The joys of researching and writing the centenary cookbook for the WI are increasing in unexpected ways to those I had anticipated when I took the project on last year. With a month to go until I deliver the manuscript, I’m sitting here at my desk surrounded by cookery books going back to the 1930’s and beyond. And as I dig into the past century of archive material, I have discovered a link via a recipe I am researching that takes me back through generations of cooks in my own family, and reminds me of just why I am a cook now.
Today, serendipidously the day after Mothers Day, I’ve been going back over family cookery books to check out a recipe for a war time chocolate cake that I remember my grandmother cooking. Before I started getting out the old books, I had already written it into the document using the version from the recipe scrapbook which I made back in 1979 when I was working at Good Housekeeping magazine. Today I have dug out my mother’s version of the recipe, written in her handwriting in her food-splashed fading notebook from which countless scraps of paper, with recipes collected from who knows where, are falling, and from which I remember cooking the cake as a child who was always in the kitchen baking whenever I got the chance. It’s a poignant search as it brings back such strong memories of my mother that I have to wipe away tears as I read.
Leafing back through more old family cookery books which Mum handed over to me a year or two before she died, I find a small book of fading browning pages that is barely held together with its original glue. Carefully turning the leaves I realise it is all in my grandmother’s writing, and the first page I open is the very same boiled Chocolate cake recipe. And thanks to my research I realise that Granny was writing into this booklet during the war period, as her version of the recipe specifies “Household milk”, which I now know is how precious rationed milk was allocated.
And I sit here and wonder at this link that brings the three of us together. The recipe was going to appear in the book I am writing but I had thought it came from the previous war. But now I know it is from the Second World War so will try to work it into the chapter 1936 – 1945 and so will pass the recipe on again to future generations. And my daughters will be able to follow the family history on in a very intimate and special way – by serving the same cake. But they may never write the recipe out on a piece of paper and so one special link will be broken.