I happened to fall in love with a remarkable man. (We like to call him Mr. Perfect.) Shortly after we met, I discovered that he had an extraordinary family as well. They are a fun-loving, affectionate group who enveloped me into their world and have been the source of great comfort and laughter for over three decades. The center of their universe was my mother-in-law, Dorothy, a/k/a Dot – a wonderful woman and a true role-model. Her father died when she was a baby and her mother raised three children during the Depression on a tiny budget, so Dot really learned how to stretch a dollar, appreciate everything she had in her life and live it to the fullest! Dot married a great man, raised three children, went to college and pursued a nursing career, and excelled in pretty much anything she attempted … especially cooking.
Growing up in Florida, my husband and his family ate a lot of fish because they were accomplished fishermen and women. Dot loved to go fishing and could outfish anyone! And, boy, did she know how to cook them up! Whether they were whole fish, steaks or fillets, she would create a culinary masterpiece of anything they caught using simple ingredients without masking the taste and textures of the fish itself.
Dot subscribed to all of the “women’s magazines” and religiously cut out new recipes – especially if they were accompanied by a coupon for one or more of the ingredients. She treated her family to different appetizers, soups, salads, main courses, drinks … and her desserts? Well, they were legendary. She could whip up the perfect pie crust in no time at all without using a recipe and fill it with the most delectable fillings. She baked cakes, cookies, muffins and candies. There always sweets in her kitchen. After the kids moved away and started families of their own, Dot would make frequent trips to visit the grandchildren and would often make treats for them. If she couldn’t visit, she would send care-packages filled with homemade cookies, candies, snacks and trinkets. When the grandchildren were in college, she would send the care-packages there. Grammy Dot’s packages were eagerly awaited!
Since she was a career woman, her recipes were no-fuss creations often relying on convenience ingredients like canned soups, packaged bread dough, or pre-made whipped cream. Everything that came out of her kitchen was incredible. While she often relied on these recipes, she also valued the greatness of simple lunches. An avocado with cottage cheese and a fresh orange from her tree. A redfish caught from the dock, baked with lemon, salt and pepper and a big, soft baked potato. And she had a collection of home-made instant coffee concoctions that she would enjoy at the end of the day.
We all had our favorite recipes. For my husband, it was her smoked fish dip served with crackers. Every time we visited their Florida home, we would be ushered out to the lanai where this dip and other snacks awaited us. I loved a honey-mustard salad dressing that she kept in a mason jar in the refrigerator; she’d make a big jar of it so it was always ready for her salads. It was sweet and mustardy without being overwhelming. Her husband was a big fan of soups and she made his favorites like potato or mushroom. Oh, and her signature cocktail made with black tea, lemonade and whiskey was always ready for us when we visited. We call it “Slush” and still make it when we all get together. (Recipe to follow.)
She didn’t really have cookbooks. Most of her recipes were clipped from magazines, newspapers, or passed along by friends. She kept them in a wooden Eagle Brand box, most likely acquired with proofs of purchase. It is stuffed with her recipes. Some are clipped directly from a magazine; others are handwritten on flash cards. Some are on fancy cards with the name of the woman who gave it to her. Most of them are older than me. Her favorite recipes – meaning, the recipes most loved by her husband and children – are smudged and spattered from countless trips to the countertop and the splatters, spills and smudges that tend to congregate when cooking. Perusing the box is like perusing Dot’s life. Some of the recipes are so faint they are hard to read.
We realized that these recipes needed to be shared with the rest of the family, and spent many hours going through them, pulling those that reminded us of her, reminiscing about great meals. Due to budgetary constraints, we had to limit the selection to a small set of recipes spread across all of the categories; it was difficult and took many hours. We then created a cookbook of her recipe cards and had it published. Dot’s Recipe Boxwas a great hit and a treasure for the family. Maybe we’ll have to plan for Volume II?
What’s in it? Here’s a sample: New England Clam Chowder; Creamy Mushroom Soup; Avocado Crabmeat Sandwiches; Bean Salad; Ann Lander’s Meatloaf; Chicken in a Bisquit Bowl; Smoked Whitefish Dip; Baked Shad; Spiced Pecans; Peanut Blossoms; Quick Mashed Potato Fudge. These are just a few of her treasured recipes.
Here’s her recipe for Slush:
2 small cans frozen orange juice
2 small cans frozen lemonade
5 cups boiling water
2 cups of black tea using 4 teabags (make strong)
½ cup sugar
2 cups whiskey
Mix all of the ingredients, except the 7-Up, in a bowl and let cool. Then put it in the freezer for at least 24 hours. Using an ice-cream scoop, scrape the frozen mixture into a small cocktail glass and fill with 7-Up.
August 2019 – Pepper Pasqua