One of the very precious things that came to me when my mother died was a tatty, battered thing full of words I could not understand. I had never seen it before, and did not know until then that my mother had it, or even that it existed. Which is probably no surprise, in the circumstances.
It was my grandmother’s cookbook, with her name and location proudly inscribed inside the cover. My mother brought it back with her from Germany some years ago not as a cookbook, but as a dear memory of her mother, who died much too young.
I have heard quite a bit about my grandfather, who was a painter, and have quite a few of his paintings on my walls. There is a self-portrait too, and a few photos, so I have a reasonably strong image of him in my brain. He was part of a big, bold family, one of 10 children.
His wonderful skill with the paintbrush was passed on to my mother, my sister and my niece, who have all produced beautiful paintings and other art.
But my grandmother is a much more shadowy figure. She died in the war, when my mother was still a teenager, and there never seemed much concrete for me to hold on to. So when I found this cookbook, which so directly relates to what I love to do, it finally felt like some point of connection to her.
I desperately want to cook from it, but quite a bit of the script is in the old German writing style, long gone from use and way beyond my limited German. Even the slightly more modern script is too old-school for me.
I struggled with it but got nowhere. This week (back in Germany visiting relatives) I brought it to the person I thought would best be able to help – Anneli, my mother’s wonderful cousin, my grandmother Paula’s niece.
It is a young housewife’s book, full of useful and everyday things. Preserves, cakes, meals. I understand it was started about 1900.
There was not enough time to go through it all with Anneli to work out what might be worth translating, so I chose a couple of recipes at random. Instructions at times are so minimal it was clear this was little more than a guide for her memory.
Here are two of the recipes that were translated. There is a meat dish I will post when I am back home again and am able to cook it.
But with these as a guide to the language, I hope I might now have a better chance of working through some of the other recipes and getting a better idea of what she cooked. The recipes below are my descriptions of the translations I was given.
Pit and cut the apricots, and remove the skins. Weigh the prepared fruit. For each pound (German pound) of apricots, take 3/4 pound of sugar and make a sugar syrup. Put the fruit in the syrup and bring just to boiling, and then remove.
Let the syrup simmer for another 15 minutes to reduce. Put the fruit in jars and cover with the syrup. Cap.
Fruit tea cake
3/4 pound (german pound) butter
3/4 pound flour
3/4 pound sugar
3 gr cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
3/8 pound sultanas
3/8 pound currants
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp baking powder
Mix and bake for 1½ hours. (No guide given to temperature)