by Kristen Frederickson
From her Wisconsin kitchen, circa 1945, Irene Traw passes along her notion of an “Angel Pie,” a frothy concoction of separated eggs and graham cracker crust, on a dear little card bearing her name and the legend, “A truer friend there cannot be than one who shared her recipe.” Irene, Ruth Pentecost, Evelyn Adamy, Betty Joy, the nameless lady who took the time to cut out magazine pictures of sunflowers and glue them to her recipe card containing instructions for “Fudge Cup Cakes Supreme,” all these ladies emerge from the cards of my grandmother’s recipe collection, wiping their hands on their aprons and smiling out at me as I sift – some 60 years later, seated at a kitchen table in London…a continent away – through this enormous stack of yellowed, dog-eared, spilt-upon treasures.
There is almost no chance that anyone today would want to cook anything described in these cards, but that is really beside the point. Rather a vivid essence wafts forth from this file…keenly evocative of a particular time and setting and way of life. Only a portion of the cards comes from my own grandmother’s kitchen; the vast proportion were gifts to her, from ladies (and I mean exclusively ladies) in her intimate circle.
These ladies inhabited a world in which brides-to-be were given personalized recipe cards on which to note down their creative efforts… I suppose they ate at each other’s houses, admired Ruth’s “Molded Fish Mousse” and asked for the recipe. And of course they were all ladies, not a Sam or Cyrus among them…for while men may be (and are) great chefs, the really important stirring and mixing, boiling and chopping in life is done by ladies…or so it was back in mid-20th century Shorewood.
Were these the original “Ladies Who Lunch?” Only instead of paying for Gordon Ramsay to wow them with foie gras parcels and confit of duck leg in a Jerusalem artichoke veloute, they fed each other at home, potluck style. Each lady would surely arrive armed with a dish designed to impress…
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