You were there in Hawaii when I was young, guiding Mom and Grandmother through peanut butter cookies (p. 658) when I stood on my red stool and made crisscrossing fork imprints on the dough balls to flatten. I saw you there in the kitchen with Mom often, propped on the counter, her hands slowing down in meticulous measurements prompted by you, as she made my favorite dinner, flank steak with dressing (p. 416).
For years your light blue cover supervised our messy kitchen from atop the refrigerator. “That’s the replacement one,” Mom told me with a thumb jab toward you, “Back in Berkeley my Afghan hound Moliki ate the first one.”
You began to gather dust, when turmoil trumped cooking, when Stepdad only wanted meat and potatoes and frozen corn-on-the-cob, when there wasn’t money for flank steak, when I began to stay away a lot.
In Florida you arrived in one of the boxes after her death. Your light blue cover and the index past “F” gone, the soul of you encased in a gallon Ziploc to keep what was left of you safe.
I shoved you on a shelf with other books; as a chef I had no time for you.
When my daughter was turning four, I needed refrigerator dough to make edible fairy stars for her party. Where were you? I found you on a shelf that night, glass of wine in hand, guilty for my treatment of you, the holder of the few magical moments of my youth.
Unlocking your plastic Ziploc, a puff of old book smell escaped. How long had it been? Thirty years? I brought you into the kitchen and vowed to keep you close. You had the refrigerator dough recipe, not Escoffier or Julia or Prudhomme or Lenotre or Pepin, cookbooks from the early days of my past culinary career.
Over the years I’ve pulled you from the shelf often, when I’ve needed a refresher on the annual pie crust for my Thanksgiving apple pie, for Christmas cookies, for tips on cooking odd cuts of meats. Recently I proudly showed you off to an English foodie friend: “Check this out,” I said, pulling you from the kitchen book shelf with a flourish, “if the end comes, I can survive because I have recipes for woodchuck, beaver, raccoon, squirrel and muskrat!” (p.454)
He was impressed.
As I peruse your pages, you naturally open to the one most stained and worn: page 416 for Mom’s flank steak with dressing, and I vow to make it this year, not marinated and grilled but this recipe, rolled with stuffing and braised until tender, the favorite meal of my youth.
P.S. Because the cover and the few pages before the table of contents are missing, I do not know the copyright year. But I was born in 1960 and by then Mom’s Afghan hound, Moliki was gone, so give-or-take-a-year, my treasured Joy of Cooking is about 50 years old. (Like me but thankfully I still have my cover.)