Sunday, June 5, 2011

What's in the box?

ROSEMARY: The other day I went to an estate sale. A perfectly normal thing to do on a summer afternoon except I was not in my home state and the chances of my succumbing to the charms of the life-size plaster camel or the set of mid-century garden furniture were severely reduced by the fact that I couldn't possibly fit either in my carryon luggage.

I looked for something small. Something interesting that wouldn't carry with it a tremendous burden of ownership. I decided against the matching pearl necklace and bracelet but one thing did catch my eye - a small wooden box in the kitchen which held the recipes of the 80-something year old woman who had just moved into an assisted living facility.

The box wasn't particularly pretty, in fact it's kind of ugly, but inside was a lifetime of parties, birthdays, family get-togethers, and holiday celebrations in the sheets of paper where one Myrtle Cross wrote down her recipes for Lady Baltimore Cake, Red Velvet Cake, Chocolate Chip Pound Cake, Japanese Fruit Cake (!) and dozens of other treats which I'm assuming she made for her family over the years. Some of them are handwritten, others typed, many have notes like Good!, From Mary Ann, and DO NOT OVERBEAT.

They are almost all desserts. Either the Crosses never ate real food or Mrs Cross knew all of those recipes by heart. The Cross house was the place to go for golf ball cookies, pecan pie, pear preserves and coconut cake. (Mr. Cross was in the chicken processing business so maybe she was just sick of animal protein.)

Myrtle was not a great speller and some of the ingredients may be hard to find on any supermarket shelves these days, but I had to have the box. In my WIP a character finds her mother's old cookbook and starts to bake many of the treats she enjoyed as a child. And here's this old box of recipes. I took it as a sign and bought the box. It will doubtless make an appearance in my next book.

What storyline would you come up with a 60 year old box of recipes to start you off?


  1. I have about 18 of these now and they are among the favorite items in my collection. I have one where there's a letter mentioning 'cash for pictures.' I blogged about that at another mystery site last year where we all tried to guess what was in the pictures and I also use it at my shows. There is so much room for excellent fiction in those old boxes...I can't wait to see your next one.

  2. I have two of these boxes from my grandmother, and the problem is that many of the recipes are just plain weird. Who really wants two recipes (two!) for steamed persimmon pudding?

    I'm not sure when in my childhood my grandmother stopped making chocolate chip cookies and started making zucchini cookies with lemon glaze (which she pulled from the freezer just prior to our arrival). But change she did. I've already given the grandmother character in my series many of the same traits as my grandmother, so steamed persimmon pudding might have to make an appearance on the dinner table sometime.

  3. Rosemary, that's the kind of "find" I'd love. How lucky you are. Only I'd wish for more varied dishes than desserts. In a way, it's sad to think no one wanted her lifetime accumulations of recipes--but I remember being overwhelmed with my mom's collection and finally pitching the notebooks, all classified by course--entree, vegetable, etc. Now I regret it.