Joni Woolf: My mother’s recipes

Published 10:30 pm Monday, September 26, 2016

The year after my mother died, at age 96, my sister put together a selection of her recipes in a small cookbook for all of the grandchildren. Her recipe collection was not an orderly one: there were recipes from the Valdosta Times; recipes written in pencil, in pen, scribbled at church when someone brought an unusually good dish to a dinner on the grounds occasion; recipes she had concocted herself and that had stood the test of time … and time again.
I have used many of them in the years since then, though some I would not dare try, like the one, in her handwriting that lists four ingredients with no name above the list: ½ pound butter, 1-2/3 cups sugar, 5 eggs, 2 cups plain flour, flavoring. That is it. There are no directions for how it’s put together, (are the eggs separated, or put in whole?) or what kind of pan, or what temperature to cook it (I’m guessing it’s a cake, from the ingredients listed).  I have not tried this one. And I think I shall not.
Then there’s the one for bread, in her handwriting on the back of an envelope that tells in this order how to make a loaf of Whole Wheat Bread (though she doesn’t mention whole wheat):
Let rise twice and cook in 400 degree oven. Put yeast in ¼ cup real warm water and 1 Tablespoon sugar. Add enough warm water to mix. Four cups of flour, 4 Tablespoons sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, ¼ cup shortening. Mix all except 1 Tablespoon sugar. That is it. Since I watched her make this bread, I have been able over time to figure it out. It goes like this:
Dissolve 1 package yeast in ¼ cup warm water with 1 tablespoon sugar. Stir. Then add 4 cups WHOLE WHEAT flour, 3 tablespoons sugar, 1 teaspoon salt and ¼ cup shortening, adding warm water as necessary to make a solid, moist mixture. Form into a mound, put in slightly greased, large bowl, cover with clean dish towel, and let rise to twice its size. Punch down, let rise again. Place in greased 5 x 9 loaf pan, and bake at 400 degrees F. until done (about 45 minutes). You had to read between the lines to figure it all out, but she had been cooking so long, she needed only the basics to create delightful foods. (This is a delicious, dark bread.)
One of my favorites, and one that I thought was lost until my sister, Susan, discovered it, was the recipe for cornbread dumplings, to be cooked with turnip (or other) greens:
Cornbread Dumplings
1 cup plain cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup flour
¼ cup water
Combine ingredients to make stiff dough. Drop by tablespoons in boiling turnip greens. Cover. Cook 6 to 7 minutes. Let sit on top of turnips until served.
None of the family really loved fruit cake, but she created one — she may have found the recipe on the side of a box of staples. It is in her handwriting, so it wasn’t reproduced from the newspaper or a cookbook. She calls it Christmas Cake, and though it is a bit early, this one could be made now, frozen (or even put in the bottom of the refrigerator, with whiskey added occasionally) and last for months.

Christmas Cake (or Thanksgiving, or any time after Labor Day)
½ pound butter
5 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 tablespoon lemon flavoring
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 pound cherries (whole) (I’m guessing she meant the candied ones)
8 oz. pineapple preserves
1 lb. pineapple (the candied kind)
4 cups chopped nut meat
Cream butter and sugar. Mix dry ingredients together and add all other ingredients. Bake at 250 degrees F. for 2 ½ hours.

She was always short on directions. I suppose she had cooked so long, and knew exactly what she was doing, that all she needed was a list of ingredients and she could compose the rest. Kind of like a symphony, from the kitchen. It was a lovely tune, one we still sing.

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at