When was the last time you wrote a letter to someone...on velum, perhaps, using a fine Waterman pen? When was the last time you received a Thank You note written on a specially chosen card that so reflected the writer’s personality? These are rhetorical questions so I don’t expect you to answer them, but I have a feeling I know the answer. Not recently. We live in an age of expediency and convenience. We send emails, and texts, and instant messages. These missives might be personal in that they go from one person to another, but they are not the notes of eras past, signed with a flourish and scented with toilet water. Sealed with a shiny, amorphous blob of sealing wax. They come from us, but they don’t COME from us. I do have two friends who have managed to stay ahead of the crowds and send handwritten cards. Their messages are always meaningful and their words often melt my heart. But they are definitely in the minority.
I too am guilty of sending evites and paperless thank you notes. My intent is often to be timely and ecological. It's definitely been an issue of "do as I say, not as I do" since I always insisted my boys write personal think yous to everyone and anyone whoever gave them a gift. And now that they are older and going on interviews of one sort or another, they still know a handwritten "thank you" will more than likely put you in better standing with your interviewer than an email.
The art of the hand-written recipe card has also taken a hit through the years. And I too am guilty of typing and storing my recipes on a computer rather than using the cards. It gets the job done, and it’s just easier. But is it more meaningful?
While visiting with family over the Thanksgiving weekend, my sister-in-law Sharon and I went through an unruly pile of papers she kept in a cabinet. She was looking for a particular recipe that she knew was there “somewhere.” In amongst lots of magazine clippings and assorted scraps of paper was what she had been looking for--her grandmother’s recipe for “Lemon Cake”--written on an old recipe card. There was a picture of a red rose in its top corner, and though a bit yellowed, the card was still in pretty good condition. The handwriting was small and neat, and the ink was still a dark blue and unsmudged. Without even reading the recipe I knew immediately what type of woman Sharon’s grandmother was. Here was someone who obviously liked to bake and thought enough about this recipe to immortalize it by copying it down from somewhere (can’t really say whether she made it up or not). The directions are short and precise--no fancy techniques are required of the baker. There were no side notes, so I assume Grandma knew this recipe very well and just wanted to document it.
The transcription of this recipe was such a simple act, but yet in doing so, Grandma created a piece of history. Perhaps she knew that, perhaps not, but aside from Sharon and her mom Sophie, there have been two more generations of women in that family who have come along since and who have access to the recipe. Knowing she actually wrote on, touched, and used this recipe card made me want to keep it and her memory alive. And because of that, I’ve since found out a little bit more about Grandma Mary. She came to the US from Poland in 1924 on the steamer The Lusitania, and settled in Buffalo. She could read and write English (self-taught), but every week she would gather to play cards and have cake with a group of friends where only Polish was spoken. She was one of many strong, industrious women of that time period. Quite a role model.
I’ve got a bunch of recipes that I’d written on a variety of cards a long time ago. Some are just plain index cards, and some are cards that say “From the Kitchen of....” They are in a long wooden box--the kind the libraries used for their card catalogs. These recipes are separated into categories (cookies, cakes, salads, grains) by small dividers. I cannot say that I have ever made use of even one of those cards in that box, but since looking at Grandma Mary’s recipe, I am determined to try a few. Perhaps some will be good enough to blog about, but I won’t throw them away regardless. Someday a daughter-in-law might inherit them (I know that’s a very sexist remark, but honestly, my boys could not be bothered), and she might pull out a card or two and try it out with one of her children. And then perhaps someone might want to know about the recipe’s history, because after all, that’s how history is made.
Notes: This is a very traditional lemon chiffon cake. The texture is very light, as is the lemon flavor. Make sure not to overbeat the egg whites since that will result in a dense cake. While Mary recommended a Lemon Buttercream to go with this cake, I thought a buttery Lemon Glaze would be a better, lighter substitute.
GRANDMA MARY’S LEMON GOLD CAKE
2 1/4c. sifted cake flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 1/2c. sugar
6 eggs, separated
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2c. vegetable oil
3/4c. cold water
1 tsp. grated lemon rind
3 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
5 tbsp. butter
2c. powdered sugar, sifted
3 tbsp. hot lemon juice
1 tbsp. grated lemon rind
Place egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer. Using the whisk attachment, whip whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and continue to whisk until firm stiff peaks are formed. Add a small amount of the beaten whites to the yolk mixture and mix then add the yolk mixture to the beaten whites, folding gently until just blended.
Pour batter into an ungreased 10-cup tube pan. Bake for approximately one hour. Invert pan onto the neck of a wine bottle and allow to cool. Loosen side of cake with a knife or long metal spatula.
While the cake is cooling make the Glaze:
In 1 1/2-quart saucepan, melt butter over low heat; remove from heat. Stir in powdered sugar and lemon peel until smooth. Stir in lemon juice, 1 tablespoon at a time, until smooth and consistency of thick syrup. Spread glaze over top of cake, allowing some to drizzle down the side.