Thursday, December 20, 2007


My column in Saturday's Democrat and Chronicle is about spices and herbs. Near Christmas I always try to talk about plants that have to do with the holidays, and spices and herbs are all, obviously, plant-based, so that's my topic.

All the spice research got me remembering this recipe card I have from my great-grandmother Elsie May Rogers Helms, a wonderful little slice of history that I always find strange and funny, yet oddly familiar. Grandma Helms wrote out recipes the same way I do. Here is the recipe, for soft gingerbread.

The first part that always gets me is the line about 1 t. spice (double for Jim). First of all, what "spice"? I realize this is a recipe for gingerbread, so you'd think ginger, but at the bottom of the card ginger is added, in pencil, obviously an afterthought and without a quantity. So what's the spice? I have no idea. I do know who Jim is—he's my uncle, Eunice's grandson. Apparently he likes his gingerbread spicy.

Moving on, notice 1/2 c. fat, melted. I have to assume this is [cough] suet, 'cause it ain't Crisco, I can tell you that much. I prefer to use butter in baked goods, but maybe Eunice knew something I don't, something I'm never going even allow myself to learn. Although I always keep a jar of suet in the fridge (I know, gross, right?) in case Dean's making gravy and the roast beef just doesn't give off quite enough.

Right above the line about the fat, Grandma Helms has written out water as h20, which I also always do. But the best part of it, for me, is the complete lack of instruction. Temperature of oven? Whatever. How long? Who knows? In which way are the ingredients combined? Well if you have to ask, should you really be messing around with this thing, and the fat, and the spice? Why don't you just toddle off, dear, and let Grandma make you a batch just the way she knows you like it.

Do you think maybe Jim was her favorite?

I hope my great-grandchildren enjoy my recipes as much. When I write out a recipe for my own use, it's in as few words as possible, usually because I'm transcribing. When I'm done, I never copy it out onto a fresh recipe card or page. Even if it's on the back of a gravy-stained envelope, it goes into a clear sleeve and right into the binder. I think I like this because every time I look at the recipe, it reminds of the first time I ate that thing, and how I liked it so much I had to get the recipe right away, and how my friend gave it to me, right away.

Then there's the lazy person, Eunice's descendant, who writes recipes just for herself, and because she know what she means by "spice," doesn't have to spell it out. Like this one, on a post-it stuck in the binder probably five years now, one I frankly should be able just to remember. It doesn't have a title.

1 comment:

mom said...

The melted fat would be lard, not suet. Suet we would use for plum pudding and gravy. Lard is used for EVERYTHING yummy. Just ask Dean.