Thinking Ahead by Looking Back

In an effort not to spend much money for Christmas a few years back, I put together a family cookbook. My aunts and great aunt, grandma, mom, cousins all sent in their favorite or most requested recipes, while I dug through the depths of Grandma’s infamous picture drawer for eating-related photos to scan in. The intent was to cover everyone and to save the recipes we all loved so much. Little did I know how important this would be.

Our cookbook was designed in Adobe InDesign, but any pagination program will work, even the dreaded Word. Send out an email and make phone calls announcing your intentions to put together a family cookbook. You’ll be surprised how excited people get to participate. With your older family members, offer to come over and sift through the recipes with them and help them pick out and write them. Many recipes are probably kept in their heads, dash-of-this and pinch-of-that type meals. Let them take their time and explain the nuances of each dish. Be an investigative reporter and write the recipe from your interview.

My copy is a little worn.

Choose pictures that tell a story. The kids with olives on their fingers. The clang of New Years’ martini glasses. The matriarchs and their simmering pots and pans. If you don’t have a scanner, FedEx Office (formerly Kinkos) does. They can also help you print and produce the books. I used a simple black wire bind and covers that were printed on heavier stock to hold up longer. You may want to laminate the covers. Online book sites, like Shutterfly and MyPublisher, make it easy to upload your images and deliver high quality hardcover books.

My recommendation to you is to save and publish your family’s recipes. Start now. Don’t wait. I was surprised how many of my grandma’s recipes came from other people, from her mother and grandmother. Some of those recipes are nearly 100 years old. Handed down through the generations and there’s no reason why our quick paced age bracket should stop that. In fact, as we return to whole foods and slowed down cooking those historical recipes reemerge as jewels that will set your cooking apart. Even the recipes that seem so simple most likely have a secret spice or technique that will change the outcome if not included.

Sadly, this past winter we lost my Auntie Arl. My grandmother’s only sister, Arlene was an angel among mortals. She was gentle and calm (compared to the fiasco that is our family), and always left you with big kiss marks on your cheek. I miss those kisses a lot. And from the kitchen, I miss her pies and lemons bars. Oh, her lemon bars were addicting! The recipe is in the book, but I’ve noticed when anyone else makes them they just aren’t the same. So what was her secret? That we may never know, but luckily we can try to figure it out.

And because I love you, here's the famous lemon bar recipe!

Photo courtesy of abcnews.com.
Auntie Arl's Lemon Bars

2 c flour
1 c butter
1/2 c powdered sugar
6 eggs
3 c sugar
9 Tbsp lemon juice
Dash of salt
6 Tbsp flour
1 1/2 baking powder
Powdered Sugar

Preheat the over to 350-degrees. Blend together first three ingredients. Press evenly into a jelly roll pan or high sided cookie sheet. Bake for 20 minutes. Beat together eggs, sugar,lemon juice and salt. Fold in flour and baking powder. Pour over crust and bake for 25 minutes. After completely cooled, sprinkle top with powdered sugar.

This is the tricky part. I think most people don't let the bars cool enough and the powdered sugar dissolves. These bars, if made the proper Auntie Arl way, should have a snow field on top. Lots of powdered sugar over very cool cake. In fact, you may want to cool the bars in the fridge. Hmmm...that might be it. Give it a try and let me know.