Tuesday, July 11, 2006


My grandma stored her recipes in a big plastic IGA bag. I found the bag crammed into a cupboard above her stove after her death, one of the few things my aunt's hadn't bothered to take for themselves. When I looked in the bag and saw it was full of recipes, I cried. I felt then, and still feel now, that the bag of recipes was somehow meant for me.

It's been a year since I found that bag, brought it home, and put it in a box in the back corner of my closet. Now that we're getting ready to move, I'm finally forcing myself to face the jumble of recipe cards, magazine pages, and newspaper clippings. It's not the recipes themselves that interest me that much, honestly. I'm not much of a cook, and despite this evidence to the contrary I don't recall my grandma being a wonder in the kitchen, either. Sure, she made great cookies and cakes. But she also regularly served us things like jello on a bed of lettuce, or canned pears with mayo on top.

What I was really looking for when I started sorting through those recipes was her handwriting. And it's there, a lot of it. I love it and I'm so glad to have these samples of her personal, unique scrawly cursive writing. But there's so much more of her in there than that. There, on the back of a magazine clipping, is a strange geometric doodle that immediately brought tears to my eyes. I had forgotten her habit of doodling while she talked on the phone. She'd have cheap spiral notebooks full of doodling by her phone, just something to keep her hands busy, not something she'd ever dream of saving or showing any one else.

Some of the recipes are written out on note paper that says "From the Desk of Peggy Madden" (Ritz Cracker and Date Goodies), and others are on letterhead from the newspaper she worked at for many years. There are a couple on bank deposit slips (Peanut Buttered Popcorn), and one on the back of a layaway receipt from the '70s (Dream Cupcakes). "Andy's Graham Cookies" is written, in green pen, on a page-a-day calendar page from Thursday, Dec 13, 1979. In the upper left corner that recipe holds some more of her doodling (this time, a bunch of "M"s stacked and sprouting off of each other. There's even a recipe for Oven Stew on the back of a to-do list that says "Dumb Things Peggy Must Do"!

There are newspaper clippings from the '60s-'90s, and even one from November 1959.

A lot of the handwritten recipes include little notations about who she got it from, like "Judy's Tuna Souffle" or "TV Scramble from Sue", and some are in someone else's handwriting altogether. I found several in what I recognize as my mom's handwriting, and even one (Jello Pretzel Salad) in my own writing!

There's a wide variety in the recipes themselves, too. Some things I'm sure she never made (Crab Wreath?), and a few that I specifically remember her making. It totally cracks me up, though, that there are no less than 23 different brownie recipes! The girl did love her some chocolate.

Another crack up came when I found a newspaper clipping from the local paper from Thurs, March 30, 1978. The recipe is for Watergate Cake (basically a white cake mix with instant pistachio pudding and a can of 7up added to it), followed by the requisite "Watergate Cover Up Frosting" (mix 3 envelopes Dream Whip with 1 cup milk).

Some of the recipes have no name at all, just a list of ingredients followed by baking instructions. Others are so splattered with oil, batter or drips of chocolate that parts are illegible, and there are a few where her handwriting is so bad it can't be read anyway.

I did throw away a lot of the old newspaper and magazine clippings, but I kept a lot of them too. Of course I kept everything with her handwriting, and some of the recipes are just too bizarre to be discarded. I knew it'd be hard to go through this bag of papers, and it was, but it was also fun and funny and gave me a real glimpse, maybe one last glimpse, of my grandma's day-to-day life. What a gift.


Blogger Mary Jo said...

So wonderful that you have her handwriting.
I actually did a layout using old letters and envelopes that belonged to my grandma. It really helped me at the time.

July 12, 2006 5:49 AM  

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