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Mom’s old recipes a window into the past

I spent some more time this weekend browsing through my mom’s old recipe file. I know I have talked about it before, but I came away with some different, unexpected  impressions this time.

As I strolled through the memories, I really noticed how different the ingredients were than what I use these days. They reflected her generation, her Depression roots and how shortcuts to daylong meal prep began creeping into the menu in the ’50s.

My mom was the master of a roast beef, mashed potatoes, gravy, two vegetables, salad and dessert spread, but as a mom and Air Force officer’s wife, she appreciated a good, quick recipe when she found it.

There are lots and lots of casseroles, common dinner-party fare in those days. Most started with a can of cream of chicken soup, a can of cream of mushroom soup and/or a can of cream of celery soup.

Many recipes had the name of the friend she had gotten it from, à la Betty or Spaghetti Henderson. It seems most of them featured beef, often in the form of hamburger meat. She did, though, have gorgeous recipes for savory lamb shanks and for roasted dove, which my dad occasionally hunted.

I’ve mentioned many times that my parents were champion party mavens, and my son had requested I share their recipes for party drinks — Ramos fizz, party punch, eggnog, Irish coffee — and some of the interesting hors d’oeuvres.

My dad also sported a serious sweet tooth, so the majority of recipes are for cookies, cakes, icings and pies. I fall sadly short in duplicating them for that sweet tooth that I most definitely inherited.

The impact of my folks both living during the Depression shows most in the several recipes calling for oleo, another name for margarine. I’m quite certain that real butter replaced any oleo references during my childhood, but it’s what Mom grew up eating.

The funniest items are bits and scraps of paper with only part of a recipe scribbled on it. Sometimes it doesn’t even say what it is supposed to be — just a list of measured ingredients. My mom had committed the rest to memory.

Some are almost illegible, clearly written in a hurry at the bridge table, but I have become adept at deciphering my mom’s handwriting. One of these days, I will begin the kitchen experiment to figure out what they make.

For now, reviewing all this again was like getting an extra hug from that amazing woman. I miss her every day, but especially when I crave a pecan pie.

Jean Gillette is a freelance writer happy to pass down her family history. Contact her at [email protected].