ORGANIZING RECIPES

BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER
Columbia County, New York  I  Monday, 26 February 2018

No one who cooks, cooks alone. Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, and the wisdom of cookbook writers.
~Laurie Colwin

After my mom died recently, I commandeered all the cookbooks and recipe files she had here in New York.

Some of my most treasured memories are of our family, sitting around the table, eating certain meals she made over and over throughout my life, the perennial favorites.

Some of her recipes can be traced back to a mysterious Sister Lunt, a lady who was serving a church mission with her husband, here in New York, and just so happened to rent the upstairs apartment I now live in, Valoftten. This would have been in the late 1960s or early 1970s.

I can’t picture Sister Lunt’s face, and I don’t even know her first name, but I’m told she was from Hawaii. She must have been a pretty good cook, and a big influence on my mother, who would have been in her late 30s or early 40s when they knew each other.

Sister Lunt made cream of mushroom pork chops, and a special kind of chicken, which my mom aptly named Lunt Chicken.

At the end of Mom’s life, she made Lunt Chicken as often as two times a week, still referring to various renditions on umpteen index cards she’d written and rewritten of this now infamous recipe.

It got to the point where I could recognize the smell, wafting up the stairs, the smell of green peppers and chicken. It was like my mom got stuck, in her ripe old age of 85, stuck on Lunt Chicken.

Mom seemed to forget she also knew how to make killer creamed chicken with homemade mashed potatoes, an amazing boiled beef dinner with tangy, yellowy, saucy mustard pickles I still long for, a melt-in-your mouth Swiss steak, and yummy goulash.

Mom also knew how to make a superb rhubarb cobbler, sinfully rich apple dumplings, and a showstopping Black Forest Cake.

But, in her later years, she lamented that her cookies never turned out right. She was starting to get fuzzy…

But getting back to me, and my own little kitchens. For a long time now, I’ve been bothered by the state of my own recipe collection, or lack thereof. Shambles, complete.

I have umpteen file folders with: color pages torn out of magazines; black-and-white photocopies from magazines and cookbooks; loose clippings from cans, bags, and boxes; and lots of recipes on index cards, as well as odd-sized sheets of paper.

How in the world to make any semblance of order out of this mess? I’ve been wondering for pretty much years now…

The only solution, in my mind, seems to be to organize them into a looseleaf binder, with a table of contents. Smaller recipes can be combined onto one page.

I feel a sense of urgency, now that Mom is gone, to organize her recipes, not only for myself, but for the rest of her posterity.

Her favorite recipes are positively filthy with splatters and fingerprints. That’s how you can tell, you know, someone’s favorite cookbook.

My favorite cookbook is a binder, fallen completely off its 3-ring part, and I’m not sure how to fix it. Some of the pages are water-warped, and scribbled with notes to myself. This cookbook has been through thick and thin with me.

My sister’s favorite cookbook is very kitchen-beaten, as well. (That’s like weather-beaten, kind of.) I bet your is, too!

I’ve been undertaking a pretty big project, to organize the recipes from my church’s women’s group into a binder, with plastic page protectors.

My mom was considered the matriarch of our church group, and as such, her recipe box is a culinary history of the women’s group, with many recipes in the handwriting of women whose names I’ve heard many times over the years, but have never met.

When I feel like I have a good enough representation of the various women who’ve come and gone, their friendly ghosts still haunting the serene halls of my church and the happy hallows of my kitchen, I will photocopy them, make a table of contents and an index, and design a cheerful cover.

No one from church knows about this yet, and don’t you dare tell them! I don’t want any pressure, and I don’t want any help. I want to be a committee of one.

I’m far too picky about books, design, and typography to accept any help. I won’t allow anyone to pressure me into a deadline for a project of my own conception. This is my deal, my idea, and my own, personal labor of love for my mother, and to the women she knew.

And in the process, I really need to get my own recipes organized. It’s a daunting task, but I feel up to it, a few minutes here, a few hours there.

[MORE INFORMATION]
To read about Laurie Colwin:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laurie_Colwin