What I am about to share started as a Facebook post, then I realized there is a whole story here, so decided to spare everyone the mega-post and make it a blog post instead.
You’re welcome, Facebook friends.
My daughter (age 3) and I read a Laura Numeroff/Felicia Bond treasure this morning, If You Give a Moose a Muffin. It is not as widely known as their Mouse book, but I assure you it is just as adorable and fun.
If you read a toddler a book about muffins… she’s going to ask for some actual muffins to go with it.
As usual, I grabbed my iPhone to look up a recipe while she pulled a chair up to the counter and climbed on. Then I put down the phone and, instead, grabbed this:
The 1981 Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book.
And my very first cookbook.
It’s nothing fancy. No agenda, no celebrity chefs, no fad diet recipes, no gimmicks. Just your average, run-of-the-mill cookbook from the early 80’s.
Let’s rewind to 2001. I was twenty-years-old and living in a converted garage apartment with two wonderful roommates in Bemidji, Minnesota. I had moved the 400 miles from Norway, Michigan to Bemidji two years earlier to attend Oak Hills Christian College, which is where I met my roommates, along with countless other awesome people, and spent the formative years of my young adulthood.
Side note: If you are unfamiliar with Bemidji or Norway (MI), get crackin’ on Google because both are stunningly beautiful towns, each with a lot to offer. And are, obviously, both very dear to my heart.
During the years I lived in Bemidji, I dated a man who happens to be a Palestinian Arab. Thanks to him, I got to enjoy many invitations into people’s homes where they would want to hear all about his life, about growing up in the West Bank, etc. I was more than happy to tag along, especially when dinner was involved. Ha!
One evening, we visited the home of a lovely couple who were both in their late sixties. Both of them had been northern Minnesotans all their lives. To this day, when I listen to “Tales from Lake Wobegon” on NPR, I am immediately transported back to the eat-in kitchen of their split-level home on the lake. Garrison Keillor’s fictional hometown took on a nail-on-the-head anthropological splendor as I sat in their presence. I mean this in the most respectful, kind, and literal way possible.
We had just enjoyed a delicious meal of “wild rice hot dish” followed by a tumbler towering with warm butterscotch pudding topped with freshly whipped cream for dessert. Butterscotch usually does zilch for me as I strongly favor all things chocolate. But this pudding was ridiculously yummy; I had to consciously keep my eyes from blissfully rolling into the back of my head with every bite… so I inquired about the recipe.
I wish I could remember our hostess’s first name (though I do remember their last name). When I asked for the recipe, she gently took me by the hand and led me to the kitchen sink. Next to it was her well-loved copy of the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. She flipped to the butterscotch pudding recipe and laid it before me on the counter. Then, with an air of one about to impart the sagest of sage wisdom and with the hushed voice of a secret-teller, she started, “Honey, this is the only cookbook you will ever need. Any Better Homes and Garden cookbook will do… I can promise you that.”
A couple weeks later, I was browsing a yard sale and came across the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook that is pictured above. It wasn’t the same one she had, but, as she pointed out, any BH&G cookbook would do. So I paid a dime for it (I remember because the masking tape price tag remained intact until about five years ago) and it officially became the very first cookbook I ever owned.
Though I have acquired many more cookbooks over the years, she was right. This probably is the only one I would ever need… of all the cookbooks I own, none of them have gotten near the use this one has. All of my most oft-repeated and entirely-from-memory recipes have come from this book. As a brand new adult living far away from my mama, usually broke and with meager kitchen wares, I taught myself to cook from this book.
Today, as I paged to the index and guided my daughter’s tiny finger along until we found “M” for muffins, the lump in my throat shouldn’t have caught me completely by surprise, but it did.
Shoulder-to-shoulder in the kitchen with my little one, poring over a recipe from my very first cookbook. A book that is falling apart from use and was already “old” when I bought it. A book that was written long before any of us concerned ourselves with chia seeds, einkorn flour, and coconut sugar (all of which were adaptions we made today), a book that was written before GM crops, as we know them, ever existed. Before allrecipes.com. Before carbs were a dirty word. Before so much of what impacts our cooking habits today.
It’s strange… the ordinary things that surface as most-treasured possessions over the years, those tangible pieces of our history breathing life anew into the stories and memories that shape us. It wasn’t until I opened the cookbook with my daughter today (who, up until this point, only knew of recipes existing on a screen) that the history of this book came whirring up in my mind and gained any kind of importance for me. In a moment, it went from being just another cookbook in the jammed-full cookbook cabinet to being THE ONE. Just like *that*… This will be the one I save for her. This will be her first cookbook, too. This will be the one that I mark notes and dates in, our very own kitchen autobiography. This will be the one that she reaches for when she wants to make something that reminds her of home and her mama.
Oh, and the muffins turned out scrumptiously. As always, from my trusty cookbook.