This post first appeared over at FoodLush, a site I loved writing for and probably would still be writing for if it weren't defunct.
Some of my fondest and earliest childhood memories are of being in the kitchen. Dad's homemade mac-and-cheese in the fall, or maybe Pot roast on a cold, dark Sunday in the winter, the whole family assigned to their tasks with music playing in the background. To this day I can't hear Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac, Paul Simon, or the Moody Blues without thinking of my parents' kitchen.
I remember being 8, and Mom letting me make bacon and eggs on my own. (It's how I learned that eggs will stick to the pan unless you use something to keep them from doing so.) I remember my first cookbook: Put out by the library, it was a collection of recipes from people in the town, and many of them used the microwave. I was in love.
My parents were pretty liberal when it came to use of their kitchen and ingredients, and for that I will be forever grateful. My brother and I loved making "potions" out of whatever we could find in the cabinets. It was a total waste of ingredients, but priceless fertile ground for our imaginations. Oh, how the concoctions would fizz when you dumped in baking soda.
My grandmother has always been a good cook, with a particular penchant for baking. I loved going over to her little yellow house, coming in through the breezeway, and making a direct right into the tiny galley kitchen. There was an orange ceramic cookie jar on her counter, and I can probably count on one hand the number of times that I lifted that little round lid -- oh delicious anticipation! -- to find it empty. Chinese chews, lemon squares, chocolate chip cookies, snickerdoodles, the beloved molasses crinkles.
Oh those molasses crinkles.
When I was first living on my own after college Gram and I used to exchange letters. I would ask her for certain recipes (blueberry buckle, her famous apple pie, lemon lush, cereal mix), and she'd write back about her recent activities, painstakingly handwritten recipe cards enclosed, just as I'd requested. I've saved them all, in a tin box she once gave me that she used to use for recipes. What a fantastic rainy day activity that is, pawing through cards and letters with Gram's handwriting on them. The truth is I've only used the recipes a handful of times, but I can't bear the thought of her someday not being here and no one knowing the recipe for her apple pie.
She used to always tell me, back when she still lived in a place with a kitchen, that she was saving her cookbooks for me. That she'd even written my name in them, because when the time came, they were mine. Gram's a strong, feisty, independent lady and I guess I never imagined she'd ever not have a kitchen, ever not cook. But today she lives in an assisted living home, no longer has a kitchen, and somewhere along the way she passed on several of her cookbooks to me.
(Fret not, she's doing pretty okay: She even has a boyfriend. He lives across the hall and they have their nightly cocktail together before heading down to the dining hall. She's robbing the cradle though. He's only in his 80s!)
Flipping through those cookbooks, seeing the splashes and dabs on the pages, her notes in the margins, the well-worn spines: It's a piece of living history, a time-machine to my childhood and part of her life. I picture her in that little kitchen, bent over the cookbook, making notes as a cobbler sits cooling on the stove, the counter covered in mixing bowls. My favorite has to be the book put together by people in her hometown church. She told me it was her favorite cookbook, and she wrote my name right on the front. Taped inside the front cover is a piece of yellow paper that says "Anything made by Anita Buddington is good."
Anita Buddington's Blueberry Buckle
(Gram made this often when I was growing up, usually in the summer during prime blueberry season. We often ate it as dessert, but it's great for breakfast too.)
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup milk
1 pt. blueberries
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup butter
Cream butter, add sugar and mix well, add egg. In a separate bowl sift flour, baking powder, and salt and alternately with milk to first mixture. Fold in blueberries and pour into an 8 inch greased square pan. Mix first three ingredients of topping, then rub in butter. Sprinkle over blueberry mixture and bake at 375 for 45 minutes. Also good with chopped nuts added to topping.