Recipes are curious things; not so much the ingredients but how the instructions are dictated.
Old recipe cards look like bullet points. Item, item, item, item mix, pour, bake, serve. Good luck with that. Do you mix it lightly until just combined, or do you beat the snot out of that batter? Who knows? I’m guessing that information was passed down from generation to generation. You learned those skills from your mom or in Home Economics.
New and less experienced cooks and bakers have a leg up on previous generations because of the internet. There are pictures for nearly every step of the process and plenty of the final product. We have video tutorials and step-by-step instructions. On top of that you get hundreds of comments from the peanut gallery saying …
With all that stellar advice, how can you go wrong?😂 (If you’ve read any of my previous baking posts, you know things can still go wrong. But we’ll pretend not in keeping with the spirit of this blog.)
Teenage Baking: Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better
Now, you’d think I’d have an advantage in the baking department since I was homeschooled and had a lot of kitchen time. But not so much. Mom considered recipes to be guidelines, and she also thought you were a weak cook if you used them.
That method might work sometimes if you are an experienced cook. But haphazardly throwing ingredients into a bowl and hoping for cookies does NOT generally produce good results. Baking requires measuring, weighing, and specific techniques. There is more science and less room for free-styling.
With that being said, my mom did make great bread and had a home-based business around it. But anything else coming out of the oven was a crapshoot. I remember longing for store bought cookies—please, could we just get those chocolate-vanilla sandwich ones? Vanilla Wafers? How about the layered stacky cookies with crème in the middle? Please, Mom!?! Most of the time we had Mom’s burnt, hard, carob, honey-based, lumpy cookies with flax seeds, or some equally unappetizing version.
In an act of adolescent one-upmanship, I decided I would take up the baking mantle. I would figure cookies out. I poured over Mom’s Betty Crocker cookbook and practiced until my cookies where delectable. My family agreed, as did my neighbors who paid me to bake for them.
I started adding other baked goods to my repertoire. It was a sore spot with my mom, but what can I say? You just gotta measure that baking soda. She still made the bread; I didn’t take everything away from her.
A Recipe Box Of My Own
Fast forward a few years. The celebrity chefs and the Food Network debuted just as I was leaving home. I was fascinated like the rest of the world. I dumped all my old cookbooks and started amassing the trendy ones. I thought the recipe cards I was given from older women and family members were quaint and I almost tossed them. I’m so glad I didn’t.
I’ve come back around. When I was antiquing the other day. I picked up a box that was filled with a hybrid of handwritten and cutout magazine recipes. I was positively enchanted. They were written in the loveliest script and yellowed with age. I have to say that the recipes themselves looked rather nasty, but I didn’t care.
I got a tiny glimpse into someone’s kitchen. It was then I realized I’d never had my own box. My cards from the 90s just sat in a stack with a paper clip. There just weren’t enough that I ever really considered it.
Right then and there I decided I must have one. It’s 2021, damn it! It’s a rite of passage, having a recipe box, is it not?! But I did not want any recipe box. I wanted an old, rustic box. So once again, I set out on a mission.
My quest for the Holy Grail of recipe boxes only took a couple of hours. It turns out that antique malls are full of them. I found one that met all of my specifications and brought it home with me.
It’s Not What’s Inside That Matters
My recipes are saved on Pinterest, my hardrive, Google docs, in my binder, a recipe journal given to me by my mother-in-law, and dog-eared in cookbooks. But the recipe box symbolizes something special to me. It symbolizes the culinary adventures I’ve had over the years. It symbolizes the love I’ve baked into muffins, tarts, pies, cakes, cookies, and brownies. It symbolizes the heart of my home and the place where my friends come to gather.
I don’t have to put anything in that rustic little box. It can just sit on my counter. It holds memories. And that’s all I need it to do.
Do you have a recipe or a recipe box that has special nostalgic value to you? What is the oldest recipe that’s been passed down or given to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts and answers! Share them in the comments.