An old scrapbook offers memories and wisdom from way back when
Text and photos by Amy Fewell
It was one of those crisp evenings where you’ve fallen in love with the change in the air and the season of bonfires, but you’d rather stay inside curled up on the sofa underneath your warm blanket. I didn’t get to stay inside underneath the blanket that evening: my grandparents were in the final stages of packing and moving to a new house. Grandma had been asking me for months to come and go through boxes of old items. She wanted all of us girls to take whatever we wanted, because who knows what the hands of time would take away from us all too soon.
I sat in the middle of my grandparents’ rec room, overwhelmed by the mass of boxes that were laid out before me. I didn’t even have enough room in my humble abode for my own items, much less what sentimental ones I might bring home from her house. Grandma handed me a large empty box, but I turned away. “This small one over here will do, Grandma,” I smiled politely, “I don’t really feel comfortable taking a lot of these things home, some of the other family members may want them, and I don’t really want to cause any….” Quickly cutting me off short, she chuckled, “Oh, nonsense.” Then, as she very prominently rolled her eyes, she said, “Take the box and fill it up, or else you’ll hurt my feelings.”
Well, there it was. That one phrase she could always throw out there as a last resort whenever I didn’t want her to do something for me. With a big sigh, I sat the oversized box down and started sifting through old newspapers, delicate china, and books—lots and lots of books. I found some trinkets from childhood, things that I knew others wouldn’t attach any sentiment to. I didn’t feel bad taking those. There were old photos of me as a child, as well as photos of aunts and uncles and many lost loved ones. The evening was one that I cherished, and still do. And the fact that my husband and child were there with me, watching my family’s history unfold before us, was even more of a treasure.
The night was drawing to an end, and while I had taken all that I needed, I couldn’t take my eyes off a little tattered box that sat in the corner. “It’s just some old recipes, dear,” grandma said slowly. I could see she was tired and long overdue for bed. As I started to close the box, a small book at the bottom of that cardboard square caught my eye. I dug down deep, past magazine clippings, and stacks of banded together recipes that she had collected for the past 30 or more years. I could feel the little black composition book crumbling as I slowly lifted it out of the box.
“What’s this, Grandma?” I asked. Her eyebrows slanted as she tried to remember what those brittle pages contained. “I’m not quite sure, open it up.”
The penmanship of recipes that graced the yellowed pages instantly took us back to a time of old —when food was simple and versatile, housewives had coarse hands from working on the farm, and children ate what they were served because there wasn’t much else they could eat. The flow of the letters into words were delicately written, and with one quick look, I knew I had to have it. I glanced at Grandma, who was still trying to figure out whose it was and where it had come from. And before she even had a chance to give her opinion, for the very first time that evening I selfishly blurted out, “Can I have it?” Yikes, did I just say that out loud?
She smiled her beautiful little half smile, the one I knew meant “yes.” She sat up in her chair and reached out for the book—so many of its pages frayed on the ends and crumbled just from the mere fact that it had seen the light of day once again. In all of her grace, she could not think of where the book came from or exactly who had written it, but she knew her mother, my great-grandmother, had used it once. And that’s all that mattered to me. I had great plans for this little book. I planned to make copies of the pages, giving a facsimile of the book to each lady in our family. I planned on transferring copies to canvas, and adorning my kitchen with them.
The hands of time never stop, so while my big plans for this little book have yet to be implemented, I hope that you can enjoy a few of these simple recipes. Recipes that might not ever win an award for their colorful flavors, but ones that take you back to home, to the way it once used to be..
Sour Milk Griddle Cakes
¼ cup of flour
⅛ tsp. soda
1/16 tsp. salt
¼ cup of sour milk
Method: Sift flour, salt, and soda together. Beat egg well. Stir milk into flour. Add beaten egg. Beat well. Bake in spoonfuls on hot greased griddle.
If you don’t have buttermilk for this recipe, simply add 2 tsp. of white vinegar in with your milk.
These are a savory griddle cake rather than a pancake. While they pair well with syrup or honey, they are extravagantly delicious with salted ham and fried apples.
Baking Powder Biscuits
1 cup of flour
1 Tbsp. butter
1½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
⅜ cup milk
Method: Mix and sift twice dry ingredients, working in lard with tips of fingers, and adding milk very gradually, mixing with a knife until a soft dough is formed. Turn onto floured board and roll lightly. Cut and bake in hot oven for 15 minutes.
Baked at 350 for 10-15 minutes. Dough should be crumbling but wet. With a large round cutter, this made 4 biscuits.
2 cans of corn, drained
(or the corn off of 5-6 large ears)
2 heaping Tbsps. flour
1¼ cup milk
¾ cup sugar
6 pats of butter
1 dash of vanilla extract
Method: Place flour and ¼ cup of milk in a mixing bowl and mix until a paste forms (add more flour or milk if needed). Add eggs, sugar, vanilla, and remaining milk. Mix well. Add corn and mix until combined.
Thoroughly grease cast iron pan or glass baking dish with butter. Pour corn pudding mixture into pan. Add 4-6 pats of butter on top of pudding mixture, do not mix. Bake at 350 for 1 hour or until center is not moving when lightly shaken. Cover with foil if pudding starts to brown before set. Allow pudding to rest on the counter for 15 minutes before serving. Serve warm.
Wild Turkey Legs
4 large turkey legs
1 white onion, wedged
2 cloves garlic
6 carrots, cut into pieces
4 Tbsps. butter
¼ cup water
Salt and pepper to taste
Method: After dressing your turkey, remove the legs and set aside. At this time, you can roast your turkey or place it in the freezer for another time. Separating the legs from the body ensures you can make two very different turkey dinners.
Place carrots, onion and garlic in the bottom of a dutch oven or roasting pan. Add water. Add turkey legs to the pan on top of vegetables. Slather each turkey leg with butter, being sure to coat it evenly. Sprinkle with salt and pepper—you may also sprinkle with garlic and onion powder.
Place uncovered dutch oven in the oven for 2-3 hours, or until desired tenderness is reached. Leaving your dutch oven or roasting pan uncovered will allow the skin of the legs to get dark and crispy. Serve on top of mashed potatoes with pan drippings, or alongside homemade corn pudding.