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.
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.