6.30.2011

The Gift of Keturah's Collection

What can you tell about a woman by looking at her collection of recipes?  
Her favorite dessert?  Favorite color?  Favorite season? 
Her income level?  Country of origin?  Religion?  Education? 
Her fat preference - butter, lard, or oil?  Meat preference - pig, poultry, or cow? 
Her girlfriend's names?  Spouse's names?  Mother's name? 
Can they tell her story? 

Keturah's biscuit recipe

My brother Matt lives in Kansas, as does most of my very large extended family. More than occasionally I have moments of envy about Matt’s proximity to the place. I'm having one now, even as I sit sipping this perfect Americano in this sweet Portland cafe.

According to my cousin Joanna, who possesses the skill of making me belly laugh on command, Kansas looks a bit like a “buzz cut of blond hair” right now.  I had asked her yesterday what the wheat fields look like, thinking it was way too early for harvest.  Shows how long I’ve been gone... This buzz cut means harvest is over.  This buzz cut means they’re about to burn the fields.  And the burning of the fields means the spectacular evening visual where a horizon line of flames hangs in front of an amazing Kansas sunset.  I’d like to take my Americano there for the evening, thanks.

Matt, in his infinite kindness, brought me an amazing gift a few weeks ago. He brought me the story of our late Great Grandma Keturah, or at least chapter 1. He brought her collection of recipes!

Keturah and Joanna (my aforementioned cousin)

Keturah is my mother's step-grandmother. I'm told those who knew her well called her Tura. She has intriuged me for as long as I can remember. I was only 4 years old when she died though - I have no actual memories of her. But every person in my family tells the most vivid stories of Keturah, their eyes relaxing in the telling of her. There was clearly something to this woman. My mother talks of her long, white hair that she would wash once a week with rain water and then braid to the side so she could wrap it around the crown of her head like an ivory halo. My grandmother, Joan Dreier, who we'll meet very soon, talks mostly of her in the kitchen and how everything she knew she learned from Keturah.
Great Grandpa Fred's first wife, Luella, died of pneumonia when all of their children were young. Keturah came to the farm to help with the kids and the rest is history. More on that fascinating narrative in the next post.

Back to Matt and his gift... we were going to be seeing each other in South Carolina where my family meets for our annual vacation together. It was a fantastic week and it was fantastic timing. I asked Matt a gigantic favor - "Bring me Keturah", I said. 

For the sake of Culinary Posterity... my nephew on ice cream during our South Carolina Trip
My niece... the utter joy of cold cream and chocolate is infectious. 

I was hoping Matt would just make copies of the recipe cards in Keturah’s collection.  They're a vital part of this whole cookbook project after all.  My Aunt Diane has the old recipe box in Kansas, and we decided the mail is no place for this legend.  Hence the favor from Matt.

But instead of some black and white copies from the local Kinkos that you can barely read, Matt brought me 2 cds filled to the brim with scanned  recipe cards.  I do realize I just used italics on the word "scanned". And I also realize it’s weird to italicize the seemingly undeserving word “scanned” in most settings.  But trust me – the italics are appropriate here.  What scanned meant for me is that I get to perfectly behold the detail of Keturah’s quite feminine, beautifully looping handwriting. I get to examine the stains, and spills, the scotch tape, the color of her pencil or marker, or even the occasional typewriter, all from my Americano in Portland.  I get to answer some of the questions I posed about who this woman was, answers that plain ole' copies would have robbed us of.

Perhaps my favorite 

Each of these cards has the perfume of a good story.  And butter.  And lard.  
My hat tips to you Matt. 
My hat runneth over.

Keturah's famous sugar cookie my mother remembers

Aunt Diane once wrote to me, “I think you need to come feel it [the box of recipes] and look at it and see the stain marks and just come to Kansas.”   Looking at my computer screen is not the palpable experience of sitting and feeling the cream-colored cards over coffee with Diane, but they were still completely visceral.  I devoured them on the plane ride home and have been eating them up ever since. 

Keturah's favorite dessert: Lemon Pie.
She was clearly having a love affair with all things cookie, lemon pie, and chocolate. Especially lemon pie.  I’m not kidding… Of the 90 total recipes, a whopping 71 were desserts of various kinds.  (This is somewhat logical knowing that how to cook simple farm-style meat and vegetables were likely passed down in the oral history, as opposed to pastry which requires more exactness in measurements).

However, of these 71 desserts, there were 7 different versions of lemon pie.  Anyone who owns 7 different handwritten versions of lemon pie (that’s 10% of your desserts) is totally intriguing to me.

Keturah's 7 lemon pie recipes

Keturah also clearly had a substantial, solid circle of women she was cooking with.  Easily deduced by the fact that on almost every card she gives credit to its maker.  There’s Floy, Joan, Bella, Velma, Lillie, Fannie, Anon, Mamie, Mrs. Zook, Mrs. Bird, and on and on.
There’s Bertha’s salad, Lulu’s relish, Enola’s pickles, Mrs. Haiber’s fruit cookies, Alma June’s rolls, Enola’s springerli, Viola’s gnepp.

Mind you, those were not the days of “Hey, email me that recipe.” or “Text me those ingredients”. Those were the days in which getting a recipe from your friend was a face to face, at the kitchen table, coffee cup in hand, pencil in the other, listening to Lillie about how to get the that lemon shiffon just right. It makes my heart happy to think of.

If you'd like to read a complete list of the women Keturah credited on her cards, take a peak at the new page next to Resources. You'll find just that. And please let me know if you know anyone on this list. I'd love to hear more about her story or email you the recipe she was credited for. Too bad we can't sit with coffee and pencils... I'd love that too.

The new banner for the blog is from one of the recipe cards, the Biscuit to be exact. The beautiful image on the end is from a painting by one of my very talented sisters, Sarah



In other wonderful Shoofly Project news... Keturah's diaries have been found!  Some folks in my family thought they were lost but blessed Facebook helped me track them down. And they were right under my nose up in Seattle! I can't wait to read that story too.

Up next: More on Keturah's fascinating story and a recipe for one of her many lemon pies. I think I'll do the one with the smiley face. :) 

12 comments:

  1. oh, katie. this is lovely. especially the stories coming from kansas...and being here right now with my family. it's true--kansas looks pretty buzz-cut-like right now...and dry. so dry. send us some rain, will ya? thanks for writing these touching pieces.

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  2. This is my favorite post so far! You have the most endearing family history. It warms my heart that you're telling their story through food. I've probably already said that. And I'm probably going to keep saying that until this cook book of yours gets published! <3 Allison

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  3. i never thought of recipe cards as art before, but they are beautiful. And, I feel like maybe i'll make a lemon pie this weekend!

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  4. Thanks ladies! It warms my heart to read your comments!

    Katrina, I will definitely send you some rain if you'll send me a few degrees of heat. :) Where in Kansas are you again? I'll be visiting Hesston and Newton in a few weeks.

    Erin, let me know how the lemon pie turns out!!!

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  5. Such treasures!

    Lemon Pie... now that's something I can get behind. Can't wait for the next post!

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  6. What a fantastic project and blog! Love it!

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  7. Thanks Melanie! So glad you're along for the ride!

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  8. Cindy Dreier FreyJuly 9, 2011 at 1:23 PM

    Love reading your blog! Brings back many memories growing up with Grandma Keturah living across the road. Snickerdoodle cupcakes, black jelly beans, peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches always served with grape kool aid and tea with lemondrops.
    You mention Diane scanned you 2 CD's of grandmas recipes. . . would love to get a copy of them. When I put the Dreier cookbook together, Diane loaned me the recipe box. So awesome going thru the box.

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  9. but where is the best shoo fly pie recipe ???

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  10. Hi Debbie, I did a shoofly pie early on! Here's the link to the post...
    http://theshooflyproject.blogspot.com/2011/05/essence-of-shoofly.html

    If you want a more authentic shoofly flavor (this will make sense when you read the post) just use all molasses instead of honey and cut the walnuts.
    Also, I would stay away from blackstrap molasses. The flavor is too strong for shoofly.
    I'd also suggest putting an egg in the pie crust... It'll help with leakage.
    Thanks and have fun!

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  11. Oh Katie! This is wonderful! And so upbeat. What a shame you never got the chance to know her, but with these recipes, you kind of do! I just LOVE this! Thanks so much for taking a look at my grandmother's recipes. I wrote a follow-up this week. I think you might like that one too. I just posted it today. I think it hits on what this is all about really---finding out who that woman was that wrote these down!

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  12. Thanks for taking a look Jennifer! Our paths seem strangely connected in this realm. Looking forward to hearing more!

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