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