Grandma’s Recipe Box

This seems like an easy post, but I’m not sure where to start with this one. I’ve written it in my head several times, but the words are immediately lost when I put my fingers to the keys to type it. It is not a complicated story, but it is one that stirs up a lot of emotion for me. My feelings are hard to put into words. I am sad and happy at the same time, but those words seem inadequate, too simple. This is the story of food and family. Of past memories and new ones to come. Of living up to a matriarch. This is the story of my grandmother’s recipe box.

My grandma had a recipe box. I don’t know the history of it’s origins. I’m not sure if she bought it, or if it was gifted to her. And, months ago, maybe even a year ago, I thought of that recipe box. I couldn’t stop thinking about that recipe box, in fact. I could remember the small tin box with it’s mustard yellows and creams and browns and it’s mushroom motif. I could picture it in front of her big kitchen window, sitting in front of a set of numbered cookbooks, on the stereo stand that my dad had converted into a microwave stand for her.

I wondered what had become of the box when my grandma passed away. I didn’t have it. I knew my dad didn’t have it. I asked my two aunts, and neither of them had it. I got a lump in my throat and a knot in my stomach, and I started to fear that it had been thrown away. I have a few special things of hers – like her carnival glass and bud vases – and things of other loved ones passed, but in general, I’m not one to hang onto something simply because it belonged to someone I loved. I am a purger to a fault. But, for some reason, I really wanted to have this recipe box.

Finally, my dad located it with some of my uncle’s things. I was so relieved when he told me. He held onto it for a few weeks until I could get home to reclaim it. And, in those weeks, I began to grow excited and hopeful at what might be inside the recipe box.

Vintage recipe box

I’d spent time with my grandmother in the kitchen, like most children do. But, I’d never gotten her to actually show me and teach me how she made certain recipes. As I’ve gotten older, and become a wife and a mother, I’ve regretted this more and more. Oh how I wish that I’d gotten her to teach me how she made biscuits so that I could serve them on Saturday mornings with my boys. I remember sitting on the counter and patting them out with her as a little girl, but I never asked her how she made them once I was older. At Thanksgiving and Christmas, I think of her cornbread dressing. She often made an extra pan of for me to take home, knowing I loved it so much. Sure, we talked about how she made it, but I didn’t study her while she did it. I didn’t write the exact steps down or practice making it together with her. Surely, the recipe box would include her recipes for biscuits and dressing, wouldn’t it?

She died before I got married, before I started a family. And, while it’s been more than six years, I still think of her when I want to make something. Sometimes, I think I’ll just call her quickly and clarify something, forgetting that she’s not here any more.

I’m not clueless in the kitchen, and I spent enough time with her to have a general idea of how she did things, but it is the details that are lost to me.

And, it is those details that I was hopeful for when I dreamed of the recipe box.

Sadly, opening the recipe box did not reveal a treasure trove of grandma’s recipes. Instead, what I found were the recipe inserts from Lipton soup packets, recipes clipped from coupon circulars, and recipes from an Electric Membership Corporation magazine that she received. I found an article clipped from the October 13/14, 1982 edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution titled “Microwave Cooking: Touch control models cornering the market” that included recipes for Italian Cheesy Chicken and Tuna Pie.   These were the recipes that she’d wanted to try or that were in fashion, like the “Impossible” pies that made their own crust with the help of Bisquick. 

vintage recipe box

my grandma’s recipe box; “odd boil” makes me laugh a little, especially since I love to make a “lowcountry boil” now

That’s when it occurred to me: she didn’t write the great recipes down. She didn’t need a recipe to make biscuits or dressing. She’d made them for so long that they were written in her heart.

I’ve made peace with what’s in the recipe box. Now, I love that it is a glimpse into what she read and was interested in. I love that it is a mini time-capsule of sorts with the old newspaper and magazine clippings. I still long for her recipes, though. And, in the last few months, I’ve been working to recreate several of them.

I won’t add them to grandma’s recipe box; I’m too sentimental to modify it in any way.

I have a recipe binder that I use for everyday favorite recipes. It’s tabbed and organized, and the printed recipes are nicely covered with sheet protectors. I could add the recipes to that binder, but that won’t do either. It’s too plastic for these classic family favorites.

Instead, I plan to use a recipe box that my college roommate gave me. It’s almost fifteen years old, and it’s a Longaberger basket (college + Longaberger basket = unlikely combo, right?!). Anyway, it’s practically vintage. It has history and patina, and I think it will be perfect. I’m cleaning it out now. Like my grandma, I’ve tucked clippings into it over the years. I smiled when I realized I’d done the same thing.

In my new old recipe box, I’m going to include Grandma’s recipes as I recreate them. I’m also going to include a few of my own recipes, the things that my family and friends ask me to make and bring when we gather together. I will add a few special recipes from other family members and friends too. It will be a place for the best of the best, not my favorites of the day, but the recipes that span generations. As I’m adding the recipes, I will write them by hand. I think that is also what I was hoping for with her recipe box – a sampling of her handwriting. And, I did get that. There are a few recipes that she wrote out.

I look forward to collecting and curating my family recipes in a more purposeful and meaningful way.  I hope to one day have something worthy of handing down to my own children and grandchildren.

This weekend I plan to attempt my great grandmother’s fried apple pies. This recipe is one that my grandma’s mother was known for making. And while my great grandmother and grandma are no longer here to help, I’m blessed enough to still be able to ask my great Aunt Peggy for help (on Facebook, of all places!). Wish me luck!

Meet me back here, at the Maypop, on Monday. We’ll continue our discussion on manners (do chime in, please) and hopefully, with a little practice, I’ll have a recipe worthy of sharing with you next week too.



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  1. How sweet & exciting that they found the box! I received my grandmother’s Blue Ball canning book and it is such a sweet treasure.
    I can’t wait to hear how the pies turn out!

    • I love that you received her canning book. And, I’m so glad you’re around to teach me how to can! I can’t wait! One day, maybe I’ll have my own recipes to add to the box for jams or pickles, the two things I most remember my own grandma canning.

  2. Beautifully written post which flooded my heart with warm memories. We have similar stories of recipe boxes. I received my Gran’s some years after she passed. I spent time reflecting of the hours and hours watching her cook and can and fuss with the bounties from the garden. Upon opening I too found random clippings of dishes I’d never once seen her make, a rather interesting pamphlet from the 50’s on how to cater to your husband (read: meet him at the door after his long day with his evening newspaper and beverage) and recipes from several church ladies. Thankfully, a few of the oldie but goodie dishes were in there yet none of the staples. I’m blessed to have grown up in her kitchen and learned by watching and can stir up many of her delights, but to have the proof I’m doing it right would have been grand. If at the very have one more paper with her hand writing.

    • “Cook and can and fuss with the bounties from the garden”…yes, yes, and yes…love that line. Our grandmother’s sound so similar, Reagan. Sometimes, I think I’m living in the wrong decade. I long for simpler times when men still wore hats and ladies wore gloves. I’m charmed by the idea of meeting my husband at the door with a beverage and the paper, and in that spirit, I will ice a Sierra Nevada for Eric sometimes. Of course, in true fifties fashion, I’d like a housekeeper and would love to play bridge, but we’ve digressed totally.


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