A Book of Spells and Magical Enhancements
Copyright 2019 by Sara Etgen-Baker
This is a true
account of how I obtained my first cookbook. Although the cookbook
was small, it played a huge part in helping me learn to cook. Its
recipes have endured, and now, later in life, its pages hold memories
of a simpler time.
rectangular-shaped kitchen was tiny—no more than 7 feet long
and 5 feet wide—which was to be expected since the house itself
was small, less than 1,000 square feet. And like most houses built in
the early 1950’s, the kitchen was designed primarily for
functionality, equipped with only the basics—a moderate-sized
refrigerator, a full-size gas range with stove, yet little countertop
and storage space. In fact, storage was so sparse that Mother kept
her pots and pans in the oven overnight and removed them the next
morning when she prepared breakfast.
learned to cook standing alongside her but often complained about her
cramped, cracker box kitchen. “I hate cooking in here! There’s
no room for anything! It’s ALWAYS
hot in here,
and I can’t breathe!” I’d open the kitchen window
and fan myself rather dramatically. “You know, clean up would
be so much
easier if you
just had a dishwasher and disposal.”
here, Missy!” Mother turned to me with a scowled expression on
her face. “When I was a young girl during the Depression, I
helped my mother cook on a wood stove that was so old it had holes in
it.” Then Mother stopped what she was doing and grabbed her
wet dish towel. “Look around. My kitchen has a stove, a
refrigerator, pots, pans, and cooking utensils; it’s enough. Everything
else is optional.” Then she whipped her dish towel
between her thumb and forefingers and snapped it on my buttocks. “Don’t
be so fussy! Be grateful for what you have. Now
finish washing and drying those dishes.”
I silently sulked and continued hand-washing and drying the dishes
while my mother, aunt, and grandmother huddled around Mother’s
kitchen table. They dumped all their S&H Green Stamps onto the
table; sorted them by denomination; licked them; and stuck them onto
the grid pages of the booklets that the supermarket gave away.
most women in the late 50s and early 60s, Mother didn’t work
outside the home and had no income of her own. So, collecting and
redeeming Green Stamps gave her a means of obtaining items she so
desperately needed. As a matter of fact, Mother saved her stamps for
two years before having enough to redeem for an electric waffle maker
on the day Mother cashed in her stamps, I went with her to the
Redemption Center. “Here,” she handed me a blank order
form, “I forgot my glasses and need you to fill this in for
me.” While we waited for the stockroom clerk to retrieve her
purchase, I browsed through the store.
I saw it—The
Betty Crocker Cookbook for Boys and Girls—aptly
described as a great cookbook for boys and girls, introducing them to
basic cooking techniques and easy recipes. I opened the book; slid my
fingers across its pages; and glanced through the recipes, drawings,
and photographs and knew that I simply must have that cookbook.
Although the cookbook cost only half a book of Green Stamps, asking
Mother to out-and-out give me her prized Green Stamps was just
unthinkable. So, I formulated a foolproof plan.
I guided her toward the cookbook display, “have you seen this
cookbook?” I opened the book’s pages. “It’s
just perfect for me, and…..”
Mother skimmed through the pages. “I don’t know. Half a
book of stamps is…”
awful lot. I know, but…” I interrupted her hoping to
stop her objection dead in its tracks. “…I’ll do
extra chores to earn enough stamps to buy it. Please, Mama,
uh, I s’ppose so. But you’re responsible for your own
stamps and putting them in the booklets.” She returned the
cookbook to the display. “But once school starts, you won’t
be able to do as many extra chores. School comes first, you hear me!”
Mama, I do!” I skipped out the door and raced to the car.
spent the entire summer doing extra chores—ironing Father’s
shirts, folding clothes, vacuuming, and dusting. At some point, even
the neighbor ladies helped. They gave me Green Stamps for polishing
their shoes; ironing their clothes; washing their dishes; dusting
their houses; and running errands to the nearby supermarket. I was so
ecstatic that I even stopped complaining about Mother’s cracker
box kitchen! But by summer’s end, I was two pages shy of
having the half book of Green Stamps that I needed.
school started, I did as I promised and dedicated myself to my school
work. The fall months passed; then winter’s chilly winds
arrived, and by Christmastime I still didn’t have enough stamps
to buy my cookbook. Then one frosty December evening while sitting in
Mother’s kitchen and sipping on his coffee, Father asked,
“Sweetie Pie, how many more stamps do you need for your
two more pages, Daddy. Why? Do you have an errand or chore for me?”
I do.” He placed his cup on the table. “Tell you
what—grab your coat and stamps and hop in my pickup.”
threw on my coat; followed him to his pickup; hoisted myself onto the
seat; and noticed an envelope with my name on it.
see.” He flashed me a smile. “Go ahead, open it.”
I did, loose Green Stamps poured out onto the seat next to me. “Are
these for me?”
Sweetie Pie!” His eyes danced with sheer delight.
how, Daddy?” I asked, blinking back tears of joy.
few months ago, my gas station started giving Green Stamps; so every
time I bought gas, I put the stamps aside and saved them for you as
part of your Christmas present. Merry Christmas!”
can’t believe it, Daddy.” I squealed and hugged him.
let’s go get that cookbook!”
he drove to the Redemption Center, I hurriedly licked the loose Green
Stamps, affixing them to the empty grid pages of my booklet. Within
just a few minutes of our arrival, I cashed in my stamps but then
waited for what seemed like an eternity before the clerk retrieved my
cookbook and placed it in my eager hands.
I have a look at your cookbook?” Father asked, gently nudging
it from my tightly gripped hands. He then turned to the inside cover
and inscribed these words: “May this, your first cookbook, help
you to learn to love cooking.” Daddy, Christmas 1961.
a recipe, Daddy, and I’ll make it for you,” I said when
we got home.
pored over its pages, settling on the cake recipe on page 14. “How
‘bout this Eskimo Igloo Cake?”
that Christmas and many Christmases thereafter, I made the Eskimo
Igloo Cake just for Father—our very own father-daughter
tradition. But a lifetime of Christmases have come and gone; and
although I continued the Christmas tradition of making the Eskimo
Igloo Cake with my own family, I often found myself missing Father
and baking him his special cake. I also missed Mother and sitting at
her kitchen table, licking green stamps, and cooking alongside her in
her cracker box kitchen.
know it sounds trite, but I miss those simpler times, too. But I’ve
grown up and aged; and life and experience have revoked my license to
return to those simpler times. Yet when I open the cookbook, time—as
shapeless as the rain—dissolves into itself. The cookbook’s
well-worn pages take me to that place where food memories mix with
love and loss. Some of the pages ripple with the aftermath of some
long-ago spills while bits of dried sauce cling to some other pages.
But every dog-eared page, every splotch, and every smudge hold a
special meaning; and I’m temporarily back in Mother’s
kitchen where Father, still in his work clothes, pulls up a chair at
the kitchen table; pours himself a cup of coffee; and slowly savors
the piece of Eskimo Igloo Cake I’ve served him.
cherish my old cookbook and welcome being chaperoned back to such
heartwarming, beautiful moments. The cookbook, however, is more than
just a little girl’s vintage cookbook; it’s my own
personal grimoire—my book of spells, magical enchantments, and
a time machine all rolled into one. And this old sorceress feels so
much better knowing her grimoire sits atop her pantry shelf where she
can open its weary, timeworn pages any time she chooses; conjure up
her favorite concoctions; and summon up those simpler, bygone times
relishing them to her heart’s content.
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
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