Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Cookin' up your genealogy

Among my mother's papers I went through after she died was a fistful of 3x5 cards and clippings from newspapers and magazines. These are all recipes, some of them I believe must date back at least to World War II. My mother, Martha Shideler Reed (1916-1980) married my father Arden Packard (1911-1954) in 1937 in Pensacola, Florida. My father was taking flight training at Pensacola Naval Air Station.

One recipe, for "Savory Casserole," starts out rather unsavory to me -- "brown 1 c. dried luncheon meat in 2 tbsp. fat." Does this sound like a thrifty ration-driven World War II recipe or what? The recipe continues: "add 1/2 c. dried onion, 1 c. celery, 1/4 c. green pepper. Cook until partially tender." Wonder how long that took? By dried luncheon meat, I wonder if that meant dried chipped beef? We had another name for that in the service, but I will not mention it here!

"Blend in -- 1 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. pepper, 2 tbsp. flour. Add -- 2 c. canned tomatoes, 1/2 c. drained whole kernel corn. Cook until thickened. Pour into deep casserole & top with biscuits. Bake at 450 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes."

In this recipe is a little clue: my mother must have spent time working as a secretary those many years ago, and indeed she did, so she told me, before getting married. The clue: the word "to" and the word "minutes" in the last sentence in the recipe are in Gregg shorthand. It's a good thing I took shorthand as an elective in high school!

It is also a good thing I am a paleographer -- I can usually puzzle out words which Mom didn't write all that clearly, though her handwriting was usually quite legible.

Another recipe has an ingredient that has me wondering: Her recipe for "Salmon or Tuna Fish Loaf" calls for 2 tbsp. acid. Does that mean vinegar (also known as acetic acid)? Or maybe lemon juice (a form of citric acid)? Could either one be used according to personal taste?

Another bunch of papers contained some recipes of my grandmother, Mary LeSourd (1889-1978). One of them shows economic conditions at the time, which might have been anywhere from the 1920s to the 1940s, and how they differ from today: "Ice Box Pudding -- 1 cup nuts, 2 eggs, 1 stick butter, 1 cup powdered sugar, 1 ten cent bar German sweet chocolate, 3 five cent boxes vanilla wafers."

Five cents' worth of German's sweet chocolate today might fit on the head of a pin, and try to get three boxes of vanilla wafers for fifteen cents!

A handful of little cards, holding clues about my mother's work life and about the economic times my grandmother lived through. These recipes are for more than dishes for our table. These are recipes for family history.

No comments: