Thursday, March 14, 2013

“How many dead and gone women were in the kitchen with you?”

I opened my recipe files and was suddenly surrounded by all the dead women whose recipes I was using,” writes memoirist Marion Roach Smith. That was a scene from cooking in her kitchen. 

Then she turns to you and me: “How many dead and gone women were in the kitchen with you recently?”

Marion’s jolting, inelegant words remind me that my recipe files are packed with family-favorites from my grandma, my mom and her sisters, my mom’s cousin, my mother-in-law, and even a few men (and—ahem—most of them are still alive). 

Those recipes—so much more than 5” x 3” cards!—represent people intricately connected to me, folks who showed me how to live and love, dear ones whose lives nurtured mine. In turn, their lives have impacted my children and grandchildren. 

My grandma’s recipes, some in her handwriting, generate dozens of memories. I picture myself at my grandparents’ kitchen table eating dinner—roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, and Grandma’s creamed peas. She grew them in her garden out back behind the garage.

And—oh! I have memories of that garden! Grandma took me there one afternoon—I might have been four or five years old—and introduced me to sweet tender new baby peas right out of the pod. 

Recently I took my granddaughter to our garden and taught her to pop open a pea pod and eat those sweet little morsels right out of the pod. I told her the story of my grandmother doing the same with me, and I wondered aloud if she’d remember, as I’ve remembered all these years.

Grandma and I sat at her kitchen table, snapped open heaps of pods, and popped the peas into a saucepan, ready to cook for dinner after Grandpa arrived home from work. 

And perhaps for dessert we’d enjoy Grandma’s fudge pudding cake.

Memories: Countless dinners around my grandparents’ table, happy conversations, doing dishes with Grandma afterward, and always her merry but oh-so-soft laughter. 

I think of the gentle, devoted wife she was to my grandpa, the faithful, hard working mother she was to my mom and her sisters, and the loving grandmother and great-grandmother she was to us. 

Shy and humble, she was the heart of the family.

Looking back now, I see how like God she was: Never self-seeking, always living for others, slow to anger, compassionate, full of grace and mercy. 

My grandkids and their kids need to know about Grandma Mac. 

I want them to know the blessings they’ve received because of my grandma. 

I want them to know Grandma Mac’s DNA lives in their cells, that some of their likes and passions and longings—even their laughter—could be just like hers. I want them to know they can choose to live the way she did.

Marion Roach Smith asked how many dead and gone women are in the kitchen with us when we cook. My grandma passed away 25 years ago but, because of her love-infused involvement in our lives, she lives on in those of us who knew and loved her—and still miss her terribly.

Yes, when I use Grandma Mac’s recipes, she is with me in my kitchen. Her recipes remind me of her goodness, of the way she lived and loved. I hear her soft, gentle laughter, I see her smiling face—the most beautiful in the world. Her recipes can help me write stories for my grandkids and future generations.

What about you? Dig for your own treasures from old family recipes. Gather memories of people who shared them with you and then write your stories because:  

We all come from the past, 
and children ought to know what it was
that went into their making,
to know that life is
a braided cord of humanity
stretching up from time long gone,
and that it cannot be defined 
by the span of a single journey
from diaper to shroud.

Russell Baker, Growing Up


  1. Thanks for this reminder Linda. I have featured some old family recipes in blog posts (my mother's mother's Chile Chip Casserole) and stories (my father's mother's white cake, my mother's candy recipes and more).

    You don't take this next step in this post, but I'll bet a dime to a dollar that if you haven't already, you'll write the stories that go with the recipes as you share them. If the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, Story is surely the appetizer.

  2. Oh, yes, Sharon! I already have written several. More dance in my head waiting for me to put them on paper. Are you thinking of compiling a book based on recipes? It would be a fun project. Thanks for stopping by, Sharon.


  3. This is a beautiful post, Linda. I love using old family recipes. Ten years ago my mother compiled a cookbook of family recipes, stories and photos! Last year my sister-in-law did a second, more modern contemporary one. Both are treasures to me!

    1. Wonderful to hear from you, Olive Tree! I know recipes and cooking are still an important part of your daily life. I hope everyone will click over to your blog. It's about much more than food, but your recipes and pictures, and the stories that go with them, are treasures!

      And what a precious family heirloom your mother and sister-in-law have created for all of you. Bless them for their efforts. It might seem strange for me to say God will use the recipes, stories, and photos, but I believe He will. He put us in families and told us to tell our kids and grandkids about what He has done, and such things bring strength and faith to families!

      Bless you, Olive Tree!


  4. Linda, I am the lucky recipient of my mother-in-law's cookbook with her personal notes written in the margins and grease marks from the butter she used. I also have a recipe card or two of hers. Added to that I have a collection of her two sisters' recipes that were given to me because no one else in the family wanted them. But do you think I have anything of my own mother's? She never wrote down a recipe -- it was all stored in her head! Now there's a story, right? I'm now buzzing mentally thinking how to share these all in a little book that I might pass on to some of the younger bunch in the family. I never had the joy of cooking with my mother-in-law or her sisters, but my husbands' brothers' wives I have and usually when we're cooking talk waltzes back to "I remember when . . ." about the generation before us. I'll have to see what I can do with this sprouting seedling you've planted. :) Thanks for a great read!

    1. Sherrey, I am amazed at your mother's ability to prepare all her meals without recipes! I can't imagine doing that, although having said that I realize I have some recipes memorized and don't need to pull out the card any more.

      I can just picture your mother-in-law's cookbook with smudges and notes in the margins. What a special heirloom for you to enjoy!

      Please let us all know when you create your own book of family recipes you've received from earlier generations. What a rich resource you have in your sisters-in-law's "I remember when" stories. Now to get them all in writing!

      Bless you, Sherrey!