Saturday, August 6, 2011

Little Boxes

Grandma's recipe card files. © Ryan Schierling
"Never hurry; take plenty of exercise; always be cheerful, and take all the sleep you need, and you may expect to be well."   - J.F. Clarke

This wisdom found among the recipes cards, penned in the loveliest cursive script.

A very special package arrived in the mail a few days ago. We excitedly, but reverently, removed it from the tissue paper wrappings. Ryan's aunt surprised us by sending all of Grandma Schierling's old recipe boxes.

A couple of months ago I had the honor of eating Grandma Schierling's potato salad for the first time. It was like getting an impression of a person from seeing them move across a crowded room. A clear impression, enough to make you want to meet them. But when those beautiful wooden boxes were lifted from their bed of bubble wrap, I suddenly felt as if we had been properly introduced.

These simple and beautiful little boxes say so very much about her. Beautiful, elemental, and practical. There is nothing extravagant here, but a straightforward appreciation of craftsmanship and a certain sense of simplicity and order that speaks to you immediately.

It's one thing to peruse the spiral bound recipe books produced by the local Kiwanis Club and the other organizations they were involved with in rural Kansas, it is wholly another to see how an individual has organized their personal recipes, the style of the recipe box and tabs they have chosen, the artifacts of early recipe accumulation. On first review we were immediately drawn to the cards with the most stains – certain signs of repeated use.

Let me tell you what I know about Grandma Schierling from her recipes. She was a resourceful lady. There are plenty of recipes from acquaintances, and some from family, but she seemed to have a penchant for gleaning new recipes from the local newspapers. Many recipes are clipped and carefully glued to recipe cards. More often than not a note is hand written indicating an alteration she may have made, or to note indicating that it was "good!" or that Harry (Ryan's Grandpa) deemed it "only so-so."

It is also quite clear this recipe box witnessed an era when casseroles were made using condensed soups and salads were likely to included marshmallows, Jello, or Cool Whip. It was an era which embraced the Tupperware™ gelatin mold with certain impunity.

Yeah, this stuff makes me all kinds of saccharine sentimental. But, I won't lie. Among the family recipes from previous generations there are a few doozies. We are certainly more intrigued than anticipatory about the recipe for Pickled Wieners she somehow procured. But, I mean, who doesn't have a "collected" recipe in their box that was acquired as more of a compliment to the cook rather than for reasons of legitimate desire to recreate – right?

There is a lifetime of adventure is in these little boxes... multi-generational recipes that are loved today, carefully typed recipes dated from the 1940's bearing her maiden name and even one titled "Butterscotch Pie (Home Ec.)." Recipes that we will try.

It is the notes that stay with me, though, because they are such a lovely documentation of her intention and thoughtfulness in the kitchen. "Harry liked this with cold meat." "Harry thought it would be good with peaches." Cuts right to the heart of it, I think. It doesn't matter if it's an aspic or a chiffon pie, what matters is the love and pleasure extended to those you hold dear.

It's exactly the kind of legacy I can wrap my head around and I'm so very grateful to be a part of it.

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