Dead women talk to me
(EDITORS NOTE: “Write on” is a monthly lifestyle column written and submitted by members of the local community.)
I was baking my mother’s “killer cookies” when I realized my kitchen was full of dead women.
My mother was making molasses sugar cookies when she learned that President Kennedy had been killed. I was home from school sick. Someone called us and told Mom to turn on the television. She held me in her lap and started crying. I didn’t know what had happened, but if it made my mother cry, it had to be worth crying about. Mom got me two still-warm cookies and a glass of milk to calm me down.
Mom was making the same cookies when we learned that Dr. King had been assassinated. That’s when we started calling them her “killer cookies,” even though the phenomenon never happened again.
My mother’s killer cookies are my favorite. I don’t know where the recipe came from, but the card has my mother’s name on it, in my father’s handwriting, and it’s in my recipe box.
I have lots of recipes in my recipe box. The special ones have women’s names on them.
Marcella Howard was part of my mother’s gang in college, immediately after World War II. Her coffee cake is perfect for the family or for joyous or somber occasions. It was among the first recipes I asked for when I got married. My wife had never heard of it. My daughters have become experts at making it. I still make it for those events that call for a dish to pass.
My paternal grandmother’s family brought a chocolate cake recipe with them when they emigrated from Germany about 150 years ago. My grandmother died when I was 6, but she celebrated every birthday with me. I baked the same cake for my kids on their birthdays. The card in my file is labeled Nannie’s Chocolate Cake.
When my father got hired to teach chemistry at Cedar Grove High School in 1955, he moved his family more than 200 miles, from Massachusetts to New Jersey. Ed Cooper, the other chemistry teacher invited them to his house for dinner. Kay Cooper had prepared “lazy lasagna.” People in conservative Massachusetts didn’t eat ethnic food, so my folks had never eaten anything Italian. Sixty years later, my recipe file has a card labeled Kay Cooper’s Lazy Lasagna, again in my father’s handwriting.
Later, my family moved to Mansfield. Dick and Beth Walker moved their family into the house across the street. Mom and Beth became great friends. I was 15 years old when I had my first wedge of sinfully delicious chocolate rum pie. When I returned home from the Army, met my wife and moved out of the area, I coaxed Beth into giving me her recipe. I had to promise her I would not share it, though I was welcome to share the pie. Beth has a card in my file.
Humans love stories — telling them and hearing them. There are lots of recipes in my file. The ones that get made the most and everyone loves, the ones that will get passed to my children are those with stories attached.
Humans strive for immortality. If we know how, we build towers like Gustave Eiffel and put our names on them or carve giant heads into mountains like Gutzon Borglum or write books or plays or movies. Stephen King referred to the connection between the writer and the reader as a kind of time travel. The writer writes, but days or weeks or years or centuries might pass before a certain person reads what was written.
The same holds true for recipes. Recipes are a way for people to pass knowledge to the future. Not just food — the recipe for the polio vaccine changed the world. Salk and Sabin’s recipe changed the world. My mother’s clam chowder recipe changed the world for fewer than 100 people, but it is one way my mother and her friends will live beyond their natural lives.
I always have enjoyed cooking for my friends and family. It took me a long time to figure out why. I have a platoon of dead women who keep me company in the kitchen. They keep me from burning dinner and help me feed my friends and family. Dead women talk to me.
This piece was submitted by Dan Mason, of Williamsport.
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