Cookbooks Upon Your Pantry Shelf by Cay Gibson

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gibsonYour husband will give you a penny for your thoughts.  A baker will give you a baker’s dozen.  And cookbooks come a dime a dozen.  Everyone has a cookbook inside of them. Nearly every professional cook has published one. Cookbooks are staples in life.  Every family has harvested the secret ingredient.  And every true homemaker has several on the back-burner of their pantry shelf.

I am just another mother but, at last count, I had some fifty-plus cookbooks on my shelf.  I have an all-natural cookbook from my early years of motherhood: Mother’s in the Kitchen: The LLL Cookbook(a publication by La Leche League).  I have an organic one that represents my stint into organic research: The Holistic Cookbook.   This Christmas I’ll have another deceptively health-oriented cookbook to bookend my shelf: Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food.

Then there is the thicker slab of Betty Crocker Cookbook, a gift from my aunt and uncle on the occasion of my first wedded Christmas with the adornment “Best Wishes and Happy Cooking.” There is another thinner, yellowy-aged cookbook that was my mother’s and boasted a “complete guide to cooking electrically”with a 1960 copyright date and a “Live Better…Electrically” slogan on the back cover.  Then there is the bridal gift from Aunt Vida inscribed to my mother on her birthday before her 1962 wedding.

There is the Fix-It and Forget-It Lightly Cookbook during the time I was a busy mother of three teenagers and two little ones and secretly romancing my slow-cooker to its fullest potential.

There is a slim Scholastic cooky book I received in the second grade book order after begging my mother for it.  I still remember the girl who presented it at show-and-tell and whose copy I coveted.  Her last name was Baker.  This cookbook features a cookie for every month of the year—some that have gone on to become family traditions within my own household— cookies I make and bake throughout the year without my family being aware that they are made (and consumed) in a seasonal order:  sugar and spice in January, peanut butter in May, snicker doodles in October, and brownies in November.

Color, texture and art are displayed in various seasonal Gooseberry Patch cookbooks that I obsess over.  I love Gooseberry Patch.  And there is a lucky sprinkle of flavorful cookbooks I found on sell tables, such as Just a Matter of Thyme: A Simple Collection of Satisfying Recipes.   Cookbooks such as this one are more a feast for my eyes than for my family’s stomachs; something for me to enjoy while sipping a mug of eggnog.

My middle daughter’s cookbooks threaten to take over my pantry shelf.  There are three American girls (Felicity, Samantha, and Molly) sitting primly on the shelf, donned in their aprons and cooking caps, awaiting us to bid them to dapple in the art of kitchenery.

My daughter has claimed my first edition The Nancy Drew Cookbook: Clues to Good Cooking inscribed to me by my grandmother (ie: MawMaw) with an inside joke I have long-since forgotten the punch line to:  “Love, Grandmother Miller.  Ha!”

My old copy of the first edition The Little House Cookbook speckled with shiny dots of melted butter and lumpy specks of spice recalls the day I found all those mysterious frontier recipes handed down to me on a breaded platter through the careful compilation of another Little House fan.

Fannie Farmer’s thicker-than-cheese cookbook flakes the shelf next to Deborah Hopkinson’s book Fannie in the Kitchen that kicked up a whole interest in cooking with this fabulous American icon for my daughters and me. Next to Fannie Farmer, is the tousled red hair of Strawberry Shortcake.  The pink cover and bright illustrations make my littlest baker smile.

Last, but not least, Meme’s handwritten recipes sit upon our pantry shelf in a sealed freezer storage bag.  They were written in her graceful Depression-taught cursive handwriting.  They were written on lined paper and notepad paper and index cards and menu cards and envelopes and even on the back of a cousin’s wedding invitation.  Meme loved to cook.  There are newspaper clippings that tempted her palate and guided her medicated diet, such as the recipe for “Diabetic Fruit Cake”.

My thumb wipes some aged flour off one index card.  On it is written her famous “Blonde Brownies”.  She baked countless pans of this for our delicatessen.

Now that I look at this pantry shelf again, I realize it serves much more than dime cookbooks and staple recipes.  This shelf serves bittersweet roots, poignant herbs and sweet memories that flank the meat of my family’s meals. Cookbooks are not just paperweights taking up space on the pantry shelves.  They are the sauce of life, serving everything from Aunt Dawn’s unbelievable peanut butter cookie recipe to Meme’s blonde brownie recipe and the whole family’s picnic table of potluck dishes. They mark various wedding anniversaries and birthdays and favorite storytelling and make special notation of the initiation of young daughters into a long line of family bakers and chefs.

Cookbooks are our families’ histories tied up with thread. They represent the fruits of our labor. Cookbooks represent what we love best in life and they serve the best of ourselves.

Diabetic Fruit Cake
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
½ cup margarine
1 egg
1 ½ cup natural style applesauce
¼ cup Sugar Twin ®
1 cup chopped dates
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup pecans

Mix flour and soda.  Cream butter and add other ingredients one at a time.  Pour into 9 x 5 loaf pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for one hour.

Meme’s Blonde Brownies
2 cups Bisquick ®
1 box brown sugar
4 eggs — beat eggs well
2 cups pecans

Beat eggs well.  Mix all at once.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 25-30 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

Copyright 2009 Cay Gibson

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