A while back I found myself rifling through my accordion file of recipes to find directions for making Autumn Fruit Salad. I have it in my bag of tricks for crowd-pleasers—a dish that’s a really dessert disguised as salad.
Of course it was in the last place I looked, but as I weeded through clippings and handwritten notes, I decided to thin the file. Deciding what to keep in a recipe file can be a dilemma. You recognize a friend’s handwriting from, say, the 1990s and I have no idea what that dish looked or tasted like. That’s why I write a date on recipes I use and like, so at least I know I’ve tried them.
And if I haven’t replicated a dish in say, 20 or 30 years, maybe it’s time to throw it away. After this most recent purge, the bellows of the accordion file are a little less strained.
I did keep a recipe labeled “Robert Redford’s Green Olive Salad. I cannot imagine throwing away anything labeled “Robert Redford.” He’s one of my favorite actors. I published a story collection called “Dining with Robert Redford” back in 2011, so you get the gist. As a matter of fact, I still have that newspaper recipe from 1983 for a dessert called “Next Best Thing to Robert Redford.” This exercise in culinary sin features chocolate pudding, Cool Whip, cream cheese and a crumbled pecan crust. I remember making it for my Sunday School class.
During the recipe purge, I tossed the duplicate for a delicious bean salad based on balsamic vinegar and finely chopped onion. Two friends named Sylvia gave me that same recipe, believe it or not.
I have a collection of dishes I call “funeral food,” for want of a better term. No matter who you take them to, you’re guaranteed empty dishes to take home. The “menu” features chicken casserole with almonds and water chestnuts (trust me, it’s good), zucchini squares and that elusive pineapple-apple salad/dessert–crowd pleasers, to be sure. Serve those dishes with a side of fresh peas, and you have a meal fit for a king. I borrowed this menu from Mrs. Dellinger of Cherryville who hosted a ladies’ tour of her log cabins several years ago. I’m glad that she was generous enough to share; several of us would have driven ourselves crazy trying to guess the ingredients.
Among my recipe stash was a handwritten recipe from a family heirloom: a notebook of my Dad, had given his mother for Christmas in 1936. The family lived on a wheat farm in Western Canada at the time. In my Dad’s adolescent handwriting were copies from their mother’s file box or recipe drawer. Dad had gone to the trouble to paste cutouts from newspapers and magazines to dress the thing up. Among the recipes he chose were from the 1920s: Coolidge Butter Scotch and Flapper Pie, Goldilocks Potatoes and Dandelion Wine.
My Grandma McElroy took the gift seriously, as she added many more recipes in her own script. “Brunswick Sunday Supper” features cubes of chuck steak, chopped, onions, peppers, tomato sauce, stewed tomatoes, salt, pepper and “2 tablespoons lard.” The newspaper clipping includes the silhouette of a tumbling skier—indicating you’ll go head over heels for the supper or, more likely, you should serve it in cold weather. I imagine Grandma serving this dish for her farmer husband and six kids on a cold night in Alberta in the 1930s. It’s filling and fairly inexpensive, which was the whole point.
The desert section of the recipe book gives a nod to Canadian winters. My Dad wrote: “Get snow (clean) sprinkle 1 t spoon sugar over. Poor a little cream & stir. Then put snow in the quart. Put back in snow or ref. for about ½ hour. Then bring out & shake well for 8 minutes. Serves 2.” It’s accompanied by this PS: “Instead of snow & sugar and cream, use ice cream.”
“Grandma’s Chocolate Cake,” makes me wonder which grandmother this came from. If it was my grandmother’s grandmother, it was either Matilda Hart or Matilda Lane. I’ll call it “Grandma Matilda’s” and leave it at that.
The same aunt who gave me the recipe book bequeathed me a glass cake stand once owned by my great-grandmother Lane. I initiated the stand a few years ago using “Grandma Matilda’s” recipe. I imagined that I was visiting her farmhouse in 1895. Pity it wasn’t a recipe for Lane Cake, that Southern delight that riffs on pecans, coconut and booze.
A loose recipe in my grandmother’s handwriting is labeled “Illinois Corn Salad,” a salute to her native state–one of those vinegar-based mixtures meant for canning.
Oh yes, and something called “Bean Salad,” a Midwestern side dish found on most buffet spreads and potluck suppers across the Midwest. It involves kidney beans, chopped egg and a raw-egg dressing made with butter. I use mayo these days. Whenever I’ve served this to North Carolinians, most think it’s gross and refuse to eat it, which means more leftovers for those of us who know what’s good.