This is Eleanor.
And this is her recipe box.
Eleanor was my mother's mother. She was born in New York City on November 19, 1920, and she died, age 70, in the summer of 1991. I was five years old.
This is me.
I'm Blair, Eleanor's only granddaughter.
My mom gave me Eleanor's recipe box recently, and with that gift The Recipe Box Project was born. I just turned 29, I completed a Master's degree in History of Art in 2014, and I live in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland.
I work in a field completely unrelated to my degree(s), and, like everyone my age, I'm still figuring out how to be an adult. My awesome husband and I (both American) moved to Scotland from the US in mid-2013 and are forever acclimating to life in a different country, our favourite adventure yet. Most of all, I love to cook, and I love to eat. Since moving to Scotland, I've spent a lot more time in the kitchen, inventing, testing, and perfecting new recipes.
I was almost 6 years old when my grandmother died. I've grown up hearing stories about her, but even the stories become cloudy over time, and I forget more of them each year. In the past two years, Eleanor's two best friends, my great-aunts, passed away. With their deaths, the number of people who knew Eleanor well has dwindled to almost zero.
Eleanor wasn't always a gravel-voiced grandmother. She was a mother, a newlywed, a fiance, a flapper, and a kid once, too. She was born during the Roaring Twenties, lived through the Great Depression, worked in an airplane factory during World War II, and married a sailor before the war was over. She had enough hardships for a dozen people during her life, and she made a mean sauerbraten. This is what I know about her. What I don't know could fill a book.
I believe cooking can teach you a lot about someone: do they follow directions, or take chances? Do they do it for the sake of cooking, or because they have to have something to serve their family for dinner? Do they have a sweet tooth? Do they enjoy the basics, or are they excited to try out new and complicated dishes?
I'm going to cook my way through Eleanor's recipe collection, one dish at a time, until I've made it through the whole box. This is an ambitious undertaking, since there are more than 500 recipes in all, but I'm excited to learn more about my grandmother, my family, and my own past as I do it.
Each recipe will be cooked exactly as it is written, with the same ingredients and the same processes to the extent that this is possible. Eleanor, though, lived in a different country and a different time, so where ingredients or instructions are impossible, illegible, or unavailable, I'll make do (in typical Eleanor fashion) the best way I can. Some recipes may be scaled down since I generally cook for myself and Judson, and don't have time for leftovers with so many new recipes to try out.
I will, however, amend each recipe for clarity, since there's no point in BOTH of us throwing away our egg whites before we realise that, three steps later, we're going to need to beat them with sugar and cream of tartar. Each recipe will be ranked on a scale of 1-5 spoons, with 5 being the best. Let's be honest here: there are going to be some bad recipes in that box (I've already found a recipe for chocolate cake where the main ingredient is mayonnaise, so... trust me on this one). Anyway, not all the recipes are going to be winners, but I'm here to make the bad ones so you don't have to.
I didn't know my grandmother as well as I wish I had, and this project is my effort to get to know her better through-- what else?-- cooking. The earliest dated recipe in the box is from January 1941, when Eleanor was just 20 years old. The most recent is from 1991, the year she died.
That's 50 years of American recipes.
50 years of cooking for friends and family.
50 years of cheesecake.