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Stirring the Pot

September 5, 2008


Isn’t there something magic about old, stained recipe cards? The worse the condition, the more they were used, I’d guess. 

When my grandmother moved into a nursing home, my mom went through all her stuff, giving much of it away and keeping only the treasures. Bless her, she deemed the recipe box a treasure. 
A couple visits ago, I had a good long sit at the scanner and made copies of some of the recipes. Grandma was a good, utilitarian cook, content to work from printed recipes, mostly from women’s magazines and the sides of processed food boxes. I don’t know how many copies she had of the same bran muffin recipe, but there were a lot. It probably made finding it in the thick box of recipes an easier task if there were ten or fifteen copies of it seeded around.
I most associate Grandma with two recipes: a fussy and time-consuming but delicious nut torte, and peanut butter cookies. The nut torte is (I assume) a family heirloom and was made only on special occasions. I think I tasted it only once, but I’ll never forget the rich, dense cake and buttery frosting. Mmmm, nut torte. The peanut butter cookies were, as most peanut butter cookies are, delicious. What made them special was the addition of orange juice to the recipe. I baked them many times as a kid and grew up assuming that all peanut butter cookies had orange juice in them. Since then, however, I’ve never come across another. (I should probably write to Cook’s Illustrated and ask if they found this odd ingredient in their research on peanut butter cookies.) 
When I discovered the recipe card for the cookies, I was thrilled — and disconcerted. I’d come to the conclusion, over the years, that the orange juice must have been Grandma’s secret addition. But the recipe card was not written in her hand; it was clipped from a magazine. If you’d like to try them, have a go:
Grandpa was a Renaissance man of sorts, interested in every possible subject and probably (he was a man, after all) an authority on them all. (I say that with great fondness, just so you know.) He must have driven Grandma nuts. In Grandma’s collection of recipes, I found many that he typed out. (Grandma had a beautiful flowing longhand.) I wonder if he cooked these recipes, too, or gave them to Grandma to make. 
I don’t remember much about Grandpa, but I’m willing to bet he cooked Fidel Castro’s Black Beans. As a Socialist, how could he not? I can imagine him stirring the pot and discoursing on leftist politics with his dinner guests. Stirring the pot in different ways, now that I think about it.
I did a quick internet search for the origin of this recipe, but I haven’t found it yet. Until I do, I’m going to picture Mr. Castro shaking my Grandpa’s hand at a political rally and laughing at his jokes. They stand a bit apart from the crowd, smoking cigars, and Fidel gets a secretive look in his eyes. He motions Grandpa closer, then surreptitiously whispers his favorite recipe, handed down through generations of Cuban laborers.
So make some Fidel Castro Black Beans for your next supper, and talk politics (any sort you like) with your dinner guests. And Fidel, if you’re reading this, thank you for the marvelous recipe. I hope you don’t mind that I’m passing it on.
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8 Comments leave one →
  1. September 7, 2008 1:39 pm

    A beautiful remembrance of Grandma and Grandpa. That nut torte came from a cousin’s bakery in Windsor, Canada before the 1940’s. It was only made, and with great care and love, for weddings, noteworthy anniversaries, and funerals. I have never ever tasted anything as fantastically yummy and special as this very important family treasure. The recipe is in the right hands (and I still have the very nut grinder which was always used to make it}

  2. September 8, 2008 9:29 pm

    This is a great story and a wonderfully written profile of your grandparents. 🙂

  3. September 9, 2008 8:37 pm

    Hi. I hope you don’t mind me posting. 🙂 I randomly came across your blog and now I can’t wait to try out the peanut butter cookie recipe! Thanks so much for sharing. 🙂

  4. September 13, 2008 5:31 pm

    Just wanted to let you know that the kids loved the cat video you posted a few days ago. We have two cats and they do the same thing.

  5. December 23, 2008 2:59 pm

    Wow, what a beautiful thing to have from your grandma (and grandpa!). Just wanted to say I will be cooking the Fidel Castro Beans myself.You know me as tribal on ravelry. Your blog caught my eye.

  6. January 5, 2009 1:59 am

    My mom always made peanuts butter cookies with orange juice too. Maybe it’s the same recipe (she would cut things out of Family Circle.) And the beans look awesome.

  7. September 24, 2010 8:16 pm

    Fascinating backstory on the Fidel Castro beans. And the fact that you had the brilliant foresight to scan your grandmother's original recipe card to share online (along with your intriguing stories about your grandparents), made this the highlight of my week of Internet cruising. Definitely want to try out the peanut butter cookie recipe, too!

  8. September 24, 2010 8:16 pm

    Fascinating backstory on the Fidel Castro beans. And the fact that you had the brilliant foresight to scan your grandmother's original recipe card to share online (along with your intriguing stories about your grandparents), made this the highlight of my week of Internet cruising. Definitely want to try out the peanut butter cookie recipe, too!

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