My Grandmother's And Mother's Recipe Books. - Learning To Cook Blog at - 288171

Learning To Cook

My Grandmother's And Mother's Recipe Books. 
Nov. 8, 2012 8:34 am 
Updated: Nov. 26, 2012 1:44 am
A big thanks to redneck gramma for the idea of how to read and interpret a recipe, and how to write a new recipe. I don't have confidence that my skills are up to writing a new recipe. I do tweak existing recipes to the point that I can say that they are my recipes, but coming up with something new requires a knowledge of ingredients I don't think I've developed. I do understand that much of the art is in the ratio of things. As RNG points out, too much baking powder and the flavor is off, but too little and the product doesn't rise properly. I'll get there someday.

Learning to read an old time recipe is an exercise in futility. You really need to know what the cooks knew back then - pretty much everything. For example, my mother's recipe book includes a recipe for flaky pie crust. She lists the ingredients followed by a note that glowingly states, "Very Good!" There is no method recorded. She knew how to make pie crust. I didn't. I can make a decent crust now, but I had to learn through research, what to do with lard, flour, salt, water, and sugar. At least she recorded the amounts to use!

My grandmother records a recipe for Chocolate Fork Cookies. And she includes a method, "Roll into balls and press down with a fork." REALLY!?!?!?!? I love you grandma, but that is NOT helpful! I wish we hadn't lived so far apart much of the time. She was a great cook, and I did have a good time in her kitchen, but the times were few and brief. She just understood that butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla or other wet ingredients went together in one bowl, and the dry ingredients were sifted into another and then they were combined to make a cookie dough, dry into wet ingredients. She probably also knew the times and temperatures for everything she ever made, and could give a good guess at a recipe from another person. I have to "by guess and by gosh" to come up with 325 - 350 F for 12 -15 minutes. Space the dough balls about 3 inches apart on the sheet as they spread.

My mother's cook book is so different from my grandma's. Grandma seems to have written this one for posterity. It has a table of contents with specific categories. It was written in a "Record" book which is bound in leather and has leaves you can't remove, and they are numbered. It makes finding a recipe easy. But I don't think grandma wrote it on the fly. I think this was the recipe book she wrote in order to pass it down. Mom's recipe book, on the other hand, is a loose leaf note book, also black leather. Its pages are not numbered, and it has no table of contents. The recipes are crammed in all willy-nilly and good luck to you if you need to find a recipe! I love you too mom, but for someone who was trained in office skills, you are an organizational disaster! I know from where I get it too.

What I have learned about recipe reading and writing is this. If you are using a recipe from an old, personal recipe book, hope the writer is still among the living so you can quiz them on apparently missing directions. You might get lucky and find an older person who likes to cook and they might be able to help you decipher the recipe. Failing that, trial and error and a little previous cooking knowledge will get you through. When writing a recipe, try to list the ingredients as they are used, in the amounts they are used, and in the form in which they are used (eg. diced onions or onions, diced). When it comes to writing a method, be clear and concise. Proceed step by step to completion. In other words, write the recipe so a beginner can easily understand it. Clarifications should be in a footnote. For instance, describing an unusual piece of equipment, or an unusual technique.

And now I am off to research mother sauces and stocks. That will be the next stop on my journey. Basic skills like how to make a white sauce are being lost to the average cook due to convenient dry and canned versions. I want to be a fighter for real food!
Grandma's and Ma's Cook Books
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Nov. 8, 2012 10:14 am
very nice blog, brings to mind 1 c of sifted flour vs 1 cup of flour sifted. I enjoy the old cookbooks and because I usually need someone to blame for all the new hoopla in our world, I blame some of the TV reality shows. Imagine taking a bottle of beer, a lb of bacon and wheat germ and turning it into a cupcake? I rest my case, it COULD be done, but does that seem normal? So back to TNT recipes, and though I love to experiment in the kitchen, I do have limitations of what I am willing to try to cook and feed the family. I await the sauces and stocks....I hope you mean stocks and broths, not stocks bought and traded:)
Nov. 8, 2012 11:21 am
So... you are not a Chopped fan? What would go good on a bacon cupcake? I know! Sour cream and chive frosting! You can trade stocks? You'd think somebody would get burnt! ;-)
Nov. 8, 2012 1:58 pm
good grief!! i have never thought to look for my mom's cookbooks. i am a dumbazz! she rarely wrote anything down as did my aunts and great-aunts. your blog inspired me to try and find them now...many years after their deaths. thank you!
Nov. 8, 2012 3:24 pm
gderr, you are very welcome. I treasure these recipe books.
Nov. 8, 2012 4:43 pm
Love this blog! Saw it this morning and knew I needed to come for a read. I was just thinking about some of the skills I lack that my mother could have taught me. She was a whizz at pie dough, bread and being thrifty in the kitchen. Got 2 of those things down after much practice, it is rolling out a pie crust that seems to get me every time. I do have some of her notes on recipes, I wish she had written a little larger and not been stingy with directions. But then she knew what she was doing :)
Nov. 8, 2012 7:36 pm
Cat, Thank you for those kind words and for sharing experiences. I think most of us wish that we had more time with our moms and dads. I lost my dad many years ago, and mom is not fully with us anymore. At least her dementia is not a scary, angry one. She is mostly happy and funny, but really can't seem to stay in reality. It's a hard way to lose a parent. Then again, any way is a hard way.
Nov. 9, 2012 4:22 am
Thanks for the post, Doc! I collect family recipes, and I love the memories that bubble up when I run across them. Love the online ease and availability of AR, but I won't see Aunt Mae's or Mom's handwriting, or all the spills on my cranberry sauce recipe that swoop me back to another time!
Nov. 9, 2012 4:43 am
Bibi, I agree. I wish AR had a "like" or "thumbs up" button.
Nov. 9, 2012 9:47 am
:) Doc, I am actually a fan of 'making up' or winging it type of recipes. Most of my meals are cooked that way and I rarely follow a recipe to a T, I rarely use measuring spoons or correct cups. I use the palm of my hand, a tsp, and 1 cup measure, maybe a 2/3 c measure if needed. I was given basics as a teen in Home Ec and learned from my family kitchen mentors many wonderful things. Wok with Yen was one of my favourite TV shows years ago. Cultural cooking has always been a fun challenge and I try to do an international night many times throughout the year. I truly believe that recipes need some basics, and too many people sway away from that. Experimenting is great, but remember there is some chemistry to it all.
Nov. 9, 2012 10:44 am
I love cooking from my grandma's recipes, what few I have. Apparently the love of cooking skipped a generation because my mom had no interest until I started cooking. I feel sorry for future generations though. So much of my cooking is "on the fly" and I rarely make the same thing the same way twice. My friends have learned that if they want to know how I make something, they need to be there while I make it. One of my friends will actually stand there with pen & paper and write stuff down as I do it. A little nerve wracking for me, but at least then she's able to replicate the meal if/when she needs/wants to. Thanks for the reminder though, that I probably should start writing these things down.
Nov. 9, 2012 11:18 am
I love "on the fly" cooking. It is also "on the fly" where most of my kitchen tragedies happen as well! :) I am putting together a small cookbook for my two girls called "From Boiling Water to Baking Souffle." I hope they will treasure it as a keepsake, but more than that, they will get to spend time with me as I research and gather and cook recipes. Time spent is the real treasure. The book is just a reminder.
Nov. 13, 2012 4:13 pm
I recently started a recipe box to keep my recipes in. It's kinda antique, and I bought it at an estate sale. I think every cook should keep one, it's a peace of history that your children, grandchildren and so on, can look through it and keep the memory alive. It's really a wonderful tradition, and I think it's sad that it's being replaced by virtual recipe boxes, its just not the same. That way, the recipes won't just die with you, but live on through generations.
Nov. 26, 2012 1:37 am
If I can't get the fresh or frozen I buy the dry beans and peas to make real food. I can dry my own fresh veggies and store them in canning jars or better yet use them fresh or can them myself without the excess salt we get in canned foods at the grocery store.
Nov. 26, 2012 1:44 am
I have recipes that were from my great-grandma's and they got them from their mother's so I keep several copies because of theives that keep breaking in and stealing from me. Well the last time they broke in they wiped out all my groceries but they did not know that I had moved my groceries and filled my pantry with cat and dog food and jars of salmon that was canned in 1985 so they might have got as sick as their anti-freeze for semis made my cats
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Doc Simonson

Home Town
St. Peter, Minnesota, USA

Member Since
Jan. 2009

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Grilling & BBQ, Stir Frying, Slow Cooking, Asian, Mexican, Italian, Southern, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Gourmet

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About Me
I'm old and smelly, kinda like a really good salami with that really nice white mould all over it.
My favorite things to cook
Meat, carbs, meat, carbs, meat, carbs and did I mention meat?
My favorite family cooking traditions
Drop a plate of Pierogis and sausages in front of me and watch my eyes glaze over in pure joy.
My cooking triumphs
Schweinebraten mit Knoedel und Krautsalat. Also Edel Hirsch Gulasch was very nice. I make killer Spaetzle and Knockerl also.
My cooking tragedies
There aren't enough electrons in cyberspace! :) Actually, the tragedies usually involve well intentioned creativity out of control.
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