As someone who loves to cook, and spends her free time scouring cookbooks and websites for new recipes, I was thrilled to be able to peruse my late mother-in-law’s recipe box the other day.

In a way, it was like stepping back in time.  Recipes have an uncanny way of bringing to the surface poignant and tangible memories.

Gladys’ recipe box is a true journey through time…stuffed with handwritten index cards and newpaper clippings, typewritten recipes (in the cursive font exclusive to the DeLuxe electric), dot matrix printouts, and cute computer clip-art recipe cards, carefully cut to fit.

Journeying through the box, it becomes obvious that she cooked most of these dishes for others – family and friends.  These were more than just recipes to her, they were gifts.  Gifts of comfort and love that she gladly gave to folks throughout the community where she was born, raised a family, taught a generation, and lived out her life.

The box includes two recipes for Broccoli Rice Casserole, but, surprisingly, her amazing Chicken Spaghetti recipe is nowhere to be found.  It must have been such second nature for her to whip it up, that she never thought it necessary to write it down.  After all, as she often pointed out to all who bragged and bragged on it, “It’s just chicken spaghetti.”

On the inside lid of the green metal box, she has her go-to breakdown for iced tea:  12 Tea Bags = 2 gal.  18 Tea Bags = 2 gal + 5 qts.

The good and ever-faithful Lutheran lady that she was, her recipe box (rightfully) contains dozen and dozens of desserts (most requiring a Cool Whip/crushed pineapple icing); 4 different jello salads; 3 different punch recipes and 1 recipe for Divinity (with a post-it note attached, dated 12-16-04, stating “Don’t ever try this again”).

I was flattered to see she had one of my recipes in her box, which – from the looks of the cream of chicken soup stain – she actually tried. (I did noticed she’d amended it – opting to omit the jalapenos.)

Her recipes – just as the recipe cards – evolved with time.  Recipes were changed and updated – you don’t *need* 1/4 cup of onion…it’s perfectly fine if you use less.
…Early on, her Christmas punch required Ginger Ale…but at some point, she decided that Sprite worked just as well.  Whatever you do, she notes, don’t add the strawberries after the Big Red – it will foam over.  When did she find this out?, I wondered…

Christmas Punch
12 cups of water heated enough to dissolve 3 cups of sugar
Then add:  3-6 ounce cans frozen orange juice, thawed
1 large can pineapple juice  46 ounce
1 quart cranberry juice
1-6 ounce can frozen pink lemonade, thawed
4-10 ounce box strawberries thawed and blended
2 liter bottles of Big Red
6 bottles Ginger Ale  * or Sprite

Freeze overnight.  This makes slushy punch.  ADD GINGER ALE RIGHT BEFORE SERVING.  Makes 4 gallons.

(**Note:  The Big Red makes the punch foamy.  Also, if the Big Red is added before adding strawberries, the punch will foam over.  Be sure your container is large enough to accommodate all the ingredients).
(**Note:  Freeze in gallon ziplocks.  1 gal bag = 12 8 oz.  1 bag punch to 1 (2 liter) Sprite or Ginger Ale.

Her famous cole slaw recipe (which was a favorite at family reunions and church potlucks) was, at one time, something my husband avoided like the plague.  As she would cook down the vinegar and sugar, Clay would run from room to room, finally burying his head under his pillow, in attempts to escape the pungent aroma.  But this never dissuaded her from making it, thankfully.  And years and years later, when he finally tasted his first teeny bite, he was absolutely blown away and hooked for life.

“See?”

Cole Slaw
1 large cabbage, shredded
1 large green pepper, finely chopped (or less)
1 small onion, finely chopped (or less)

Bring to boil:  1 cup sugar, 1/2 cup oil (NOT olive oil), 1/2 cup vinegar 1/2 tsp salt
Pour mixture over cabbage and veggies.
(**Note:  Green Tupperware bowl will hold 3 batches).

Looking through her recipe box made me think about my own.  What will people say when they someday go through my recipes? Things I’ve found or simply made up and tried, handwritten shorthand that only I understand…  When they hold my recipe cards, soiled and worn with age, will they think about all the people who tried and enjoyed the recipes – as I do looking at my mother-in-law’s recipe cards?  Will they think about the love and joy that was put into the recipes?  The secret tricks and ingredients that may never be known?  Will they wonder, as I do, what made some recipes earn a spot in the box, while others are clearly absent? Most importantly, will they continue the tradition of making the dishes?  The Christmas punch, the Easter banana pudding…?  I hope so.

Though my mother-in-law passed away nearly 7 years ago, she still lives on through the legacy, lessons, stories and, of course, the recipes that she has passed down.

So, as you move forward, preparing your own dinner tonight, just remember… never make Divinity when it’s humid out, always keep a can of crushed pineapple in your pantry, …and don’t worry if you don’t think you have enough – a little of something is sometimes all you need.