Dreams. Recipes. Life. My Grandmother’s Recipe Book.

I come from a long line of savers.   Sometimes I curse them for all the things they’ve left behind for me to sort through from time to time, other times I feel incredibly blessed.

One tattered blessing is a brown notebook brimming with recipes cut out of magazines and newspapers pasted on the pages, along with recipes written in my grandmother’s  handwriting. Some of the clippings are from the 1930s. This was when she first married, had a whole married life ahead of her, and was dreaming about what she would cook and bake for herself and her new husband in the years to come.

But there were wars to fight, careers to wield, and one very special baby girl to adopt, raise, and love. My grandfather went off to the war; my grandmother went to work—and found that she loved it, changing the landscape of their family life.

When I asked my mom about the recipes in this notebook, I was a bit surprised to find that my grandmother had never cooked most of them—at least not after my mom arrived on the scene. But only a bit.  After all, so many of us love our cookbooks, read them, dream over them, and yet don’t cook from them. As my mom said,  “As cooks we perfect several dishes we learn to rely on and sometimes we never branch out.” As the author of two cookbooks, you might think this trend upsets me, but it doesn’t. Thinking of readers dreaming over my cookbooks is every bit as satisfying to me as thinking of cooks cooking from them.

Still, as I run my fingers over the yellowed pages neatly put together and organized by my own grandmother’s hands, along with the comfort that envelops me, I feel a sense of regret. The passage of time requires us to pick and choose which dreams to follow and which recipes to make.

What I see here is so clearly my grandmother—the neat handwriting, the clear, organized mind at work in her table of contents and a meticulous index. (Unfortunately my camera doesn’t focus that well on her text.) Her passion for Chinese food is evidenced by these recipes and clippings, as well. She lists several recipes for chop suey, yet Mom only remembers her making chow mien.  Gram embraced Chinese food while my grandfather was stationed in China, then Burma. Chinese restaurants were popping up here and there, as well. My grandmother was the kind of a woman who would wake up at 2 a.m., hungry for Chinese food, and drive 40 miles to the nearest all-night Chinese restaurant to quell her craving. Such is the stuff of family history.

My mother waxes poetic over certain dishes her mother prepared. One of them is doughnuts. Eureka. Several doughnut recipes are contained in this book. The baked doughnut recipe calls to me and we’ll try it out sometime over the next few weeks. As we mix the dough and make a mess in our own kitchen,  I’ll tell my daughters stories about their greatgrandmother, her dreams, her recipes, her life.

Baked Doughnuts

Full disclosure: I’ve not tried this yet. If you try the recipe and it doesn’t work, please let me know. I’ve copied it exactly as my grandmother wrote it.

2 cakes compressed yeast of 2 packages dry granular yeast

¼ cup lukewarm water

1/3 cup shortening

2 tablespoon, salt

2 eggs beaten, melted butter and granulated sugar

1 ¼ cups scalded milk

½ cup sugar

1/1/2 teaspoons nutmeg

4 ¾ cup all-purpose flour

Soften yeast in the lukewarm water. Meanwhile scald the milk and pour it over the shortening, sugar, salt and nutmeg measured into a mixing bowl. When milk mixture cools to lukewarm, stir in softened yeast and eggs, the flour and beat until thoroughly mixed. Cover and let stand in a warm place until double in bulk (about one hour.) Then turn dough out onto a well-floured board. Shape into a soft ball, but do not knead. With floured hands, gently press the dough out to about ¾ thickness. Then use slightly floured rolling pin to roll dough to uniform ½ inch thickness. Brush off lightly any excess flour on the top. This dough is very soft. Cut-out with a floured 3-inch doughnut cutter, lift carefully with a pancake turner so as not to distort the round shape, and place 2-inches apart on a greased baking sheet.

Brush gently but thoroughly with melted butter or margarine and let rise until double in bulk—20 to 25 minutes. Bake in a 425-degree oven from 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately brush with hot melted butter while on the baking sheet, the remove from the pan and put two or three at a time into packer sack containing granulated sugar. Shake gently to coat. These are elegant served warm, but if any are left, they may be reheated in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes and will be just as delicious as when first baked. Makes 2 ½ to 3 dozen.

8 thoughts on “Dreams. Recipes. Life. My Grandmother’s Recipe Book.

  1. Erika Marks says:

    Mollie–I had to check in, this wonderful post speaks so to me!

    My mother has her Kentucky grandmother’s recipe book (looks much like this with the clippings and pastings and notes, etc) and she treasures it–and I have been building my own for 20 some-odd years and it is so precious to me. There is something so vital about recipes, and the preservation of them, from family to family.

    Even with the advent of recipe websites, PLEASE let us all keep our grandmother’s/mother’s recipe books–and better yet, use them!

    • Mollie Cox Bryan says:

      Thanks so much! I agree. LET US KEEP THEM. Digital files just don’t have the same meaning as these handwritten recipes and books.

  2. Jane Sellers says:

    Molly- I so wish I had something of this sort from my grandmothers. I do have some of my mother’s recipe cards written in her beautiful script- with a fountain pen, no less- , and cherish them more than just about anything else of hers that I have. My oldest sister (we are estranged) has her recipe box and her red covered Good Housekeeping cookbook with the stained pages; oh, to possess those!! But I still prepare some of her best dishes, and think of her when I do. And, although I own her rolling pin, I STILL cannot make piecrust!

    • Mollie Cox Bryan says:

      Thanks for posting and sharing Jane. Cherish those recipe cards. Take it from me on the pie crust, it can take years to perfect! And sometimes it’s quite all right to use a frozen crust. 😉

  3. Sharon Miro says:

    Molly, I too have recipe files loaded with cakes never baked and sandwiches never tried.
    When my MIL passed, no one wnated ehr recipe file, but I could not bear to see it tossed–so it sits, a little orange box stuffed withe her dreams of strange lands and the tastes they represented to her.
    Great post–thanks!

    • Mollie Cox Bryan says:

      Thanks, Sharon. I love the image of a little orange box stuffed with dreams of strange lands and the tastes they represented to her. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Kevin Shirley says:

    Lovely post, Mollie. I wish I had such a compilation from my mom’s mom, Mannie. She was an extraordinary scratch cook and baker — so no written evidence actually exists. Her biscuits were something to behold, and no written recipe I’ve ever attempted comes close to those buttery gems — soft on the inside, crisp and savory on the outside. I do have my mom’s Better Homes & Gardens cookbook from when she got married, and for years it’s been my go-to guide for the basics (though some of the sample menus are a little out there!). But enough about me, Mollie. Let’s talk about you. What do you think about me? =)

  5. Mollie Cox Bryan says:

    Thanks for posting Kevin. Now I’m thinking about biscuits. Yum. I think my mom had that cookbook and it was destroyed in a fire. What do I think about you? You know what I think about you, friend. X

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