It had gone undiscovered for years, a handwritten recipe tucked between the pages of a hand-me-down cookbook. A cookbook that belonged to my mom, because the recipes of her kitchen landed in mine — a natural progression to her only daughter.
And that’s when it fell out, a loose-leaf sheet of paper filled on both sides with a recipe written in my mom’s clear, cursive, parochial-school penmanship. A recipe written in her hand. And it stops me in my tracks — not in a sad way by any stretch, even though my mom has been gone for 27 Thanksgivings now. But who’s counting?
Like a whisper through the trees or a tiny bird landing on the windowsill, I get the feeling this piece of paper fell out for a reason. And I begin reading this recipe for what she titled, “Cherry Crunch Cake,” every word of it.
In her hand, the recipe begins with “1 cup oatmeal,” and I remember hot breakfast before school.
In her hand, it continues with “1 stick butter,” and I remember the sweetness that graced a holiday table.
In her hand, it takes two lines to write, “Pour 1-1/4 cups of boiling water over this/and let stand 20 min,” and to me, that reads like poetry.
What a treasure this is, this two-sided sheet of loose-leaf paper, offering instructions for an oatmeal crust cherry cake, speaking to me from long ago. We all have them — recipes copied in cursive or hand-lettered on notecards from a mother, a grandmother, a sister, a friend. They are treasures beyond value, because who could foresee a day when penmanship would become a lost art?
We just don’t write stuff down anymore. We make our grocery lists on smartphones. If we need to know the nuances of a family’s favorite dish, we send a text. If we can’t remember how long butter should sit at room temperature, we Google it. But what we’ve gained in time, we’ve lost in texture. For it’s not what the recipe promises that takes my breath away; it’s the manner in which it is written — in her hand.
Because I hold in my hand what’s written in her hand, I can read between the carefully constructed lines of cursive. I can see her sitting at our kitchen table copying it from a newspaper, with a Pepsi in a Tupperware tumbler and a lit cigarette balancing on an ashtray. Or maybe she called a friend and took dictation over a rotary telephone, her head tilted to hold the receiver between her ear and shoulder.
It matters little that I don’t recall her ever making Cherry Crunch Cake for the family, but maybe this is a recipe that was never meant to be made. It was made to be found, and it’s now fulfilled its purpose. Fortysomething years later, I hold in my hand something in her hand. And I remember how it feels to be nourished.