Recipe Books Are Memory Books

I may have mentioned my pair of prized, beaten-up photo albums, the ring-binder type with plastic sleeves. 

I sometimes imagine that after I’m gone, my kids will surely fight over those two albums, or I kind of hope they do, because it will mean that they value the books as the historical culinary treasure troves they are.

The albums don’t hold photos, but a lifetime’s collection of recipes. Some I’ve clipped and saved from magazines and newspapers. Others I’ve printed out from emails from people who’ve sent recipes I’ve begged for requested. 

Why two books? One book for savory, the other for sweet. Yes, of course, the sweet book is bigger.

Many recipe titles include a person’s name, which invaribly delivers a mental picture. With each turn of the thin plastic pages I’m flooded with images of specific people and particular foods, events and memories.

Doreeta’s Party Cheese Ball, Canda’s Cheddar Chowder,  Jennifer Jewell’s Limoncello Souffle, Cindy’s Shortbread, Cecilia’s Flour Tortillas, Judy’s Magic Peach Cobbler, Tom’s Chili, Shelly’s Chocolate Freezer Pie, Sunnie’s Crab Cakes, Lee Rigg’s Fig Lemon Tart. 

Those are from the living.

Other recipes are associated with people who are gone, but they come alive through their recipes.

Aunt Aggie’s Pie Crust, Billie’s Twice-Baked Potatoes, Mrs. Rathbun’s Roll-Out Cookies, Mindy’s Mondel Bread, Don’s Penuche, Mrs. Cyr’s Fudge. Phyllis Zerg’s Rugelach, Ivy’s Apple Pie …

On and on it goes. Page after page. Three recipes to a page.

That’s why looking for a recipe can take a while, because although I started the books with the best intention to organize by category – soups, appetizers, breads, salads, etc. – I abandoned that early on.  Consequently, it’s a trip down Memory Lane every time I go in search of a recipe. With each flip of a page memories tap me on the shoulder.

It’s similar to how a specific song can take me back to another time and place. Bread’s “Lost Without Your Love”? Zoom, slam! It’s 1977.

My albums also contain some recipes with people’s names I don’t know personally, because they’re from a friend of a friend. Like Karen Stewart’s Wine Cake and Karen Stewart’s Chocolate Roll.  Karen Stewart and I don’t know each other, but whether she knows it or not, we’re linked by her recipes.

Finally, there are the recipes I’ve scribbled down on the fly on whatever paper scrap I have available, like Chinese Chicken Salad on a bank deposit slip, circa 1992.

And Maddalena’s Flourless Chocolate Cake, written on a pink memo slip after eating at the wonderful little Dunsmuir restaurant and having raved about the cake to Maddalena herself as I was heading out the door, which prompted Maddalena to not even stop cooking as she launched into a trance-like impromptu recitation of the recipe.

As soon as I reached the car I grabbed the first paper I could find and immediately wrote down what I remembered. I’ve never re-written the recipe on a proper recipe card. I’ve left it exactly as I wrote it in 1997. I like it that way.

But here it is Wednesday, and it’s time to look at this week’s Tops Markets ad, and see the inspiration for a new week’s recipe.

 Tops Markets in Redding and Weaverville have their memories for me, too. The Redding store was formerly Sunset Marketplace (a name many people still call it).

Tops Markets features two north state grocery stores: Redding’s Tops Market, left; Weaverville’s Tops Market, right.

The Redding market, then Sunset, was where I ordered a polka-dotted cake for Joe and Marie’s wedding, and where I relied upon the super-talented then-deli director Dan Farrarese for help with cannelloni for my own wedding, which – holy cannelloni – now seems a million years ago.

The Weaverville Tops Market? It’s always been my pit stop on the way to the coast, a place to pick up camping supplies, or a cup of coffee or a sandwich for the road.  

This week’s Tops ad‘s lead item is Tri Tip Roast, $4.99 a pound (it’s $5.99 at R&R Meats today, btw). But the ad also includes all kinds of other products and specials, such as organic cauliflower, $2.99 each; broccoli, $1.89 each; and acorn squash, $2.29 a pound.

But I was looking  for ingredients to make Canda’s Cheddar Chowder, and I found it with the Best Yet Chunk Cheese, $2.99 for a 16-ounce package.

Canda’s Cheddar Chowder is a great soup, perfect for the last gasp of winter, but I’ve not made it in years. Warning, it’s not exactly a health food, and for that, I apologize. To compensate, I promise to publish something soon that’s more heart-friendly, like a recipe for baked chickpeas with rosemary and sea salt. I feel thinner already.

But first, the chowder, a beautiful cheddar-orange laced with cheese, topped with crumbled bacon and croutons.

Let’s not make a big deal out of the half & half, any more than I’d make a big deal out of the fact that my friend’s original recipe was under a different name, from a bygone marriage.  

It’s all perfectly OK. The names may change, but the people, and their recipes, remain wonderfully the same. 

Note to self: Don’t write recipes in red felt pen.

Canda’s Cheddar Chowder

6 strips bacon
2 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/3 cup flour
1 qt. milk
2 cups half & half
4 cups shredded sharp cheddar (start with 1 lb.whole cheese)
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. white pepper

For topping: ‘

Fresh parsley, chopped
Crumbled bacon

In a big pot cook bacon ’til crisp. Remove bacon and set aside. Save 3 T. hot drippings. Add onion and saute over medium heat until tender, but not brown. Add the garlic and saute until it’s cooked, but, again, not brown.

Gradually stir in flour until mixture bubbles and thickens. Stir in milk and half & half a bit at a time until smooth.

Stir in cheese, 1 cup at a time until it melts and the mixture is smooth.

Ladle one cup of soup into a small bowl. Stir in the dry mustard, salt and pepper. Mix well.

Return the mixture to the main pot, and stir to combine. Simmer 5 minutes. (Do not boil.) Top each serving with crumbled bacon and croutons.

Serves 6 to 8.
This recipe sponsored by Tops Market in Weaverville and Redding.

Click here to receive weekly emailed Tops Market ad specials.

Click here for print-at-home coupons.

Click here to order a sandwich online from the Redding Tops Market.

Click here to order a sandwich online from the Weaverville Tops Market.
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Chamberlain was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.

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