It seems that when I start doubting my interest (occasionally, obsession) with vintage recipes something pops up that reaffirms that I am in good company. Case in point: this weekend I visited McKays Used Books in Nashville and spent about 45 blissful minutes in the cookbook aisle pretty much oblivious to anything else happening around me searching for bargains and the perfect book on Southern cooking. I found bargains for sure, including a Cooks Illustrated book on making food ahead and passed up a Marcella Hazan that I should have gotten just because she rocks. There were no good baking cookbooks that I didn’t already have (Martha Stewart Pies and Tarts, hello!) with the exception of Chocolate Epiphany (Payard) but I left with my arms full anyway. I wondered out loud if I was slightly nutty for having such an obsession with food and cooking as we drove to Mother’s Day ice cream. And hubby, also one of my taste testers and cookie dough thieves in the Vintage Dolci kitchen, noted that it really didn’t matter if I was nutty or not because it made me happy. Eff yeah it does!
As I digested this (along with my Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup swirlie from Bobbie’s Dairy Dip in Nashville) I remembered a recent article about an exhibition in Nashville called Dirty Pages: Nashville Women & the Recipes That Tell Their Stories. This exhibition focused on recipes and Nashville food traditions:
“Dirty pages. The cookbook pages ringed with coffee stains, the recipes smudged with chocolate or butter, dusted with flour, a creased piece of paper or the back of an old envelope, pages wrinkled and folded, the faded careful script of a mother or grandmother. They’re the recipes we refer to again and again. But beyond the dishes they help create, these pages hold stories” Dirty Pages, About
It’s an exhibition that I totally missed but shouldn’t have because it happened right in my backyard! Such a freakin’ bummer. BUT, it brought me to another news article that made me equally happy about a mother’s cookbook in the New York Times (see: A Mother’s Cookbook) and the love and history represented by dirty, earmarked cookbook pages that have a way of bringing history to life. The emotions closely intertwined with food traditions and cultures are strong – almost tangible – for some of us. In many families, mothers are the keepers of those traditions, it’s certainly true in mine when I was a child and now. Irish Soda Bread, hot cross buns on Easter, homemade bear claws and chili eggs for Christmas. Finding warm, homemade chocolate chip cookies or Jana’s Brownies in the kitchen. My daughter will likely grow up remembering my fondness for dessert, stealing bites of cookie dough from the bowl, working together in the kitchen at mealtime. It was appropriate, somehow, that Mother’s Day weekend consisted of the cookbook aisle, ice cream, and making a vintage brownie recipe with my family.
And my husband is right, you know. We should all pursue what makes us happy. Baking makes me less inclined to swear (which is a feat in itself). Vintage baking is a constant work in progress and a bit of a crap-shoot. Sometimes it’s not worth it and I wish I’d just broken open a package of Double-Stuff Oreos. I work in insurance and finance. I probably don’t have to tell you how freaking uncreative that is. Baking gives me an outlet. Connecting to history fuels my curiosities. And as long as I remember not to accidentally substitute baking soda for baking powder in my 80+ year old cornbread recipe, it usually turns out deliciously as well.
I have a friend that is wildly talented when it comes to baking and decorating baked goodies. She bakes exquisitely and can decorate cookies and cakes with the ease and talent of a master artist. I admire her talent immensely. She is fabulous. I am not that girl. I stumble through recipes sometimes, swear a lot, can’t decorate a cookie to save my life much less bake a wedding cake, but I can push through and effortlessly bake a wicked chocolate chip cookie from scratch and from memory. It makes me happy.
So, a toast to you all. To the daughter holding onto her mother’s tattered cookbooks, to the Nashville gals whose interest in old recipes and history is so strong that they put together an entire 2-month long exhibition about them, to the families that have passed down mealtime traditions or are busy making new ones of their own. Take your obsessions and your intense curiosities and run with them, you are in good company. Swear if you must. And please save me a cookie.