Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Recipes Tell the Story of A Life

Most people save photographs.

I’ve kept a journal for some years.

A charming little book, Love, Loss, and What I Wore, documents a life with clothing. I gave that one to several friends and now, years later, it's a play.

I was caught unawares when culling and sorting my recipes turned into another route to Memory Lane.

Some of the earliest recipes are hand-written by people who no longer or rarely make the old Polish dishes.

Sandy Dykeman's banana cake recipe reminded me of high school and our early college time. I haven't seen her or made the recipe in decades. But I cannot throw it out, for I have no photos of her, and it is a memory worth having every once in a while.

Some of the recipes are from Cosmopolitan, the 1970s bible of liberated young career women. Sandy and I tried many of these. A recipe for shrimp, smothered in fresh summer tomatoes and goat cheese, is one I still use from time to time.

One of my early jobs in newspaper was typing recipes. Of those I saved, the paper has turned brown, and sometimes the letters have faded so nearly indistinct.

Here's a recipe for chicken cacciatore I made the first time I had my husband over for dinner. He was living with another woman, and she came too. I did not see our love affair coming. The memories are sprinkled with stardust. That recipe stays.

Quite a few recipes are from the healthy recipe books a Baltimore friend and I used. I remember bringing my own containers to buy different kinds of flour, rice, and yeast from tubs at the Sikh health food store. Is it still there, I wonder? I am pretty sure that the bins probably are no more.

Saturday was a wonderful day to visit the Baltimore markets, come home with my booty, drink wine, cook, and entertain. Many of these recipes are stained with ingredients from those times long past.

A few recipes are from gourmet cooking school. Reporters are no longer allowed to accept such freebies, but I learned a lot.

Some of these are keepers, especially the salad dressings.

I was wondering as I sorted through these if I had ever allowed myself the luxury of walnut oil for a salad dressing. I think I must try it, however expensive it may be. Then I see a notation of a Baltimore supermarket where I obviously bought it. I remember now, I tried it, and I was not as impressed as perhaps I ought to be.

Here are the recipes I cooked when we were poor – lots of beans and tortillas and casseroles and very little meat. There are some good soup and stew recipes among this lot, things I cook now and again.

There are recipes for things I no longer eat – veal and pork. A growing collection of salad and vegetable recipes as my preference has gone in that direction. I begged for the antipasto salad when I was a girl and my family sent out for pizza. I don't know where that craving came from, among my meat-and-potatoes relatives. I still embrace vegetables and increasingly the world does, too.

Sometimes I wonder at why I kept a recipe. Do I really need a instructions to make deviled eggs? Or herb chicken? These are dumped.

I haven't need instructions to whip up easy dishes -- pasta, omelettes, steak -- since the 1970s. It's always been about what's in the cupboard and what goes with what. I get two or three recipes for a dish from my cookbooks or the internet, compare the ingredients, and decide how I will do it. This comes from those years of typing recipes. I quickly saw that certain things go with other things and the many variations of a single dish. Perhaps I also have been blessed with a keen sense of smell. That helps, too.

I continue sorting and culling the dishes of times past, memories of people I have loved drifting through my fingers like fairy dust.