After my mother-in-law died, I received her copy of The Boston Cooking School Cook Book by Fannie Merritt Farmer. No other family members wanted the book, which surprised me, so it became mine. Over the years, she used the book as a file, and tucked clippings and recipe booklets in its pages. She also added notes to recipes.
On the first page, a blank, there’s a handwritten recipe for brownies. According to my mother-in-law, the recipe came from a friend in Lima, Peru. During World War II, my father-in-law was a staff physician at the British American Hospital there. The family lived in Lima for five years.
A booklet about cake-baking is tucked into the front pages, along with a page of recipes from a magazine. In the middle, there’s a recipe for cheese puffs written on the back of a wedding invitation. Next to the recipe for custard ice cream, Mom wrote that almond extract should be added in addition to vanilla. I remember many of the recipes because I ate them.
Obviously, this was a beloved cookbook, for the pages are worn, in some instances torn, and covered with hundreds of drips. The binding is also falling off. Looking through Mom’s cookbook takes me back years.
I remember the first time I visited the family. Though I was a college student, I had never flown before, and flying from Long Island to Rochester, Minnesota felt like going to the ends of the earth. Everyone in the family, including my fiance’s brothers, was welcoming. During our first dinner together in the formal dining room the middle brother, who had a quick wit, commented on the napkins. “What are these?” he asked innocently.
Mom did her best to feed her husband and three sons, or men, as she called them. Dinners focused on meat and potatoes. Since her men didn’t like cooked vegetables, dinner usually included salads. I can still remember fixing salads with Mom in the kitchen. All I did was combine ingredients, but my future mother-in-law made a point of complimenting me.
Though my own mother didn’t make notes in her favorite cookbook, she gave me handwritten recipes on cards. I looked at some of her recipe cards today and burst out laughing when I read the instructions for Aunt Nony’s Salad Dressing. “Beat the whole mess until thick,” she wrote. Reading my mother’s recipe cards and my mother-in-law’s cookbook is almost like talking with them.
Linking objects don’t have to be big to be comforting. If you are grieving and don’t have any linking objects, you may want to look for some. The smallest item, a bookmark, a father’s watch, a mother’s necklace, can make you feel close to your loved one. Photos may also serve as linking objects.
Using linking objects brings back memories, facial expressions, family stories, and humor. These things help us face the next day, all of the other days ahead, and the new lives we create.
Copyright 2011 by Harriet Hodgson
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