If you've followed my blog for any length of time, you've probably picked up on the fact that we treasure old things here- heirloom plant varieties, heritage livestock breeds, antique farm implements, traditional ways of working the land. As a general rule, I'm happier with vintage anything than brand-new. There is a wonderful feeling in bringing home something old and putting it back into real use, in rescuing it from oblivion.
I also love to cook, and collect cookbooks to the point where Dan thinks it may be a problem. Used, new, cooking magazines, I love them all. But with these, too, I have a special place for the old stuff as well. So many of our modern recipes call for pre-packaged, pre-chopped, pre-wrapped, pre-cooked whatever, so we can eat in 30 minutes or less. But convenience and REAL food seldom go hand-in-hand, so it's wonderful to have recipes that utilize whole foods and emphasize using the whole thing (like making soup from the carcass the day after your roast chicken dinner).
This is the way our grandparents and great-grandparents cooked, and since I have a pantry that is stocked more like it's out of the 1910's than the 2010's, these are the recipes I often treasure most. And, like so many other things, I think our family recipes, our personal food traditions, are too often being lost as well. So I am always extremely grateful when such treasures find their way to me. Last summer, an older gentleman who lives nearby offered me his wife's recipe for bread & butter pickles. This was something I had already hoped to add to the farm stand lineup, so I was very excited. I was touched, however, when he handed me not a copy, but a yellowed piece of notebook paper written in his deceased wife's hand. I was honored when, after giving him a jar in thanks, he reported that they tasted just the same, except mine were sliced a bit thinner.
This past month, my grandmother passed away just a few weeks shy of her 95th birthday. At the viewing, we were blessed with baked goods from friends & family. The next morning, I had the most delicious zucchini bread I have ever tasted. Turns out, it was baked (with love, of course!) by my grandmother's older sister. Aunt Kay is 96, still lives alone in a multi-story home, and still does the polka in her living room when it comes on the radio on Sundays "as long as no one moves my furniture"! So I asked this incredible lady if she would share the recipe with me. I was very excited when, a week or so later, a small, handwritten envelope appeared in my mailbox. Inside was her recipe, hand written, of course. She had dated it and signed "Good Luck and enjoy! Aunt Kay."
It is now tucked safely in my recipe box, and I'm anxiously awaiting the summer day when I've got zucchini on hand and see if I can make it taste as good as she does. These things are truly heirlooms, like family jewels, to be treasured and passed on. I encourage everyone to ask their relatives for the secrets to treasured family flavors; too often, our elders are only too willing to share, but no one asks, and that is how jewels get lost forever.