I spent much of a Christmas holiday a few years ago in the mountains of Southwestern Virginia where I was born and reared, and where my mother, my two sisters and our families gather every year. An ice storm's aftermath, plus a dusting of snow, had provided us with an icy, cold, white Christmas.
|My childhood home|
One frosty night I decided I wanted a pot of spiced tea that, in our family, we have always called "Russian tea." I had only made the instant mix in the past, so my mother had to show me how she mixed up the pitchers of Russian tea that were often in the refrigerators at our house, or at our grandmother's house, during the winters of my childhood. Soon, a saucepan containing water, cinnamon sticks and whole cloves was simmering on the stove, filling the house with its fragrance. We next made a pot of tea, then added orange juice, lemon juice, sugar and the liquid strained from our spices. I kept inquiring about a recipe but my mother worked intuitively and with frequent taste tests.
Once the tea was made and I was sitting with my steaming cup, my mother retrieved her recipe box from the kitchen shelf. Inside the box were 3 x 5 note cards, newspaper clippings or handwritten scraps of paper representing my childhood in the form of recipes for casseroles, salads, cakes, cookies--even my grandmother's Russian tea recipe!
My mother began to look at each recipe, culling out duplicates, or dishes she said she would never make again. As she discarded recipes, I would often protest, "But these have historical value, you can't just throw them away."
I started my own stack of cards, and that is how I came to own my grandmother's Russian tea recipe written in her own cursive handwriting, my Aunt Dean's recipe for Christmas fruit drop tea cakes and a version of Snicker Doodle cookies made by Mrs. Brown, an older woman in our neighborhood. All of these women have passed away, but each was alive again as we read their recipes. I copied my mother's recipe for lemon squares that I had needed several years ago for a party, and didn't have, and recipes from my sisters for blueberry cake and moist 'n creamy coconut cake. My mother and I spoke of recipes we wished we had--my maternal grandmother's roll recipe that called for potato water and my paternal grandmother's recipe for carrot cookies.
Reading recipes on a cold winter night in Virginia helped me remember many magical times from my childhood and evoked memories of family and friends. I know how fortunate I am to have grown up in a household where we had plenty to eat, surrounded by a loving, extended family.
M.F.K. Fisher, the essayist who writes about food in many of her books, stated it this way: "When I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and the warmth and the love of it." She went on to add that, "...with our gastronomical growth will come, inevitably, knowledge and perception of a hundred other things, but mainly of ourselves."