Recipes from a long-lost treasure trove


Nan-Nan, my grandmother, and Auntie, my great aunt wrote delicious recipes found in these old tin boxes. What a treasure! –

For over a year now, I have searched every square inch of my house for a brown cloth bag containing two army green recipe boxes. Covered in rust spots, dented with a few off-the-counter nicks and scratches, these two rusty little things would appear outdated and in need of replacing. But these two dingy boxes, both close to 80 years old, are irreplaceable. One belonged to Nan-Nan, my grandmother, and the other to Auntie, my great aunt. Although the two were sisters, or I suppose exactly because they were sisters, the two boxes were in every way opposite and yet innately in tune.

These boxes were my treasure troves. I had begun going through each individual box while each relative had been living, organizing their already organized recipes and labels, asking questions, and beginning to formulate a recipe book. But to be honest, after my grandmother died, although I found great solace in my writing and recreating memories of food I reached a point where I had to step away from the emotional project. Looking through the notecard recipes and seeing her beautiful handwriting, thoughtful labels, and feeling her energetic personality just in the little way she crossed a “t” or wrote the letter “N” resulted in a blubbering mess of tears. So instead, I took out a few of my staple recipe cards, wrapped the recipe boxes in a bag and placed them somewhere safe for when I was ready to begin going through them again.

In the whirl of tears, I let my emotions go to my head and couldn’t remember the “somewhere safe” spot I had put them. When I say I looked everywhere, I truly mean everywhere. I tore apart closets, practically cleaned out the garage, rearranged rooms, and still nothing. I had begun to worry I had somehow thrown them out.

Last week I began preparing for an event I’m catering next week, sitting down at a desk I rarely sit in. I gazed up at a photo of my grandmother wearing “Billy Bob” teeth I keep on the desk, and was reminded to not take things so seriously. Looking for a pen, I opened a drawer to the desk and couldn’t find one. I knew there had to be at least one so I began looking in each drawer. Finally I got to the bottom drawer. I opened it and sitting there in the back half of the space, staring at me with the laughter and wimzy that only my grandmother could pull off, was a soft brown bag wrapped around something. I jerked the bag from the drawer and pulled out the bag. Tears overcame me, and a wave of relief and comfort followed. How had I missed this obvious yet oblivious spot?

To say these boxes have brought me joy is an understatement. These boxes have enlightened me and opened my eyes in ways that only these two mentors could, even after death. They saved everything, something that has ultimately been a blessing. I found recipes written my legally blind great grandmother, recipes from spinster cousins who lived to spoil everyone around them, newspaper clippings from the 1940s through early 2000’s, deposit slips from banks in Stamping Ground, Kentucky and Maysville in the 1950s with recipes and hints scratched on the back of them. And the adventure into the tin recipe boxes is just beginning. It’s going to be a delicious summer.

Today I have included a few recipes from the tin boxes I have been hungry for and attempting to recreate for quite a while. I’m so thankful and blessed to share them with you today.

Good luck and enjoy!

Hot German Potato Salad

(Cousins Mildred and Hazel)

Makes 6 Cups)

2 lbs potatoes

Salt and pepper, to taste

2 tbsp apple cider vinegar

2 tbsp stone ground mustard

1/4 teaspoon paprika

2/3 cup chopped celery

1 onion, minced

3 hard-boiled eggs, chopped

1/2 cup mayo

1 tsp celery salt

1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

1 tbsp fresh dill, chopped

Paprika for garnish

Combine the potatoes and salt to taste with enough water to cover in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil for 12 minutes or until tender but not mushy. Drain the potatoes and cut into bite-size pieces and place in a large bowl. Whisk the oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, mustard and a dash of paprika in a bowl until combined. Pour over warm potatoes and gently mix. Cover and chill.

Add celery, onion, egg, mayo, and celery salt to the mix several hours before serving and return to fridge. Garnish with parsley and paprika just before serving. The recipe and photos used in today’s article are from the kitchen of Chef Babz with a little help from her family and the family recipe box.

Rhubarb and Strawberry Preserves

(GawGaw, my great grandmother Lena Lucas)

Makes 12 pints

5 cups rhubarb, cut up

4 cups sugar

Strawberry jello, dry

In a container, not an aluminum one, mix and set for 12 hours. Mix several times over that time so that the sugar may dissolve. Cook to a rolling hard boil for ten minutes, or until sugar has completely dissolved. Add strawberry jello then put into jars.

Carmel Corn

(Nan-Nan’s late night favorite)

½ cup Karo corn syrup

1 cup white sugar

1 tablespoon vinegar

¼ tsp salt

1 tsp butter

1 tbsp soda

Heat til 290 degrees on the stove top. Mix well. Add soda last.

Pour over popcorn onto a large sheet or bowl. Mix well.

Devils Food Cake

(Mamma Stones favorite recipe, originated from Grandmother Bellezorah Stone)

2 cups brown sugar

2/3 cup buttermilk

dash of cinnamon (enhances flour)

2/3 cup cocoa

2 whole eggs

2 cups flour

1 tsp soda

1 ½ tsp vanilla

2 cups boiling water

Mix all ingredients well. Pour into a cake pan that has been rubbed down with butter and flour. Bake for 30 minutes at 350. Check before removing, may need more time. Great with icing or butter and coffee.

Nan-Nan, my grandmother, and Auntie, my great aunt wrote delicious recipes found in these old tin boxes. What a treasure!

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