Until I was in middle school, I had never seen a highlighter. Even after my friends had them, they seemed...suspicious, somehow. Who would mark up a book besides a delinquent who hated education? Especially with something that looked like it was really a magic marker in disguise, waiting to actually black out what it was supposed to highlight?
In our kitchen, there was a fantastic lucite cookbook stand, used to protect the cookbooks. Not that they were totally unmarked; my father used to put lipstick on me so I could put kisses in them, and every once in a while, he traced my hands or feet in the covers of the books to personalize them when they were presents for my mother. But the recipes themselves stayed safe behind clear plastic covers, just like the sofas at my great-aunts'.
Once my mother died unexpectedly, I came in to a mountain of cookbooks, all of them used, and every bookmark was a mystery. Was this one of those dishes I liked and just never knew what it was called? Or something my dad wanted my mom to try but since she knew better than he did that he hated candied apples she wisely just kept marked but knew she'd never make? I felt truly lost--I knew the tastes of my childhood were locked in those books, but where?
Well, somewhere after I moved out of the house, my mother either lost her disdain for writing in books, or privately saw it as a secret thrill, or found it more reliable than hoping that bookmarks stayed where they belonged. In some of the books she used more often at the end of her life, there were notes in the margins, ingredients crossed out, directions tweaked, proportions corrected. One recipe noted my boss really liked it when she sent it in with me once for the office--only later to have "WHO CARES?!?!?!" written in big letters with lots of punctuation (after, I suspect, I was passed over for a promotion she--and I--thought I deserved). A recipe for ricotta cake called for some citrus zest. Mom had question marks and the word "never!" written next to that. And so forth and so on.
That was such an unexpected gift and an epiphany for me. Since we assumed we had lots more time together, I never got serious about sitting down with her to ask for specifics of favorite recipes, like "what tomato sauce do you use for the crock pot pork chops?" or "besides the garlic spears, what do you do to your eye roast to make it so good?"
Since then, I have written in ALL of my cookbooks or cooking magazines that I have used more than once. I note when I made a dish ("good, but too rich for summer; make again when weather cools and will be perfect!"), whether it was for an occasion ("served after Christmas Eve Mass when our son was Baby Jesus and we had 15 relatives for dinner"), and any suggestions for next time ("loved the flavor but WAY too hot; skip most of red pepper flakes next time" or "great even without the sausage!"). More important since the sons were born: who liked it, and how. ("wouldn't eat the chicken but the sauce on rice went to thirds before we cut him off.") This way, the record is always there, and someday, if anyone else in this house ever cooks with cookbooks (my husband is amazing at cooking on the fly) and is looking for an old favorite, they'll be able to figure it out. And that works for me! What's working for you? Find out what's working over at Shannon's blog!
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!