It has been refreshing this week to have a change of scenery, to enjoy the fresh air, to work out the kinks resulting from a prolonged lack of movement. No, I am not a Champaign Countian lured from a case of stay-at-home fever by the promise of spring. Rather, I am the Scott Family recipe box, pulled from the mother’s rolltop desk where I have been stashed for several years. I have not minded that the oldest daughter riffled through my recipes; but in view of her well-known lack of culinary skill, it came as no surprise that I have not even made it to the kitchen during my week-long sojourn.
Although I am pretty rusty these days – oxidation just one manifestation of advancing age – in my day I was a shiny metal receptacle covered with a fashionable kitchen motif. The mother plucked me from a shelf at the five-and-ten store to complete the aforementioned daughter’s 4-H cooking project. In addition to a dozen cookies, the thirteen-year-old was to take to judging a recipe box containing several handwritten recipes. She carefully copied in pencil favorite cookie recipes: oatmeal cookies, molasses crinkles, and her mother’s grandmother’s sugar cookie recipe that called for lemon flavoring in the dough and a raisin on top. She earned a blue ribbon.
The next summer, I received a new influx of recipes, pressed as I was into kitchen service when the mother headed to the fields to plow and to pull the baler as the father stacked hay on the attached wagon. The daughters were to begin preparation of the evening meal. The Betty Crocker cookbook contained directions for some of the family’s standard fare, but my small cards seemed to streamline things for the girls. More and more cards were written and sometimes filed appropriately behind my dividers. And a few years later when the mother took a job at the local nursing home, the daughters cooked for real – each responsible for one evening meal during the week. The cards for baked macaroni and cheese, salmon patties, and Texas hash were used again and again, becoming dotted with the inevitable slop and drop of ingredients, which I always thought gave them character.
Suddenly the family took leave of the only home most of the children and I had ever known, the farm on River Road. The mother’s collection of cookbooks and I found a new kitchen on Ford Road – and a couple of years later a new baby: at long last, a boy became the sixth child of the family.
There was much coming and going in those years, what with the girls heading off to college and jobs. By then, with ever fewer daughters serving as scribes, the recipe aficionado the mother was began making her own additions. Not that she actually whipped up every dish whose directions she stuffed into me. No, she was a proponent of the that-sounds-good method of recipe collection. Depending on the day, she typed recipes on cards, jotted them on slips of paper the father brought home from the paper mill, clipped them from newspapers and can labels. I began to bulge a bit.
And then the girls left for careers and marriages – and recipe boxes in their own kitchens. Adult recipe swapping ensued, each daughter in her own, distinctive handwriting making deposits to the family collection, some on cards decorated for the purpose, more often on scrips and scraps of paper.
Modern culinary trends added recipes involving crockpots and microwaves and reflected the mother’s determination to cook healthier, more vegetable-dense meals, to the dismay of the father with the meat-and-potatoes appetite, who was not overly fond of “rabbit food.”
After retirement, the parents did not experience complete empty-nest syndrome. The son still lived at home, and there were always grandchildren in and out of the house at the top of the hill. What did change in the kitchen, however, was the father’s stretching of his culinary wings – which rarely involved me and my recipes. As precise as the mother’s kitchen habits were with her adherence to directions and measurements, the father relied on the memory of how his mother used to cook and a measuring system based on approximation. I am not sure how the mother felt about sharing the kitchen, but the family marveled at the tastiness of the father’s culinary concoctions.
The tempo of the kitchen and its cooking eventually slowed, and I was rarely consulted. Occasionally a daughter would finger through my cards in search of a specific recipe, but I basically just occupied shelf space there on Ford Road. When the passing of the beloved parents necessitated the sale of their house, I was relegated to my spot in the rolltop desk.
So here I am now, rustier than I am shiny. My recipe cards have browned with age, their cardboard edges chipping off. In fact, half the card holding the recipe for baking powder biscuits has flaked away.
However, I am proud to have served this family for an entire lifetime. What meals they made, what traditions they enjoyed, what momentous generational passage occurred by means of my help. Most of the daughters now cook in the image of the mother, with the son following in his father’s footsteps with recipes in his head. It was truly an incredible run and a real honor to hold close the cooking treasures of this family.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.