Over the holidays, I was searching for an old recipe that I’d not made in years, so I started digging through everything I could find. Did it come from a book? Did it come from a box? Did it come from a recipe card subscription from years ago? It took a while, but I did eventually find what I was looking for, and a whole lot more.
With every book I took from the shelf, every page I turned, every card I flipped, every box I opened, I began to realize that my collection of cooking references is really a road map of my history. Throughout the search, I remembered where I was in my life — how old I was, summers, holidays, milestones, events, life stages, friends, family, the works. I was overcome with nostalgia. And on top of that, I discovered that I never fully internalized just how long I’ve been interested in (or maybe obsessed with) cooking — how I adore cookbooks and recipes, and how much I’ve longed to be a really good cook. The signs were all there. I just hadn’t seen them so clearly before now.
It was quite the revelation. A little salty, a little sweet, but definitely affirming. If I wasn’t sure I was headed the right way before, I certainly am now. So I figured I’d make a few notes about some of the high points along the path from there to here, just to help me get my bearings as I sally forth.
It started when I got My First Cookbook. Literally, it was my first cookbook and the title was “My First Cookbook.” Kismet!
Imperial Sugar ran a promotion where you could get a free cookbook using proof-of-purchase seals from their products. I can remember checking the bag of sugar daily to see if it was empty enough to dismember the packaging and claim the seal. It seemed like I had to wait for years before I’d collected enough to redeem. But when that day arrived, I filled out the form, put everything in the envelope, handed it to the mailman personally, then waited for the magical day to come when the book would land in my mailbox.
There have been several editions of this book over time but this is the picture that was on the the one that came to me some time in the early 60s. Oddly enough, the recipes inside, and the sequence they appear in, come from a previous edition with different cover art. Having scoured the internet, I’ve learned that many of the original recipes made it into the newer editions. When it works, it works!
It’s been a long time since I baked my first batch of “Betty’s Bran Muffins” from that book. Some time in the late 60s, my culinary goddess, Betty Crocker (yes, I know, she’s not a real person) took the torch from my beloved Imperial Sugar, and escorted me into my teens and beyond.
She also took me through my 20s.
The 80s was a blur of moving out of state, college, career, marriage, and buying a home. The only creative cooking I did was at the holidays and I rested on my old favorites rather than try new things. Although during my holiday search, I did run across some hand-written recipe cards from the 80s. A friend of mine introduced me to vegetarian cooking, and some of those recipes were totally righteous!
In the 90s, it was all about kids and crafts, homemaking and lifestyle-building so Martha took the lead … who else? There were also loads of diet books in the mix as well.
In the 2000s, there was Gordon; in the 2010s it was the Food Network bunch, each of whom has his/her own special appeal. And across both of those decades, there was the internet as a whole — no shortage of cooking information out there, even on the shopping shows there were loads of ideas for what to cook, how to prepare it, with what tools … what to prepare it in, and how to cook it, not to mention what to cook it WITH. There’s cookware and bakeware, steamers, grills, pressure cookers, slow cookers, the Instant Pot, the air fryer, mixers, blenders, food processors, slicers, and dicers … and every last one of them comes with a recipe guide … or cards … or books … or a link to a printable PDF online.
Now, here we are in 2020, at the start of a brand new decade. New Year, New You. Well, maybe not ALL new. It is, however, an opportunity to take stock, assess, adapt and overcome. It’s a time for acknowledging the past and preparing for the future. As in life, so in the kitchen. And who will lead the way this time? Who will step forward to take the torch and light my way through the next phase of my quest to become better than just OK? Or is it time for me to find my own way?
My kitchen teachers and guides aren’t going anywhere. They’re right there on my bookshelves. And they will always be right within reach, whether in print or on video, so I know I’ll never be truly alone. Experience is the best teacher so this time, I’ll carry my own torch. I’ll practice, learn more, keep cooking in my kitchen and continue improving until I’m better than just OK. I’ll follow the recipe road, maybe even branch out and put my own spin on a few things. I don’t imagine I’ll ever be chef material. I’m a home cook, cooking in a home kitchen. But for me, there’s no place like home!