A friend recently reminded me of a recipe my mother used to make when I was a kid at home. I had completely forgotten about it — a dessert made from sweetened condensed milk, cream cheese and lemon juice layered on a graham cracker crust and then topped with a can of cherry pie filling. As soon as my friend mentioned it, my mouth started watering. I just had to have that dessert again.
She shared her recipe, but I knew I had Mama’s somewhere, so I started looking in my recipe box and found it. I was delighted to see that it had been handwritten by Mama herself.
For the crust, she had used crushed vanilla wafers mixed with cinnamon and sugar, held together by a whopping stick and a half of butter. I made some adjustments, using gluten-free graham crackers and about half that much butter. Another substitution was the amount of cream cheese in the filling. Mama’s recipe called for 3 ounces; in the recipes I compared with hers online, a full brick was used. Mine ended up incorporating about 6 ounces.
The end result was delicious, and even with my sense of taste still “off” from what my doctor was sure was a bout with COVID-19 last summer, the tanginess was tangible and the rich creaminess was everything I remembered from childhood. What a blessing to have this reminder of my mother and the way she took care of us!
Speaking of recipes, I got a text from my daughter last week, frantically demanding that I send her the recipe I had always used to make a lemon Bundt cake with lemon glaze. In all caps, she added, “I WANT IT!”
I had to laugh at her. My “recipe” included using a lemon cake mix and following the directions for a Bundt cake, then warming a can of vanilla frosting and pouring it over the cake. Now, I did make lemon glaze from scratch sometimes, so I gave her those directions, too, but with four kids, I suspect she did the easy thing and bought the canned frosting. She texted the next day and said she’d made the cake. “It was delicious!” she said. Apparently my 7-year-old grandson thought so, too. She included a picture of him gazing longingly at the cake, his nose very close to the glass cover on the cake plate.
My daughter added that she also had made my meatloaf recipe for that same meal for the first time in ages. That recipe originally came from her dad’s mom. It incorporates oatmeal as the binder rather than bread crumbs as Mama used to do, and it has a topping of brown sugar mixed with catsup, a squirt of mustard and some nutmeg.
Isn’t it marvelous to have recipes such as these to hand down to children and grandchildren? As soon as I catch up on other projects, I am going to gather up as many family recipes as possible and compile them in books for my kids to have. It’s hard for me to realize that I am now the mother and grandmother who is passing them down! How did that happen? For the recipes given to me by Mama, my sisters, my mother-in-law and close family friends, I will try to find a photo of the person who shared and write a little bit about my memories of those dishes. This is not a new idea to combine family history with recipes. I have several cookbooks where the author has done just that.
The next time you grab a worn, stained card out of your recipe box, think about where the recipe originated and how much your kids and grandkids would enjoy having a copy and knowing the history behind it. That taste of home will mean the world to them one day.