A Recipe Box Life

My mother and I have been sorting things.

At 96, she doesn’t see so well any more, my dad has become a bit forgetful and so in preparation for a move to assisted living, we’ve been going through what’s accumulated over nearly 75 years of marriage.

GCG-recipe box life

July 19, 1941

Last summer, the older grandchildren and I helped her paw through boxes of china, farm records, and family treasures—labeling some, exclaiming at others, tossing a few. Recipe Box life GCGIn the fall, she and I went through trunks of family history: graduation programs, old photos, souvenirs from a someone’s 1912 trip to California, the Purple Heart awarded to the uncle who was lost at Guadalcanal long before I was born. Again, we labeled and exclaimed, but this time we threw out nothing and shed a few tears. Another generation can deal with these mementos.

On wintry afternoons lately, we have been going through her recipe boxes. There are three: one heavy wooden box of Basic Recipes she had when she was studying to become a home economics teacher in the 1930’s; one small, decorated box from the fifteen winters or more spent in sunny Florida; and, a long file box containing everything else.

We went through the file box first, because that’s what she wanted to do.recipe box life GCG I started at the front-with the divider marked “Appetizers”, and one by one, pulled out recipes and put them behind the right label. I read each recipe to her, and any comments that she had noted on the card, and as I read, she usually remembered the occasion, the event or the person who made the dish first. We talked about “Audrey’s Brown Bread”—and reminisced about dear Audrey with the houseful of children and the kind heart. Recipes for “Macaroni Salad for 150” or “Swiss Steak for a Crowd”, brought stories of aproned ladies baking pies and mashing potatoes in the floor industrial sized electric mixer for dinners sponsored by the Presbyterian Church. There were recipes from her early-married life on the farm—“Liver Loaf” and “Pickled Tongue”; we discussed my dad’s family when we found “Mother McNinch’s Gingerbread” and her own mother’s love for anything containing cranberries. Some of the recipes were handwritten on the back of an envelope; one had a grocery list on the backside, another an assortment of items needed from the hardware. We found a few letters, too—sweet reminders of Great Aunt Alice and cousin Florence’s third birthday—along with Aunt Al’s sugar cookie recipe and directions for Florence’s dad’s famous pickles. It took many afternoons to go through the whole box. I think we both purposely took our time at it, too, because there was a lot more going on than just recipe sorting.

The small green box from all the winters in Florida showed me another aspect of my mother and dad’s life. If the first box, the longest, was a history of family and daily experiences, this small, bright box was a record of retirement, relaxation, friends and fun. In the first box, there were three cards behind “Appetizers”. There were many, many more in the Florida box-dips, snacks, hors d’oeuvres. I found “Sarah’s Great Potatoes”—“…perfect,” my mother said, “for New Year’s Eve potlucks.” There were at least three dozen recipes for using oranges in various ways, and possibly the same number, or more, for using lemons. “Citrus Slaw”, “Lemon Fluff”, “Frosty Orange Pie”.Recipe Box Life GCG This little box also contained duplicates of my mother’s favorite recipes from the first box—familiar dishes to make in their home away from home. I also discovered that she began to gather recipes using yogurt, and those containing fewer calories and lower fat. There was no longer a need for hearty noon meals for a farm family; lighter lunches were the fare in the sunny South. The duplicates I set aside– for a granddaughter, perhaps?—the others, I added to the bigger file box.

The last box we tackled was the least amount of work. Some of the cards were out of place, true, but they were numbered, so easy to put back in order. This wooden box is truly a Basic Recipe Box. recipe box life  GCGIt begins with an introduction from the Head of Food and Nutrition Department at Iowa State College, copyright 1937, noting a “…need felt by the students of Iowa State College of a working tool for use in foods courses.” It goes from this, to a list of abbreviations used, directly to “Beverages”. No “Appetizers” in basic foods, apparently.

Each section in this heavy box has a list of contents, with blank spaces for adding more. Card No. 8 (Section 2) is a description of the Baking of Breads, which leads right into “Making Toast” (with variations). This recipe file hasn’t been used nearly as much, nor as recently, as the others. It’s tidy and organized, although a little dusty—much like a kitchen that’s no longer quite so cluttered from daily use.

It’s a handy file, though, for a beginning homemaker: from the recipe for Breakfast Chocolate, to Eggs/Cheese, up to Measures-which explains how to measure and level, as well as giving the approximate measure of 1 lb. of food material (3 to 4 potatoes, 40 to 50 average prunes, 4 cups flour). Beyond this, there’s a large section for Preservation – explaining conditions and principles. (“Bacteria need for growth-food, moisture and warmth. By removing one of these conditions, the growth is checked.”) This was the Depression Era, remember—anything extra was dried/canned/pickled/fermented for another time—and home freezers weren’t available.

The Basic Recipe file ends with “Vegetables”, just as the other files have done. Again, there’s a difference: the large, daily file had newspaper clippings explaining how to use excess zucchini as well as four separate recipes for “Scalloped Corn”; other than “Zesty Stuffed Tomatoes”, the Florida “Vegetables” section was entirely filled with potato recipes (“Crunchy Topped”, Cheesy Baked”, “Easy Scalloped”). The wooden file, under the same topic, has General Directions (Card No. 236: “Old potatoes have improved flavor if soaked ½ hr. before cooking.”) Ten more cards present vegetables alphabetically arranged, noting preparation for cooking details and estimated time for boiling….beginning with Artichokes and ending with Turnips. (Who’d heard of zucchini in 1937?) My mother suggested selling this box—or throwing it out. I can’t do that, so we agreed that it would go to yet another granddaughter.

recipe box life GCG

“Easy To Roll” sugar cookies

recipe box life GCG

Learning to bake bread in Grandmother’s kitchen.

These recipe box-sorting sessions left me emotionally exhausted. It’s hard to explain what reliving more than three-quarters of a century of a woman’s life—a well-loved woman’s life—is like. We began the journey when she was a college student—unaware and uncertain of the future. We talked and shared recipes through the years of World War II, when she taught home economy to housewives rationing sugar, growing victory gardens and pressure canning on kerosene stoves. Up through the years as a mother, farmer’s wife—the church dinner/harvest meal times—when summer meant wash tubs full of peas, long hours husking, shelling, snipping, and slicing, crocks of pickles and hot kitchens—when relaxing meant picking buckets of berries or tent camping next to a stream. On into middle age, when work beyond the home resumed and grandchildren arrived. There are recipes for “Easy-To-Roll Sugar Cookies”, along with those for healthy soups, crock-pot meals, and “Master Mixes” for quick suppers. Zucchini and various herbs-seasonings beyond salt, pepper and parsley for garnish- found their way into the family’s diet, too. As life moved along, so did the recipes—there were fewer using beef, but more with chicken—lots of casseroles and not as many aspics and molded salads. The retirement years—with the need for two recipe boxes—one for summers in the cabin in the northern woods, the other for busy winters in Florida. Barbecues, punch, snacks—many now marked “lo-cal”. Finally, the years spent close to home—back up north for good. The cassette tape with my dad’s voice reading the favorite recipes for her to follow—lacking sight, she still found a way to be a cook and homemaker.recipe box life GCG

This sorting project turned out to be much more than putting cookie recipes behind the “Cookies” divider, and punch under “Beverages”. The closer we came to the end of the card files, the slower I went. I don’t want the story to end.

It won’t, of course. My mother’s days of cooking and baking may have come to an end—with the new living arrangements, meals are prepared for the residents. But, I’ve realized her purpose in having me help her sort through the boxes was not just to organize and file. It was so I could share a glimpse into the life she has led. I’ve learned new stories, and gathered new recipes for my own journey. My mom and I have shared some delightful afternoons, a lot of laughter, and many, many memories. As my dad dozed in his recliner, I was able to relive, with her, all the years of their marriage.

A few days ago, I wrote a bit about this project on the Green Circle Grove facebook page. After several sentences, I knew there was much more to the story, so I ended by saying I needed to write a blog post about it.

I’ve discovered there’s much more than a blog post here. I’ll have to write a book.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for something to warm up your kitchen with a wonderful smell; an easy, old-fashioned dish that’s comforting, chocolaty and not at all low-calorie…here’s…        Recipe Box Life GCG

Elma’s “Brownie Pudding”

1 cup flour                                    2 Tbs. cocoa                        2 tsp. baking powder

½ cup milk                                    ½ tsp. salt                        ½ tsp. vanilla

¾ cup sugar                                    2 Tbs. fat, melted***            ¾ cup nuts

¾ cup brown sugar                        ¼ cup cocoa                        1 ¾ cup hot water

Sift flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, and cocoa. Add milk, fat, vanilla. Mix until smooth. Add nuts. Pour into 8” greased pan. Mix brown sugar and cocoa, sprinkle over batter. Pour hot water over entire batter. Bake 45 minutes at 350 degrees.

***I suppose when this recipe was first used, “fat” may have been butter, or whatever was available in the farm kitchen. Later on, margarine was probably used. Today, I use coconut oil.

On the back of the card, it says “Yummy-Yum!!”


This post is shared with the Sunday Social February 15 and Simple Life Sunday #57.

Minnesota Harvest Bars

As far as I know, Velma and Herb never lived in Minnesota.

I remember them living out by the Finger Lakes, near Cornell University where Velma worked for many years.  Velma was my mother’s cousin.

I also remember that Velma was a terrific cook.  It was always a delight to see what dish she’d brought to the family reunions.

When we put family recipes into a booklet for everyone to enjoy, we were happy to see that Velma’s daughters had sent some favorites, including this one –Minnesota Harvest Bars – that’s perfect for cool fall evenings, busy fall lunches, or well, yes, breakfast with a hot cup of coffee.

Minnesota Harvest Bars GCG


**1/2 cup shortening

1 cup packed brown sugar

2/3 cup pumpkin puree

2 eggs

½ tsp vanillaMinnesota Harvest Bars GCG

½ cup chopped dates

½ cup chopped walnuts (or any nut)

2 Tbs. all-purpose flour

½ cup all-purpose flour

1/2tsp.baking powder

¼ tsp. baking soda

¼ tsp. salt

½ tsp. each: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg

confectioner’s sugar

Preheat the oven to 350.

In a 2-quart saucepan, melt shortening. **The only change I made to this recipe was to use coconut oil in place of the shorteningMinnesota Harvest Bars GCG

Add brown sugar, stir. Remove from heat.

Add pumpkin, eggs and vanilla; mix thoroughly.Minnesota Harvest Bars GCG

Combine dates with 2 Tbs. flour, set aside.

Minnesota Harvest Bars GCG

Flouring dates keeps them from sticking together when added to the rest of the batter.

In another bowl, mix all the dry ingredients, except the confectioner’s sugar.

Mix dry ingredients into pumpkin mixture.Minnesota Harvest Bars GCG

Stir in dates and nuts.

Pour into a well-greased 9x9x2-inch pan. Bake 30-35 minutes.Minnesota Harvest Bars GCG

Cut into diamond shaped bars and sift confectioners’ sugar on top when cool.

Eat and enjoy!Minnesota Harvest Bars GCG


When I first read over this recipe, I thought there couldn’t possibly be enough ingredients to fill a 9-inch square pan.  What? One-half cup flour?  It works; trust me.

It’s easy, it makes the house smell good and the family happy!  And, it reminds me of family as well.


You can use the “print” button on this page if you would like to have easy access to this recipe.


This post is linked to the From the Farm BlogHop and The HomeAcre Harvest Hop.

Nina’s Freezer Coleslaw — Another Family Recipe!

Cabbages always seem to grow really well here.  This year, the weather was sort of goofy, and so our tomatoes are just now ripening on newspaper lined tables in the garage, the huge pumpkin harvest we had anticipated turned out to be seven, the lettuce and spinach bolted early, and the beans choked the sunflowers.  The cabbages, however, grew really well.GCG Freezer Coleslaw

We like cabbage, and one of us likes sauerkraut.  That one is not me, I’ll confess. To me, fermenting cabbage smells a lot like dead mice.  Except that as time goes on, dead mice quit smelling, and sauerkraut smells worse.  That’s just me, but I’ve so far—forty some years now– found enough excuses not to make sauerkraut from our many cabbages.

Cabbages keep pretty well, in a root cellar or cool spot, wrapped (I’ve used plastic grocery bags) loosely.  I leave them in the garden as long as possible– they are usually fine through the first few light frosts.  I’ve read, too, that pulling the whole plant, roots and all, and hanging it upside down in a cool cellar, is another way to store cabbage, but I’ve not tried that method.

This year, I’ve been looking forward to using one of the family recipes from the book my mom and I put together last winter.  My mother says she remembers this coleslaw being served as a side dish on Sunday dinner tables in January.  I’m hoping it’s as good as she remembers!



2 gallons shredded cabbage

2 tablespoons saltFreezer Coleslaw GCG

2 sweet peppers (I used one red and one green)

4 carrots  ( I had three –but one was twice the size of the others)

1 cup water, boiling

2 cups cider vinegar

4 cups sugar

2 teaspoons celery seed


Mix cabbage and salt well and allow to stand 1 hour.  I have an older wooden mandolin slicer that works very well to shred cabbage. And fingers.  I don’t like to use my food processor for shredding, so I took my friend Becky’s advice and used a long serrated knife.Freezer Coleslaw GCG

Add vinegar and sugar to boiling water.  Boil 1 minute and cool.

Chop peppers and carrots. (I did use the food processor for this.)Freezer Coleslaw GCG

Squeeze salt water out of cabbage (you’ll be surprised how much there will be). Discard liquid.

Add chopped vegetables and celery seed to cabbage.

Add cooled vinegar-sugar mixture and mix well. Isn’t it pretty? Freezer Coleslaw GCG

Let stand ½ hour, package and freeze.

I found that it took three cabbages to make 2 gallons of shredded cabbage, and those 2 gallons filled 2 quart and 3 pint freezer bags. When I’m ready to use them, I’ll thaw them overnight in the refrigerator, drain and toss into a serving bowl.Freezer Coleslaw

The coleslaw looks great, and the little taste I saved out was crisp and flavorful.  Now I wish I’d made a double batch!


Post shared with From the Farm Blog Hop and Tasty Traditions.

Heritage Recipe: Aunt Eda’s Applesauce Cake

It’s raining again, so instead of going to the garden, I decided to clean and sort the freezer.  Before I start adding much this year, I want to be sure I know what I have left from last year.  I found a container of applesauce that I had frozen last fall—October 24th, the label read—“Cortland apples”.

Rainy day = comfort food.

Comfort food + applesauce = Aunt Eda’s Applesauce Cake!Aunt Eda's Applesauce Cake

Every so often, I like to turn to the family recipe collection my mom and I put together from last year’s reunion.  My mother had submitted the applesauce cake recipe; I remember it from days on the farm when I was small—she remembers it from days on her aunt’s farm.

It’s one of those recipes set down by cooks who measured by dashes and splashes; farm wives who knew the temperature of an oven by “feel” and used what ingredients they had on hand to feed their hungry families.

Here’s the recipe, exactly as written down for my mother:


1 cup sugar                                                            1 ½ cups applesauce

1 egg                                                                        1 tsp. cinnamon

½ cup butter                                                            ½ tsp. cloves

1-cup raisins                                                            2 tsp. soda dissolved in applesauce

2 cups flour

lemon extract

Bake in a moderate oven.


As you can see, there are a few things missing—things we take for granted with our “modern” recipes:

Do I mix everything together all at once?

How much lemon extract?

Moderate oven?

How long do I bake it?

What size pan?

I could have asked my mom—and I did ask her what size pan she used, but her answer wasn’t all that satisfactory—she said it depended how thick I wanted the cake to be!

So, I set the ingredients out and mixed things up the way I usually do. Aunt Eda's Applesauce Cake

First, I beat the sugar and butter together and added the egg.

I stirred the soda into the applesauce – and watched it rise to the top of the measuring cup!Aunt Eda's Applesauce Cake

Then, I mixed the dry ingredients together, and added them to the creamed mixture in the bowl.  I stirred in the applesauce and added ¼ teaspoon lemon extract. (That turned out to be just about right.)

I measured the raisins, and of course, didn’t have quite enough, so I finished filling the cup with dried cranberries, and folded them into the batter. Aunt Eda's Applesauce Cake

I have a great 9 x 9 pan that I use for coffee cakes – it’s a bit deeper than most pans.Aunt Eda's Applesauce Cake  I poured the batter into this pan, and put it into a preheated 350-degree oven.  Moderate = 350, to me.

I baked the cake for 30 minutes, and tested it with a toothpick.  The center was still unbaked, so I stuck the cake back in the oven for another 15 minutes, tested again and it was done.  (Note to self: Make note on recipe to bake at 350 for 45 minutes.)

By this time, my husband had followed his nose into the kitchen.  The combination of applesauce, spices and dried fruits does make a kitchen smell pretty fine!  As soon as it had cooled enough to cut, he tested the cake and pronounced it good….although he said that just one piece probably wasn’t enough to tell for sure!Aunt Eda's Applesauce Cake

It’s an easy cake to make, and tastes best warm from the oven with a cold glass of milk. If there’s some left, it does store well.

Now—what can I do with the bag of cranberries and package of last year’s rhubarb that I also found while sorting the freezer?


This post is part of :

“Tasty Traditions”, Thursday Favorite Things from Katherine’s Corner,  The HomeAcre Hop, Simple Saturdays Blog Hop, and Create It Thursday.
1840 Farm

The Good China

When I was a girl, young ladies still filled hope chests. Cedar closets were filled with embroidered pillowcases, hemmed table runners, sheets, linens and china enough to lay places for a large family.china in cabinet

My hopes were filled early—I married young.  My parents gifted us with china – service for twelve—beautiful Noritake china.  The first few holidays of our married life we traveled to our parents’ homes – there wasn’t much chance to use the lovely china.  Occasionally, I set a table for two, and we dined in style, but honestly, our life then was busy and unsettled, our interests ran to jobs and career, and our meals were simple.

After a few years, we had added children to the mix.  Holidays were more often spent at home, with the simplicity of disposable tableware, or the heft of everyday earthenware.  The good china was put on a top shelf, away from small fingers and accidents.The Good China -- GCG

And more time passed.  The children grew up and occasionally, the wedding china was used for holiday meals.  The family Thanksgiving meal was cooked and served at our house—but there were so many people that, once again, disposable plates were used.  It was easier. It seems there were lots of excuses.

And now.  I have used the china cups and saucers for a benefit tea at our library.  I used the cake plates to serve dessert to my Book Club.  The entire set of good china has not graced our dining room table in many, many years.  More excuses—the grandchildren are too little; there will just be the two of us; it’s too much trouble.

I have been thinking about traditions lately.  I have remembered family Sunday dinners served on delicate china plates that rested on white linen tablecloths.  What else I remember from those days is the sense of family respect.  Grandfather might expound on the politics of the day—we children listened.  When Aunt Eda stood to clear the table, we smaller girls helped.  We waited to begin eating until everyone was seated; we asked to be excused before leaving the table.  There were helpings of “thank you”, second helpings of “you’re welcome”, and “please pass…”. And the bowls we passed, carefully, were china bowls. It almost seems that using the delicate dishes caused us to slow down and be a bit more thoughtful.

closeup china-GCG Easter Sunday is nearly here.  I’m not sure how many family members will descend upon our homestead for dinner, but there will be some.  They will be greeted by the fragrant scents wafting from the kitchen, and in the dining room—the table will be covered with a linen cloth, and the plates and serving pieces will be china.  The good china. The Good China--GreenCircleGrove

No matter the age or number of people at the table, my family is worth the trouble.  I believe, this year when I do the spring cleaning, I will move the dishes to the bottom shelf.


This post is shared with The HomeAcre Hop.

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