For several years, Lee and Ann ruled the roost as the only great grandchildren to my Granny. This privileged position gave them their own bracket in the putting contest, access to the pinball machine in the basement, spots at the card table with Granny, books and art supplies from their doting great aunts, and finally, a chance to soak and steam in the hot tub before we bundled back into the car for the long ride home. Oftentimes, the girls napped, awaking just as night fell and they could count the Christmas lights that had sprung like mushrooms since morning.
Ben was just three months when we made the trip his first Thanksgiving. We left before daylight with the grand plan that the kids would sleep a goodly portion of the drive. Back then, almost everything closed for Thanksgiving, so there would be no distracting stops for pop or doughnuts or milk or coffee..just the necessities at the rest areas. But Ben had a different plan. He began screaming about Kansas City and continued unabated ‘til we reached our destination. He was a cute kid and a big hit with his grandma, his aunts, and his granny, and I hoped all that attention would wear him out for the trip home. No go. He was nothing if not persistent and wore US all out with his yelling until just north of Kansas City. As holidays go, it was something less than idyllic.
But I digress.
One year my uncle Steve rolled out the first edition of the Renken’s Recipes to Die For Thanksgiving 1992. Family get togethers were never quiet: I can remember my uncles castigating announcers, the players, and the officials...on a televised game. The kitchen at my aunt’s was an open air soapbox of suggestions, despite the fact that each family had already had their say about the menu by virtue of the dish they’d contributed. There was lots of good natured devil’s advocacy, but at some point in the afternoon, voices would be raised in something pretty darned close to an actual disagreement.
Most of the recipes contain a fair share of editorial content…..
From Steve, regarding “The Best Baked Beans”:
I’m not kidding; these really are the best. They are far better than anything Liz ever thought about.
From Liz’s corner: “Liz’s Most Requested Baked Beans”.
From Steve, about Liz’s recipe: “You will notice that no one claims these are the best: they are just the most requested. Probably by Terry and what choice does he have?”
Some recipes are quite brief:
Tim’s Beaver Tail
Take one beaver tail and hold over open flame until rough skin blisters. Remove from heat. When cool, peel off skin, roast over coals or simmer until brown.
Or this one:
Mark’s note: Most of you know that Laura does not have a large cooking repertoire. However, at this one she is great and you won’t mess it up either.
2 eggs in the shell
4 cups water
1 medium saucepan.
Place eggs in saucepan. Add water and bring to a boil. After three minutes of boiling, fish one egg out on a spoon and carry to the sink. Halfway to the sink, drop the egg (accidentally) on the floor. If it oozes on impact, cook remaining egg one more minute before eating and after cleaning up the floor.
But the recipes I turn to the most often are my mom’s. Some of them are dog eared and stained, fragile to the point of illegibility. But I keep them for sentiment’s sake, even though those recipes have long since been committed to memory.
Included in the Recipes to Die For are some of the comfort foods of my childhood, like the Raisin Bars, which my mom made at least once a week for my father’s lunch. I loved the combination of plump, sweet raisins after their bath in boiling water and the layer of sweet frosting atop the spicy cookies. Or the multiple Jello recipes: the cherry jello with bing cherries that was my favorite, although I also like sliced oranges in lemon jello (not mandarin oranges!) and the apple grape jello with crunchy apples and green seedless grapes. Yes,I am a kid of the Jello generation.
Some of the notes are windows into my mom’s kitchen after I was grown: the Mulled Wine we would enjoy during winter visits just before bedtime (Good in cold weather and decidedly beneficial if one has the cold or the flu, ), the Hearty Corn Chowder (I use the microwave and make this in a 4 quart Corningware dish. Good for a winter supper), the Caramel Corn (This is yummy and freezes well) or the Apple Butter in a Crock Pot (This tastes wonderful on hot toast and makes your house smell wonderful while it is cooking).
There are little scraps of paper with random recipes stuck throughout my cookbooks, like the Salsa Cruda with the addendum: I used three little hot peppers. It gets hotter the longer it “ages”. I used your canned tomatoes. Easy & yummy with tortilla chips. Every time I bake a Mrs. Peters’ coffeecake, I hear her admonition: Check with a toothpick for doneness. It is a horrible flop if underdone! The recipe is one I know by heart, but I repeat that phrase like a blessing every time I bake it.
At the very back of my hyperextended recipe box is an assortment of cards that have nothing to do with food and everything to do with life. When my aunts (Anne and Liz) hosted our wedding shower, they handed out cards to the guests to fill out with their advice for a good marriage. Forty years later, those words of cheer and wisdom still reside in my box. My sister: Keep the plants off the windowsill! My mother-in-law: Just talk things over! My Granny: Recipe for marriage 1 woman, 1 man. 1 lb sense of humor, 2 lbs love, 3 ½ lbs. tolerance, Shut up! P. S. Had a big argument with my husband this morning! Ran out of sense of humor…
My granny is gone...and so is Uncle Steve, the witty curator of the Renken Cookbooks….and his brother, my father, though I am certain heaven is a spicier place with the three of them in residence.
My mom was always more of a listener...and the best....letting me chatter on endlessly about whatever was on my mind. So I treasure the little asides recorded in the cookbook, and the tattered recipes she shared as well as this advice from years and years ago about her happy marriage:
Good companionship and conversation...no secrets (almost) Train him right but don’t let him know you are doing it.
Lots of loving!! (with a giant balloon of an exclamation point)