While the rest of the country is celebrating our nation’s birth with hot dogs and hamburgers, you won’t find those Fourth of July staples on my grill.
Instead, I serve ham steaks.
It’s my late mother’s recipe, and lately – in a fit of nostalgia – I’ve taken to scrounging through the recipe box for old favorites. This one, which involves marinating inch-thick slices of ham in four cups of sherry and eight cloves of garlic, is hard to screw up.
That’s in contrast to her sherry chiffon pie, which involves a double boiler.
“What is the consistency of custard?” I wonder out loud as I stir the sticky mess of sugar and eggs, per her pie-stained instructions. Google tells me it has to coat the back of a wooden spoon, but can’t tell me what I really want to know: “Did she, too, sample the sherry at 10 a.m.?”
This vintage cooking, unlike most of my cooking, cannot be rushed through blindly while watching cable news. It requires strict attention. I turn off the TV and command Alexa to play Schubert, which lends itself to the undistracted world of ceaseless stirring.
The shift into something slower feels good. So, somehow, does taking a turn back to another time, wondering if the taste will be the same and meditating on the essence of the cook.
On a national holiday that has us contemplating our roots, a little vintage cooking might be just the thing.
For me, each recipe brings back the long-lost woman who made it.
With Aunt Cora, it was cornbread dressing “floating in grease,” as my mother used to complain. It was delicious. “And so,” my mother would point out, “is anything made with a stick of butter.”
Cora, the youngest of three, also flirted with astrology and urged me, at my mother’s horror, to try cigarettes at 12.
Their quieter middle sister, Gerry, was famous for her biscuits and Brunswick stew made with a whole pork butt and cooked a long (underlined on the recipe card) time.
She also was famous for sewing individual seed pearls on wedding dresses and urging the boisterous Uncle Warren to “pipe down.”
Their mother – always in a hurry – contributed “stir-’n’-drop” cookies that she didn’t have to roll out – made with “Mazzola” (sic) oil and lemon flavoring. In her gray Ford sedan, she proceeded as she wished through intersections while honking her horn.
She also invented her own spellings, “because I have just as much right as Noah Webster.”
Two marriages brought recipe cards from in-laws.
My favorite mother-in-law, who entertained us by dancing around the kitchen with bananas in her ears, offered her famous “grandma cookies,” edible only after dunking, and a beef brisket made tender by soaking it overnight in Coca-Cola.
The other, an expert cook, left me her potatoes Delmonico recipe, which involved so many steps that it magically disappeared from the box.
However, I kept her mother’s man-pleasing recipe for creamed tuna with peas and have served it in every marriage since. It reminds me of how she could stretch a can of tuna over a big plate of white toast and stretch a dollar with S&H Green stamps.
In the age of Googling recipes and reading them off the screen, we might want to think again and write down a few recipes. Someday if we are lucky, they could pave the way to immortality.
My childhood peanut-butter cookie recipe gives me hope. I made it the other day, and while the grandkids made faces, my son remembered when I used to let him press the fork marks into the cookies’ tops.
With his kids, I haven’t given up on my blueberry pancakes. My granddaughter, 10, already says they’re “the best,” and I’m bribing my way to everlasting life by letting her 6-year-old brother toss the blueberries on top.
Maybe today I’ll increase the odds by letting him poke them with a toothpick flag.
Balancing Act author Pat Snyder is a northwest Columbus resident and life-balance speaker and coach. Find her at PatSnyderOnline.com.