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. "

Twenty-three years have passed now, since my mother died—and of course, few of us use recipe cards anymore. So many speak of another era: salmon mousse, made in a fish-shaped mold, with canned salmon and cream and gelatin powder; hamburger casserole with tomato paste, onions, cottage cheese and sour cream; and curried eggs.

But I like to reread the cards now and then, for the glimpse they give me of the woman who chose to file them away, with their little comments (“a pound of butter—ha ha”; “Look for chicken wings at fifteen cents a pound. They add so much style!”).

All these years later, I choke up at the sight of my mother’s handwriting, and the little splashes on the cards from some batter or other, dripping from her spatula. Like me, my mother was never a tidy cook, and regarded with a certain suspicion those who were. How could a person prepare food with the appropriate level of joy, if she was always busy sponging off the counter?

In case any doubt remained about her attitude, there was—at the bottom of each card—her trademark signature, made in a single swipe of her pen. Just a squiggle, really, but it’s how she finished off her letters, and she left it on her recipe cards, too: a dancing girl, one arm flung overhead, skirt twirling out around her.

Joyce Maynard’s novel Labor Day is due to begin filming this summer. In the film, the character played by Josh Brolin will be baking a pie using Joyce’s mother’s instructions.

Illustration: Gavin Potenza

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