Memories from Tattered Recipes

Holiday times have me searching through my recipes for prized favorites that have made their way from paper to oven to plate to mouth through the years.

It got me thinking about recipes and memories.

A good bit of the time I do what most men and women in the year 2022 do: I search for recipes online. I find them quickly. I read reviews. There are beautiful, colorful pictures showing me exactly what to do (who knew eggs in a bowl could be so pretty) showing me exactly what the end product will look like (so yummy). It’s amazing to be able to do this. On the down side, there are a million ads and lots of words to sift through, especially if I miss the “skip to recipe” button. (In fact, one person suggested that a murderer could confess the murder in every paragraph in an online recipe, but no one would ever catch them because we all hate the words so much and want to go straight to the recipe. But …. I digress!)

As I looked through my tattered recipes, I realized something is missing from the online searches that yield amazing recipes. There is a sterility to the process, a lack of emotional connection to the recipe. I realized that it was void of the memories that come with food-stained recipes from family members and friends.

There is the recipe for the egg and cheese breakfast casserole served on Christmas morning from Ann Coster, Every year in Cairo Ann had a big pancake breakfast for all of us. Moms talked while kids watched a video of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. It was at one of those events where I lamented on wanting something fancier than scrambled eggs for Christmas morning. Ann’s eyes lit up and she shared the recipe. I still have it in Ann’s handwriting, a precious gift that cost her nothing but the time it takes to write out an index card of words. And every Christmas morning, that’s what we eat.

recipes, egg and cheese casserole

There’s the Thumbprint Cookie recipe from my mom, congo bar recipe from my maternal grandmother, affectionately known as Gramma K. There’s orange cheese bread from Genie and cranberry walnut sweet rolls from Cary; the peanut-butter kisses from Mary….the recipes go on and on.


As I flip through them, I come to Never Fail Peanut Butter Fudge from my cousin, Kristine. There is a poignant pause in my recipe search. She wrote it long ago when I was getting married and it is written under her maiden name – Johnson. Kristine died on January 27, 2007 – it was my 47th birthday. She was only 2 years older than me. I stop and wonder if her family remembers this Never Fail Peanut Butter Fudge, its sweet goodness a distant memory. I think of her mom, my Aunt Ruth who died this past year, one of the smartest, loveliest women on the planet, and wonder if she passed on the recipe to Kristine.

recipes, never-fail peanut butter fudge

Like life itself, I have to move on, but not without a precious look back in time to my younger days where death seemed so far in the future and I seemed to have all the time in the world.

It’s these pauses and memories that I don’t get when I find a recipe online. It’s a bit like online relationships – they are enjoyable and can teach me a lot. But they are no substitute, no comparison to flesh and blood, body and bones, faces and hands of my in-person people.

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20 thoughts on “Memories from Tattered Recipes

  1. Handwritten recipes are the best! I am thrilled when others share theirs with me and many have become prized possessions. I remember well the Christmas my Aunt Karen showed up with 12 or 14 pecan pies, because she was perfecting the recipe. It’s the one we still use today with an unusual amount of Karo – 7/8 cup. She swore it was the perfect amount and we agree. Aunt Karen lost her battle with cancer on Christmas Day 19 years ago but she is remembered for her sweet spirit, her love of family and, especially around the holidays, her baking skills. Thanks for sharing your family stories, Marilyn. Merry Christmas to you and yours!


    1. This is a great story! 12-14 Pecan pies…! It’s one of our favorite pies. In our world where we so rarely stop and remember, these recipes help us to do just that. Merry Christmas to you and I’m hoping for a guest post from you in the New Year …. something on how you find ingredient substitutes as an expat. My sense is you have a LOT of experience with this!


      1. I would be happy to write you a guest post some day in the new year, Marilyn. I must confess though that life abroad has gotten easier over the years with many ingredients now available that never were before. The things I have hauled around the world in suitcases in years past, you would not believe! Or probably you would. : ) I am also a pretty good finder of substitutes.


  2. Oh my goodness Marilyn! I was scrolling down your blog, reading your well-crafted words, and THERE is my hand-writing and hey! that’s our favorite Christmas morning egg & cheese casserole! What a nice surprise and how wonderful to know that the Gardners share this tradition with the Costers! (As you know, it’s so easy to make the night before, so that on Christmas morning, you only need to heat the oven and pop it in — we accompany it with a favorite coffee cake, also made earlier). Thanks also for the memory of the Rudolph gathering! Most of all, thanks for the beautiful way you bring your readers around to seeing the value of treasured people and moments as depicted in scraps of papers and food-stained recipe cards, so much more personable than the efficient, but stark online fare!

    MERRY Christmas to the Gardners from the Costers! Enjoy that favorite egg ‘n cheese casserole on Tuesday morning! Love, Ann


  3. My mother has books and small boxes stuffed with torn out magazine pages and index cards from so many. About 12 years ago, she was being treated for colon cancer with chemo and radiation that left her usually on her bed singing old hymns and choruses. When she had any energy at all, we would find her stretched out with scraps of paper all around her and the stories would begin. Long ago events and relationships, church ladies who have moved away….I should have been recording.


  4. My Christmas pudding recipe is on a tiny page, torn from Mum’s diary (doubtless obtained during a visit to Scotland). I keep it in a little plastic bag and have my mother’s “official” recipe book also in a bag as it’s falling to bits. Don’t, whatever you do discard those precious hand-written egg and butter-stained pieces of paper!!


  5. Ah, I just recently struggled through this. For the last few months, I have been taking all of my recipes and going paperless and putting them on the laptop. I had similar thoughts as I looked at the handwritten recipes…on all different sizes of paper, written by so many whose lives have crossed ours. Currently, the recipes that have been converted to digital are in a plastic container. I don’t know that I will have it in me to discard these when I am finished with the project!


    1. Ohhhh! I feel your pain….a little like giving away books maybe?! And while it feels so much more efficient to do the sorting and getting them on a laptop, with the way technology changes, they’ll be lost on the laptop sooner than the paper and pen!


  6. Thank you, Marilyn, especially for that memory of Kristine. Your Aunt Ruth is indeed one of the brightest women on the planet! I played scrabble with her once – never again! I crawled away in total defeat. But she is also one of the sweetest, lovingest, sisters-in-law in the world. Now I must go and find that old stained recipe from my Mom, your Grandma K. for raisin filled cookies. I haven’t baked a single cookie this year, so today I think I will! Love you!


    1. Yes Aunt Polly, I have to agree that my mother is very bright, but on a good day, I have been known to beat her at Scrabble! Thank you Marilyn for the memories of my sister’s peanut butter fudge!


      1. I’ve never played scrabble with Aunt Ruth, but if my mom was trounced, you better believe I would be trounced times two! Karen – so glad you saw this and have the memories of Kristine’s fudge. Love to you!


  7. Yes, Marilyn, yes!!! I also look online and through my cookbooks. Invariably I return to those trusted and tried I’ve collected from others and other generations! My conclusion? There is more in a recipe than measurements and ingredients. Thank you.


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