When Thanksgiving rolls around, I react like many cooks and start digging around for those must-have recipes. In my case, I’m searching for my mom’s kick-ass stuffing recipe.
While I imagine other cooks riffling through cute little vintage boxes filled with beloved family recipes neatly handwritten onto 3 x 5 index cards, my own journey is less clearly mapped out. Instead, I find myself pawing through cookbooks in search of random bits of paper like an archeologist hunting for ancient Egyptian papyri.
Our little trove of Thanksgiving family treasures is stuffed inside the pages of Volume 12 of the circa-1966 Woman’s Day Encyclopedia of Cookery (“T” for turkey, duh). That’s where I find a magazine article about turkey, my mom’s handwritten stuffing recipe, and other cobbled-together guideposts to making the annual feast our way. I always chuckle at the the version of the stuffing recipe that was clearly addressed to me. There’s a little note in the margin: “Pepperidge Farm Herb Crumbs,” underlined twice so I wouldn’t–God forbid–buy the bread cubes instead.
Beyond Volume 12, scribbled recipes, newspaper clippings and other “Mad Men”-era ephemera are stashed into the pockets of a red, generic Cooking Clips Recipe File. But these don’t represent a passion for cooking so much as a middle-class woman’s obligation to, dammit, get dinner on the table. Mom was a reluctant cook, more Betty Friedan than Betty Draper, and mid-‘60s domestic ambivalence wafts from the pages with the scent of old newspaper.
Her culinary repertoire was limited, but we liked it, and those pages yield warm memories of the simple dishes we loved: London broil, the Yorkshire pudding we had every Christmas Eve, a wine-marinated flank steak that I’m tempted to make this week. It’s straightforward fare that seems quaint and comforting in this time of precious foodie-ism. Though, in all fairness, flank steak marinated in Burgundy wine was upscale stuff back then.
Given that I write about food for a living, you’d think I’d make an effort to organize this stuff. My sister-in-law Julie did a few years ago, gathering favorite recipes from family and friends, along with the stories that go with them, into a tasteful little Tastebook. It’s a charming, gently irreverent heirloom that she’ll no doubt save for my niece. But I’m not tempted to follow her example.
No, instead I’ll continue to hunt down Mom’s recipes, then tuck them back into their respective books, right where they belong.