooked on a wood stove even into the early 1960s. I imagine she didn't even have recipes - just threw in what she knew was right. And her sugar cookies and molasses cookies were the absolute best. Recently, on a visit with her daughter, I was gifted with a wonderful inheritance - Aunt Elsie's cookie cutters.
All of this has made me wonder . . . where are the true cooks of today? Somebody who takes the time to make brownies from scratch because they simply taste better (and different from everybody else's that seem to come from box mixes). It seems that cooking was something they just naturally did - and they always made time to do it right. Some of the old fantastic concoctions these women made!
It galvanized me into action today! I had to have some of the true, old fashioned sugar cookies. So I made a recipe that seems to come from way back - perhaps a friend of my grandmother's who passed it on to my mom, who then passed it to me. I've since passed it along to my son and my brother's kids. Basically it is a wonderful recipe we use for the Valentine cookies, but I omitted the fancy icing.
There's just something about the comfort foods we had as kids - it brings us all together somehow. Oh, how I wish some of the people from my youth were still around cooking those wonderful things again!