The Inheritance

By Joyce Maynard, "The Inheritance," May/June 2012

Author Joyce Maynard's essay on inheriting her mother's recipe box.

"I picture Joyce's mom, as well as mine, in that kitchen with one spoon in one hand and the other hand resting on the counter while reading these treasured index cards. Lovely homage. "

Some of the recipes in my mother’s box came from my grandmother—a wonderful baker, who’d brought her own cookie recipes with her when, as a young Jewish girl escaping the pogroms, she emigrated from Russia. So there were butter cookies with meringue on top, and little round wheels with thumbprints in the middle filled with homemade jam, and hazelnut crescents dusted with powdered sugar.

My mother copied recipes from magazines, too, but when she did, she always ended up adapting them in ways that honored certain core beliefs about food: Real was better than artificial. Rich was always superior to low-fat. (If 3/4 cup of butter was good, a cup was probably better.) As for margarine: all my mother had to say about a person—if she wanted to convey a low opinion of her—was to mention that the woman baked with Parkay. Or that she used garlic powder or “imitation vanilla” extract.

I’ve known women, over the years, who kept their recipes secret (and a few who shared them, but with some crucial ingredient missing) to ensure that no one could replicate that spaghetti sauce, that curry. But my mother loved making copies of her recipe cards, and exchanging them so her box was also filled with recipes bearing names: Betty’s Anadama Bread. Lillian’s Gingersnaps. Mum’s Borscht.

Next: Leaving a Legacy »

Get a full year of EatingWell magazine.
World Wide Web Health Award Winner Web Award Winner World Wide Web Health Award Winner Interactive Media Award Winner