I recently ventured up to my parents cottage in Muskoka, where I anticipated a few days of sheer laziness, and gluttony (which seems to be the desirable outcome, for any vacation I have). What I did not anticipate was finding a wonderful treasure that has been in the family for decades, but sadly hidden away under useless 80's decorating magazines scattered throughout my parent's cottage. My grandma used "Watkins Cook Book" (circa 1938) for many of her recipes. Although it isn't my grandma's personal recipes, she does have many notes of changes throughout the cookbook, things like "add more sugar" (of course), or "use alternate baking soda brand" (I wonder if it truly matters?). Looking at this cookbook was like looking into my grandmother's soul, where good cooking and baking was a testament to how caring and loving she was toward her family. Throughout the tattered, and aged pages there are multiple batter splats, as well as a few oil spills, which only points to her focus and dedication in the kitchen. Finding this book was very important to me because it not only gave me a better understanding of where my own passion and talents for cooking came from, but also how important it is to cook and bake with passion. Perhaps the best part of finding this cookbook was my Dad's reaction (it was his mother). He immediately took hold of the cookbook once it was unearthed from the garbage heap of magazines, and it was as if he had found his lost mother. The moment was precious, as he lovingly turned the pages, remembering all of these delicious eats: Strawberry jam, Chili Sauce, Puddings and Breads. Rather than the recipes themselves, I like to think my Dad was able to catch a former glimpse of my grandmother in her kitchen, pulling muffins from the oven, stirring large pots of soup, clanging spoons, skipping from one food item to another. For me, this cookbook gave me an understanding of my future (and what I hope to be like as I age), as well as a better understanding of why I am who I am as a cook. For my father, it gave him a better understanding of his past, when his mother was still alive and well; memories of stolen cookies, and anticipating the lovingly cooked meal to come.
The 'icing on the cake' was a handwritten letter, found hidden in the pages of the cookbook, telling my mother which recipes to make, tricks to success, ending with "Maybe this book will help?", and signed "Mrs. B". Help may be an understatement. I wonder if my grandmother ever knew how much more this book would mean after she passed?
My mission is to make several of the recipes in this book. Obviously the vegan thing will take me out of the "Smothered Chicken", and "Boiled Ham" chapter, but I was surprised to find all of the things I could cook and bake, including many of the breads. There are several whole wheat breads and biscuit recipes that are completely vegan (no eggs, or butter). I am not entirely sure of the reason for this, but I question if it is because many people didn't have adequate refrigeration back then? Otherwise, knowing my grandmother, I am sure nothing would have stopped her from stirring in a couple of pounds of butter, and a couple dozen eggs to any recipe. So, on the agenda for the next coming months are some of the recipes, taken straight from my grandma's "Watkins Cookbook". If delicious, I will add these recipes to my regular food pages, as well as this post.
Recipe #1: 'Grandma's Orange Biscuits' (DELICIOUS!)