You won’t know if you don’t look!
One of the services I offer through Chandler Designs is archiving family collections of photos and documents. Digital versions of your heirlooms and written materials such as letters, are easy to share. The more people that can read the letters left by a parent or great aunt the better your chances of finding pearls of wisdom about daily life that led to your family traditions and who you are now.
Digging into family history reveals the gift of insight
Our family culture developed, on its own and/or along with our greater society’s evolution. We leave clues of how it happened behind us in the form of diaries, letters, photos, newspaper clippings. Our parents and grand parents left plenty of these things too. We live in the age of electronic archives and instant photography. Technology is fabulous, but it does not take the investment of attention that our ancestors had to employ to record points in time of collective human experience.
If they saved it it mattered.
And everything that matters is fueled by food.
If you are blessed with a family cookbook that has handwritten recipes added in the margins you get a sense of how your family came together over homemade meals. The talented cooks in any home can make a point of writing the family secrets, even if in their own coded notes. Some of our deepest memories are built around daily life events. With food it is as much about how we prepare and share food as it is about familiar recipes.
In the piles of boxes I have from both of my parents’ families there is a gift of literally reams of writing by my maternal grandmother, Eva. Diaries, chatty letters and original artwork. From childhood Eva wrote about any and all things that mattered to her. The topics were family, faith, art, and social issues; in no particular order, as they all seemed to be of equal importance. That was one of her most important lessons. Everything that life has to offer is important.
Eva went to a boarding school and while there in 1905-1907 she wrote long letters home to her family, detailing life, her hopes for her future, and her impressions of people. As was customary, prior to our current age of “buy everything at the store”, she learned how to do everything needed for a good life, including cooking from scratch. In the margin of one letter she added her own recipe for a spice cake. It seems she had some time, and ingredients and access to the kitchen so she made good use of them all.
I have replicated her recipe, slightly adapting the ingredients as she left out the sugar and salt amounts. This was written in the age when cooks knew how to cook and recipes were often a cook’s unique version of standard methods and amounts. Did Eva leave out a couple of ingredients because everyone knows how much sugar and salt is needed in a cake, or was she in a hurry to finish the already 12 page letter?
My version of Eva’s Spice Cake:
- almost 2cups of egg – about 9 large eggs
- 6 cups flour
- 2 cups butter
- 4 cups sugar
- 6 tsp baking powder
- 2 cups milk
- 2 tsp cloves
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- about 3/4 tsp salt
Wisk together dry ingredients. Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time. Add dry mix alternately with milk.
I fit batter into one 13″ x 19″ sheet pan and one 8″ x 8″ pan. Be creative, it’s a lot of batter! And as Eva wrote…it is good!
Bake 50 – 60 min at 350°.
When I grew up most people, ok, women in particular, and the smartest men, learned to cook. There were and are social and cultural conventions which dictate roles in life and how we break bread is central to all of them. Convenience food allows cooks to get out of the kitchen an do work that is their choice. That never really replaces the experience of friends and family breaking bread with a homemade meal; making memories to be rediscovered in a box of family treasures.