Do you remember the first thing you ever cooked with your mom? Not where she hovered as you stirred (after the stirring was really already done) or where she let you dump the pre-measured ingredients into the bowl, but the first time you cooked the whole thing while she watched and instructed you along the way?
I do. Very clearly. Peanut Butter Dream Bars. It was my turn to bring a snack to our kids’ Wednesday night church service. She pulled a card from her magical recipe box and off we were.
For me growing up, being in the kitchen with my mom or the women around was a special experience. When I was very small I was desperate to help, but was more desperate just to be included in this ritual – the frenzied preparation of a holiday dinner or just the artful way my mom could simultaneously have a skillet and a pasta pot simmering while peeling vegetables. Gender equality be forgotten, the kitchen was where the women gathered – it was where they told their secrets in hushed tones, where they talked about their lives, where they loved their family by feeding them. The kitchen was where I was eventually included in these rituals. Eventually the hushed conversation tones stopped being a way to keep me from hearing, but a way to include me.
My mom had a tendency to get teary-eyed when you were about to open a particularly special gift. And several Christmases ago as I began opening a specific gift, I could see her clasping her hands together in the way she did – anticipating a beautiful emotional moment (that usually ended in us teasing her). 🙂 I opened this gift to find a recipe book. One of those three-ring binders with decorated paper and dividers like “Soups” and “Pre-Diabetes.” She urged me to open it.
She had filled the pages with the recipes we had been raised on. Hot corn casserole from Thanksgiving dinners with the Padgetts. Mamaw’s spicy potato soup that Dad still requests at every opportunity. Vinita’s monster cookies that she made the dads for their early morning fishing trips. Grandma Marie’s apple pie. Simple things like puppy chow and chicken salad, but made like she made it – with a note on each page telling me where the recipe came from and how we came to love it.
That Christmas season my grandmother, aunt, cousin, and my Vinita each wrote recipes in the book – the women in my family passing these simple gestures of love on to me. I thought it was cool, but could not have anticipated the extent of what its value to me would become.
A few days after Mom had died, we were ‘casually’ talking through making our Thanksgiving dinner. My sister tossed me a question – “Kel? Do you know how to make her potato casserole?” It was one of those simple moments (and if you’ve grieved, you know) that ended with five of us standing in a lump weeping in the kitchen. No, I didn’t know how to make it. And I couldn’t ask her how and I didn’t know where her recipe for it was. And we all bore the full weight of knowing that some things she made, we would never taste again.
Last year I was going through the attic going through some boxes when I found my recipe book, the pockets now stuffed with magazine clippings and 3×5 recipe cards from friends. My grandmother and my mother now no longer with us, but their handwriting sharing with me the ways we had bonded. These simple recipes that had represented hours together in the kitchen, telling secrets in hushed tones.
I wish my mom and my Mamaw had kept a journal. I wish they had written down their secret thoughts every day so I could have known them better. But they didn’t. They did, however, give me a little piece of themselves through this recipe book that I now deeply treasure.
So, long story short, if you are a family who loves to cook, consider handwriting a recipe book for your daughter. Let the other women in her life write the recipes she loves. Include in it the ways you make her favorites, even if it’s something like poached eggs or potato soup. Write the history of your family into the recipes. And if you have time, cook through them with her.
Oh, and here’s the Peanut Butter Dream Bar recipe. My mom wrote on the bottom of the recipe that it was a “healthy alternative” to brownies. How cute is that. 🙂
Peanut Butter Dream Bars
2 c quick oats
1 1/2 c flour
1 c chopped nuts (optional)
1 c brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 c butter, melted
1/3 c peanut butter
1 can Eagle Brand (condensed milk…she just put Eagle Brand, hee hee)
1 c M&Ms (more or less as you wish – more is always better. duh.)
Preheat oven to 375(F). Combine oats, flour, nuts, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Add butter, mix until moistened. Reserve 1 1/2 cups.
Press remainder of mixture onto bottom of greased 9×13 pan. Bake for 10-12 minutes. (Don’t let it burn.)
While the bottom is baking: Combine Eagle Brand and peanut butter in a bowl. Spread over baked crust. Combine reserved topping and M&Ms. Sprinkle over mixture, press lightly. Bake for 20-22 minutes (don’t let it burn).
Cool completely then cut into bars.