When I made lasagne recently for my family, I did as I always do. I pulled out the six-page, partially torn recipe that my Aunt Margie wrote down for me many years ago, unfolded it, and smoothed it out on the kitchen counter to refer to at each step.
Aunt Margie’s lasagne is a classic in our family — she made it for nearly every family gathering, and always for Christmas night — and it’s a joy to take out the old handwritten recipe and read through it again.
At one point, after telling me to “put the globs of Ricotta cheese between the chunks of Mozzarella cheese,” Aunt Margie wrote, “By now, you’re laughing!” And I do smile each time I see her words. And feel close to the aunt who for so many years was one of the most gregarious, loving people in my life.
I’ve been thinking about the recipes we pass down to each other. There is something so wonderfully intimate about getting out and reading a handwritten recipe…the penned words link you immediately to the writer and you can almost feel him or her beside you in the warm kitchen.
My mother, who passed away in 2008, wrote her famed Toll House cookie recipe down for me on the back of an envelope, an afterthought after sealing a letter to me. I looked at the address on that envelope the other day, and it was the Vancouver address of my very first home in Canada. Within weeks of moving here, I obviously realized that I had to have that recipe. Mom’s handwriting, always a bit of a challenge to read, brings her close every time I look at the hastily scrawled words.
I know the recipe by heart. But still, I usually get out the envelope and place it beside the mixing bowl when I’m about to make cookies – a sort of talisman, and a chance to gaze once more at her familiar handwriting.
My older daughter recently asked me to please write out her favourite Christmas recipe, ”Aunt Liz’s Peppermint Squares” and send it to her. She kept my handwritten version for herself, (which touched me at that place within us reserved for family), and wrote out the recipe again to include in a “Christmas traditions” gift exchange.
My younger daughter, for her part, has embraced cooking with the same sort of zeal as Julie in the Julie & Julia movie and is keeping track of all the new recipes she’s tried. She’s asked me, as a special gift, to compile my favourite classic family recipes in a binder for her collection.
My own collected recipes from family and friends are written down on index cards and various pieces of paper and stuffed into a black plastic “recipe” box that I keep close at hand on my kitchen counter. In a house fire, that box would no doubt be one of the things I’d grab.
I’ve thought about handwritten recipes a lot, and of how, in our computer age, when I’m told they don’t even teach cursive writing in school anymore (is that true?), the tradition of recipes written down for a friend, a relative, a colleague, endures.
I think part of the magic is the powerful combination of senses involved. We feel the recipe in our hands and see the distinctive handwriting of someone we care about as we prepare our favourite dishes, which taste and smell and look, even sound (think of the whack of dough pounded on the counter) good.
I bet many of you have a collection of handwritten recipes stored somewhere in your kitchen. And I bet those are the recipes you rely on — mixed, warmed, and served up with a hint of nostalgia and a pinch of storytelling — to evoke traditional family memories.
I’d love to hear about your cherished handwritten recipes, and the stories of the people behind them, so if you have one to share, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Here’s to nostalgic moments and good eating!
“Aunt Margie’s Lasagna recipe” © 2010 Star Weiss. All rights reserved.