Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Comforts of Home-Cooking

I love new recipes. I really do. But there comes a point, usually around the beginning of autumn, when coming home and preparing Prosciutto-Wrapped Chicken Breasts with Eggplant Panzanella and Raisin-Pine Nut Vinaigrette just seems a bit much.

In my quest to get back to basics, I headed for my oldest cookbooks. There was my grandmother Allaby’s copy of Lily Wallace’s New American Cookbook, circa 1945, stuffed with her notes and held together with packing tape. (Turns out I’ve inherited her habit of ticking off the recipes I’ve tried.) There was my mother’s Betters Homes and Gardens Creative Cooking series from her early years of marriage. Techinicolor and vaguely terrifying, this series had chapters like “High Society Suppers with Franks & Burgers!” and “Meals Men Like.” (hmmm… perhaps I should dog-ear that one for later…)

And, of course, the pi├Ęce de resistance: the Grand Manan Cookbook. This cookbook was compiled by the local Hospital Auxiliary back in, well, back in a time when people belonged to cookbook-publishing Hospital Auxiliaries. So I thought: why not borrow a page from Julie and Julia and cook my way through this? This seemed like a smashing idea until I randomly opened to my first recipe: Eudervilla Morse’s recipe for “Pork Cake.” Now I’m sure Eudervilla was a lovely person known far and wide for her culinary skills but I could not possibly make a cake that began with the instructions: “Put salt pork through food chopper.” The facing page was no help. Mabel Richardson had contributed a recipe for something called “Husband Cake”. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know what I’d be expected to put through the grinder for that one…
(Incidentally, no grinder was required. Tomato soup did, however, play a starring role. Tomato soup cake would not do.)
So as I usually do when in a pinch (culinary or otherwise) I turned to my family. They wouldn’t let me down. And sure enough, there’s no place like home and no recipes like home-cooking.
I started with one of my mom’s go-to weeknight dishes: Souper Skillet Pasta. As the spelling suggests, this recipe came courtesy of the folks at Lipton as a vehicle for their onion soup mix. The night I cooked it, I excitedly emailed my mom to tell her. The response came back: “Which one was that again?” Which one was that?! To me, the name alone conjured up vivid memories of afternoons with the sun low in the sky, coming home from piano lessons or doing my lessons at the kitchen table. How could my mother not remember? Of course, as soon as I described it she said, “Oh, yes, I can almost smell the kitchen in the old house in Seal Cove.”

Then came my grandmother Ingalls’ chicken pot pie and batches of ginger snaps. A few weeks ago I revisited my mother’s beef stroganoff. My mom and I polished off the leftovers during lunch at my kitchen table the next day. “I have to start making this again,” she said. “I forgot how good it is.”

That’s the thing about this time of year. You get to remember how good it all is.

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