I have a home-made family cookbook that spans three generations and two continents. It is as much a family album as it is a cookbook. It contains recipes from my teens through today. It contains recipes from many people, including my grandmother, mother, and others who played a big part in my life.

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The cookbook started when I was getting ready to leave home for the first time to go to law school. While I was growing up, my mother had many cooks, none of whom had the patience to teach an eager little girl. So at the age of 22, I could barely boil water.

But I loved food. I was dying to finally learn how to cook. My mother, though she rarely chopped or seared anything herself, was obsessed with food. She went to bed reading cookbooks and magazine recipes and when she died I found boxes of clipped out recipes that had never made it into her personal cookbooks. The recipes that had made it had been lovingly pasted into large three-ring binders, divided into categories like a regular cookbook.


I realized that getting my apartment gave me the opportunity to learn how to cook while I was also learning how to be a lawyer. Before I left home, Mom and I went through all of her cookbooks and we picked out the recipes that were the best, simplest and hopefully the most fool-proof for me to take with me. I photocopied or typed these recipes at a time when the new, revolutionary feature on my electric typewriter was white-out! The advantage of the photocopied recipes (other than not having to type them) was that they have my mother’s handwritten notes all over them. “More garlic” and “more seasoning” were common comments. Suggestions to “try” this or that were also scattered throughout.

These days, when I look through MY giant cookbook, I see her handwriting and hear her words and share the recipes with her again and again.

I learned to be a decent cook during my 1970’s law school years, though many of my best desserts involved jello products. Since then I have collected recipes from various sources, including from loved ones.

kitchen in hadley

My kids’ other grandmother and their Aunt are well represented in my book, as are friends and restaurants whose dishes we loved so much we had to make them at home.

“Christine’s Beef with Horseradish Sauce” brings back memories of a family picnic with four young children in the idyllic English countryside. “Meryl’s Passover Cookies” evoke memories of shared holidays over the years.

Now I have a separate dessert cookbook, with no jello in it at all. Most of my newer recipes are printed out from the internet. Looking through my cookbook is not only a way to decide what to have for dinner. It’s also a way for me to reconnect with my past and with the people who made me the person — and cook — I am today.

Categories: Family, Humor

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14 replies

  1. wait an ‘effing minute here. Back up. YOU’RE A LAWYER? (My dad was one, too)


  2. My Mum had a large and well worn library of cookbooks. Yes …… I believe there’s a lot more in those books after they’ve been used over the years ….. than there was when she bought them.


    • I write comments on all my recipes so I can improve the result the next time. I hope others will enjoy reading my comments someday when I pass my cookbooks on to my kids. I know I benefit from my Mom’s comments, even if I don’t do exactly what she suggests every time!


  3. Great Ellin. My mom was a terrific cook as well, but her recipes consisted of pinches and dashes of this and that and were seldom, if ever, written out. When I left home and asked for a couple of my favs, she reacted in a typical “Mom” way designed to keep me coming by the house. It was her control freak answer to keeping her baby boy close. I’d love to have some of your favorites too?


    • My Grandmother never had written recipes either. WHen she got cancer, she stood in the kitchen with me and let me write down how she made some of my favorite recipes. Unfortunately it was all “a pinch of this” and “a pinch of that” and “cook it till it’s done”. I had to quantify and refine the recipes myself over the years but I’m so glad I have them. I’ll talk to marilyn about printing a few recipes.


  4. My mother has a notebook with recipes she collected as well. It is well used and I want to pass it onto my daughter or my son. Recipes were so much simpler when we were young.


    • I think it is wonderful to be able to pass recipes down or across family lines. I recently thanked my sister-in-law for a favorite recipe I got from her and she swears she never heard of it! I must have gotten it from someone else and I’ve been giving her credit all these years. I usually title the recipe with the family member’s name, like “Aunt Robin’s Banana Bread” which avoids confusion.


  5. Ellin, you spoil us with your culinary goodies. I’m so looking forward to our next visit.


    • February and March are usually slow months, maybe you can come down and visit us then!


  6. Are you going to share any of those recipes with us?


  7. Bravo! I too, want to create a cook book, much like the one you and your mum had made.


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