A recipe for contentment
When the weather turns cooler and the sunlight wanes as it is doing here, I spend much more of my time cooking. I frequently pull a well-worn three-ring binder off the shelf to remind myself of the ingredients of a favorite recipe or to look for inspiration for something different. I have a number of beloved cookbooks, too. The packing tape holding together the binding on my Joy of Cooking is a testament to its reliability as my go-to since my mother gave it to me with the inscription “Happy Cooking, Christmas 1975, Mom” in her familiar handwriting. Seeing that warms me up today as reliably as her beef barley soup did years ago. In 2021, Pinterest, cable TV food shows and their stars, video channels and countless apps provide enough content to fill a foodie’s library in very short order, but I admit to a tender contentment in the remembrances of recipes that family and friends have shared with me over the years.
There’s the index card with instructions for making Coleslaw Parfait Salad written in the neatly cursive and slightly trembly handwriting of my first husband’s grandmother, a woman who just missed living in three different centuries when she died in the late months of 1999 at 104 years old. I must have been a polite newlywed when I asked her to write down the ingredients of this dish. Perhaps she served it to me at a Sunday afternoon supper although I can’t remember eating it. And as I read through it trying to conjure it up in my memory, I know I’ve never made it. It’s a parfait salad made with gelatin, similar to an aspic – a favorite of the mid-20th century housewife – but this is whipped after it has set and then poured into a mold. I can’t imagine making this dish now, but I’ve kept the index card all these years.
Looking through these receipts, as my mother was fond of saying, is like doing research for an autobiography. I remember this one for Green Tomato Chili Sauce from Jill who taught me to love Mexican food. I was sure Devora introduced me to that one for the puffy, light sweetness of a German Pancake but the handwriting isn’t hers. Did her mom write this out for me? One of my favorite treasures is Pot de Crème written out by Nana, my Dad’s mom, but certainly not for me – probably for my mom, maybe when she was a young newlywed in the late 1940s, which is fun to imagine. Nana suggested that if mom wanted to adjust the six-serving recipe up to one that serves eight or nine – “2 hack it a bit,” she’s written hastily – there are ingredients with + and – signs next to them but nothing terribly specific. I like the learning curve there. It seems like she’s saying, “Here’s how I do it but just go for it until you figure out what works best for you.”
I think that’s not a bad way to advise someone seeking your expertise: This is what I know; I share it willingly with you; Use it as you wish; Improve upon it as you may.
Union organizer and activist Cesar Chavez said, “If you really want to make a friend, go to someone's house and eat with him... the people who give you their food give you their heart.” And if they share their recipes, that heart – that love – lives on and on.
Peace and love to you in the week ahead. BONUS: Nana’s Pot de Crème recipe just as it was written for Mom (and a link to some pretty antique pots de crème pots)
For 6 people 1 cup heavy cream 3 egg yolks
1/8 tsp. salt 2 tbsp. sugar 1 6 oz. package semi-sweet chocolate morsels 1 tbsp. strong coffee 1 tsp. vanilla If for 8-9 people 2 hack it a bit (note: line these notes up with "For 6 people") + ¼ more cream +/- + ½ egg +/- + 1 + 8 oz. + +1 +1
Combine cream/egg yolks/salt/sugar in a saucepan. Mix thoroughly until blended. Place over low heat, stirring constantly until mixture just begins to thicken, app. 3 minutes (watch carefully ole girl – yank it off the minute it seems a bit thick). Remove from heat. Stir in choc. morsels (fast to melt them), coffee and vanilla. Continue stirring until smooth. Pour into pot de crème (some lucky people go that route) or half full whatever. Chill.