The following entry is courtesy of Carrie Gamble, an author of a family cookbook. I mentioned her in my previous post. If you have thoughts on making a family cookbook that you’d like to post in this blog, I invite you to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. – Matilda
A Family Love Letter
Reprinted from Country Home Magazine
In the late 1960s, when Carrie Gamble was still sporting a pixie, The Homestead, the farmhouse where her grandmother grew up, was torn down to build a ranch house.
She never got to visit it in person, but she most assuredly has been there in spirit, through images preserved on film, and in her dreams.
“I had heard countless stories from my grandmother, mother, and aunt about ‘the farm,'” she says of the land 20 miles north of Doylestown, Pennsylvania. “I had always wished that for just one day I could be there and live it and know the feeling of summertime on the farm, eating farm-fresh food, homemade bread baked by my great-grandmother and spread with fresh raspberry jam and butter, going out in the fields to pick berries, taking a walk in the woods – living life the old-fashioned way.”
The longing for a taste of this life inspired Carrie, a commercial artist and illustrator, together with her grandmother, Elizabeth von Hohen, to preserve he echoes of the woods, the laughter around the table, and the fine food served on it, in a book entitled Grandmother’s Cookbook.
It’s a family cookbook full of old-fashioned recipes for such foods as Hungarian Goulash, Sausage Bean Chowder, Feather Beds (the ever-so-slightly sweet, fluffy rolls that nearly every grandmother laid on the table), Bohemian
Nut Slices, and Lemon Sponge Pie. The recipes are a synthesis of the foods Elizabeth learned to cook from her Austrian-Hungarian mother and the regional Pennsylvania dishes she sampled from the lunch pails of her classmates.
The book also includes advice such as the recommendation that a steaming bowl of potato or vegetable soup makes a wonderful one-dish meal when followed by a hearty dessert of “cinnamon buns, apple cakes, or strawberry shortcake.”
Its pages are embellished by the watercolors of the wildflowers Elizabeth picked with her child’s hands, lovingly painted by Carrie’s steady ones. A small story or reminiscence written by Elizabeth accompanies each one.
The family cookbook is like a long love letter to one’s family – a paean in praise of hearth, heritage, and home. Grandmother’s Cookbook springs from two people, but it speaks volumes with a singular voice about a family’s life. They are Elizabeth’s words and recipes, but Carrie has infused them with her soul.
In 1987, Carrie’s father passed away. The loss started her thinking about the impermanence of life, and how her Grandmother von Hohen was already in her late 70s. She began spending afternoons sipping tea and talking with Elizabeth, nudging her to write down her favorite recipes. “I really wrote those things down for my children because I’d always wanted to do that,” Elizabeth says. “Then we started talking about how it might be good to make it into a cookbook. And then Carrie asked me to write down things that I remembered – so that’s why
I wrote all of the little stories.”
The manuscript Carrie turned in for consideration to publishers, in fact, was written in Elizabeth’s hand – but she was told it wasn’t clear enough. Several publishers expressed interest but wanted to change the format, so Carrie turned them down.
Carrie is a typesetter, but type seemed too cold for the warmth of this project. In the version she eventually published herself, Carrie hand-lettered Elizabeth’s words – almost 100 pages worth.
On those afternoons spent talking over tea, Carrie learned all about her grandmother’s life: her birth in 1909 and her growing up on the farm with six brothers and a sister. She also learned about how, at the age of nine, while her
mother helped work the farm and her father spent weekdays in Doylestown as a tailor, Elizabeth did the cooking for the family. It was the beginning of a love affair with food.
“When my little sister was born, I would make us lunches, really simple things,” Elizabeth says. “I would make applesauce from our apples and soups and egg drops.”
When Elizabeth was a little girl, her mother could not read English, so they would cook everything together. Her cooking sense sharpened as she grew.
There were many delicious things. Her schoolmates, she says, “would bring all of these fantastic things to school and I would ask what they were.” One of those memorable foods was a pie.
“My mother had never heard of a pie,” Elizabeth says. “In the old country they did not bake pies.” Their first pie was butterscotch.
Her mother also was much more familiar with tortes – made with lots of eggs as leavening – than she was with baking powder cakes. But she valiantly tried her hand at the new desserts.
“We were so pleased with ourselves!” Elizabeth says in the foreword of Grandmother’s Cookbook. “And when she made her first layer cake! It was for my last day of school. In our little country school the last day was always a
picnic and everyone brought a goodie. Mother had no layer tins so she made it in a big bread pan. She sliced it in half to make two layers. Then she iced it. I was so proud of her! I think I stopped every ten minutes on my way to school to admire it!”
Elizabeth met her future husband, Erwin, when she was 17. They married two years later and settled in Philadelphia to begin their family.
“He was the sweetest man,” Carrie says. “Every night after dinner he’d give her a kiss to thank her for a delicious meal. She was very well appreciated by the family. She still is. She made a dinner last week I wish I was having again tonight – fried chicken, zucchini with tomatoes, mashed potatoes, and coconut
Her grandfather’s kiss is very likely something Carrie witnessed, a gesture that was not solely the province of her dreams, as a visit to the farm was.
To bestow the bounty of her family’s table on the lips of everyone who reads Grandmother’s Cookbook, Carrie invested unlimited time and energy delving into the life and soul of her grandmother.
“I never loved anything more than working on this book with my grandmother,” Carrie says. ” When she would write one of these little stories, she’d just had it to me and ask, ‘Is that ok?’ Every one of the stories I would read would make me want to cry. I don’t know if it’s the story, or if it’s because I know her so well, but it just reinforced what a warm, loving person she is. It also made me realize my grandmother has a flair for writing that I never knew about before.”
Like the best kind of letter, Grandmother’s Cookbook is written by hand from the heart. It has flowers pressed between its pages as a true love letter should – and like all love letters, it will be taken out and read over and over
If you have thoughts on making a family cookbook that you’d like to post in this blog, I invite you to email me at email@example.com. – Matilda