Possessions: The Recipe Book

Last Wednesday morning, we returned from New Zealand. During a quick and busy trip we had finalized the sale of our town house and sorted up our remaining possessions. The actual house sale was relatively painless but decisions on the destination of the belongings were much harder to resolve. They weren’t only our things but also my mother’s stuff which I had inherited. I will write about these various items over the next weeks.

First the books. I have scrapbooks, New Zealand fiction and non fiction, diaries and Mum’s recipe book. I will start with the recipe book because it holds so many memories. It is nondescript and rather beat up. In fact, I had bought Mum a new book into which I was going to copy her favourite recipes. I barely started the process before she lost interest in cooking. Hardly surprising as she was well into her 90’s and I was providing her meals. The old book is full of written recipes and cuttings from newspapers and magazines as well as recipes and hints from other people which she had never added to the pages. There is a rough division of the recipes with meat and vegetable dishes separated from cakes and biscuits (cookies).

I like the additions to recipes where Mum has identified the donor or modified the ingredients. Sometimes she changed the cooking time or altered the seasoning to suit her taste. I enjoy reading the recipes she received from others. Ida gave her one for cheese scones while Lyndall provided a cheese slice and Dorothy was responsible for a spice cake. I knew these women. They were friends of my mother and their faces pop up before me as I read the lists of ingredients.

To modern tastes, the book holds too many recipes for cakes and biscuits but these were important food items in my mother’s day. I remember the afternoon teas which she produced for ladies of her acquaintance. They were church or singing group members and were entertained in our sitting room which was only used on a daily basis by me for my piano practice. My mother would bake both savoury and sweet items for her guests. I’ll describe these later when I write about the cups and saucers that were used for these occasions.

I was thinking about my favourite recipes such as the Swedish meatballs Mum made for me when I returned from boarding school. I was also thinking about recipe books in general. I have recipes on index cards which I haven’t looked at for years. When I want a recipe for shrimp salad these days, I type in the words on my tablet and examine the suggestions that appear on my screen. I believe that recipe books still sell but I doubt if I will ever buy another one. I would have to store it and I doubt if many of the recipes would ever be read or used. Like everything else things have changed. However, I will keep this particular recipe book and hand it to one of my daughters in memory of my mother. a