My Mama’s recipe box
November 3, 2016
I’ve been traveling through time this morning.
A few weeks ago, an old family friend asked if I had my Mama’s recipe for candied sweet potatoes. I told her I would bet it was in Mama’s recipe box, which I had…somewhere.
Except I couldn’t find it.
I thought it was residing in my cookbook bookcases somewhere, but I went through those and couldn’t locate it. I looked around in the kitchen, didn’t see it there. But a week or so ago, I came back from being out of town and Child A had it sitting prominently atop the bar. She’d been cleaning, and she found it wedged behind some other books.
So today, as my plans had been curtailed by babysitting duties for an ailing AGC2 (stomach bug, and fortunately, it appears to have been only a light case), I decided to go through it.
It was like being a kid in Benton County, Tennessee again.
The little wooden box is crammed as full as it will go with 3 x 5 index cards, recipes either handwritten in faded ink or typewritten on our old manual. Many of the cards were the “from the kitchen of _____” type, and the names read like an array of faces from days past at church and in the community. The cards were interspersed with bits and pieces of newsprint or magazine pages, where she’d clipped recipes from the paper. You can tell the most-used recipes because the cards are all spotted with batter, grease or liquid.
There was her recipe for popcorn balls. These were standard handouts at Halloween, before anyone was worried about razor blades or needles in homemade treats. A stick of butter, a cup of brown sugar, 1/2 cup syrup (I suspect this was white Karo, as that was the syrup of choice in recipes). You bring that to a boil, remove from heat and add a cup of condensed milk and a teaspoon of vanilla. Then you cook the whole thing to the soft boil stage.
That’s the end of the recipe, so it doesn’t say how much popcorn to use, but I remember it being a big dishpan full; she’d drizzle the syrup all over it, then mix it with a big spoon, and finally shape it into balls by hand. It was my job to wrap them in plastic wrap, held shut by a twist tie.
We might have lived out in the country, but it didn’t matter. Folks would drive out from town to trick or treat at our house.
There was her banana pudding recipe. I loved that banana pudding, the old fashioned kind with the real cooked custard — none of this instant pudding, Cool Whip and condensed milk stuff, although that’s good, too. Her recipe:
“Prepared boiled custard with 3 egg holks, beaten, 1 cup sugar, 2 tbsp flour, and 2 tbsp butter. Cream well and add 2 cups milk and i tsp vanilla. Cook in double boiler until thick. Peel and slice four good-sized bananas Place a layer in the bottom of a bakign dish, then a layer of vanilla wafers, cover with custard to soak good. Continue this until all is ued. Top with meringue and brown.”
I’ve got to see if I can recreate that one.
There’s the chess pie. As a little kid, I LOVED me some chess pie. Mama used to tell how she had baked two pies for a potluck dinner at church, and had put them on the kitchen table to cool. She came through the kitchen to find me sitting cross-legged atop the table, butcher knife in hand, having hacked myself a piece of pie out of one of them and being busy eating it. I had also drawn out where I planned to cut my next piece, from the other one. She did not recount how old I was, but as I can’t remember it, I’m saying I had to be under 4.
To make that one, you “slightly beat 3 whole eggs and combine with 1 cup sugar, 1/2 cup white syrup, 1 tsp vanilla and 3/4 stick melted butter. Pour into unbaked pie crust and place in 350 oven for about 8 minutes, or until lightly browned on top, then reduce heat to 300 and cook for 45 minutes. This is so sweet it’ll make your teeth hurt, but Lord, it’s good.
There was the tea based punch recipe, the punch that was served at every bridal and baby shower held in our town for about a 10-year period, I think. You combined 3 cups sugar with 2 5-oz cans frozen lemonade, 2 pints of apple juice, 4 pints cranberry juice, 1 pint of orange juice and 1 pint of strong tea. That base was mixed with 4 quarts of water. Mama’s recipe noted if you mixed the sugar with some of the water and made a simple syrup, it’d all mix up better. And one should, she noted, garnish in the punchbowl with fruit and sprigs of mint.
There’s also, in the box, an invitation to a gift tea honoring a bride-elect, in 1966. She scribbled a recipe for cole slaw on the back that is very close to my Jail Slaw recipe, except it’s not as sweet. Never remembered her making that. And one for cream mints, which is a business she got me started in, speaking of bridal showers and teas. She would make the petit fours, and I would make the mints, which involved combining 3 tbsp heavy cream with six drops of oil of peppermint and enough powdered sugar to make a fondant. One rolled out little balls and flattened them. Typically one did the mints in one color and piped a rosette of another color on top. I remember packaging them in greeting card boxes, which my grandmother saved religiously, with layers of waxed paper in between. I think they were $1.50 per 100 mints. I must have made a million of them.
A few of the recipes are in Daddy’s handwriting; one is for chocolate pie, which was always one of his favorites. It calls for “1 cup sweet milk (as opposed to buttermilk; the old folks all said sweet milk), 1/2 cup sugar, 2 egg yolks, 2 tbsp flour and 2 tbsp cocoa. Mix and cook until thick, then pour into an unbaked pie crust. Top with meringue and bake until a delicious golden brown.” To make the meringue, it goes on, “add 1 tablespoonful water to 2 egg whites, also very small pinch of salt and baking powder. Beat stiffly. Add 2 tbsp of sugar.”
I found the recipe for her potato doughnuts, which she used to mix up the night before and let rise overnight, and then fry the next day, always on a Saturday. I can remember awakening to the heavenly smell of doughnuts, and packing my face full of fried and glazed doughnut holes.
Often her directions could be less than clear. The directions for the doughnuts say, in their entirety, “Fry in 3 lbs shortening. Glaze with 1 1/2 boxes powdered sugar.” Well, OK, then. And sometimes they were completely absent. The recipe for Vinegar Pie calls for a half-cup sugar, 3 tbsp flour, 2 tbsp butter, 2 tbsp vinegar, 1 egg, 2 cups water, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp cloves, 1/2 tsp allspice. Doesn’t include a word about what you do with it. Can’t say I’m too anxious to try that one, anyway. I don’t ever remember eating it as a child.
I was thrilled, though, to find her recipe for her basic yellow cake, which formed the base for her banana cake and her fresh coconut cake, as well as petit fours and birthday cake. It calls for:
- 1/2 cup butter
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup sugar
- 3/4 cup milk
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 3 tsp baking powder
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 1/4 tsp salt
Sift and measure flour, then sift with baking powder and salt. Cream butter, add sugar gradually and beat. Then add egg yolks, beaten light. Put flavoring in milk and add flour and milk, alternating, to butter and sugar. Beat egg whites and fold in. Bake in layes at 325 to 350 for 20 minutes.
You will note these are mostly recipes for sweets. And Mama was diabetic, the serious Type 1 kind, and couldn’t eat any of it. She sure kept us supplied, though.
There are so many more, enough to keep me in the kitchen for ages. I will keep you n’ y’mama ‘n ’em posted.