Sandy’s cooknote: this is a story I have been planning to write ever since I made a trip to Niagara Falls, Ontario, in 2009. It was during that visit that my friend, Sharon Prue, gave me a handwritten cookbook that had belonged to her mother and grandmother.
I tried to talk her out of giving the worn little cookbook to me but she could not be dissuaded. “You really like something like this,” she said. “I don’t know of anyone who would appreciate it as much as you.”
“I’ll treasure it,” I promised, and I took a photograph of Sharon reading her family cookbook. Now, several events conspired against me since acquiring the cookbook in August of 2009. One, I kept misplacing the photograph. When I found the photograph, I would have misplaced the cookbook.
I can imagine you are wondering how anyone could repeatedly misplace either a photograph or a cookbook – my only defense is this: I have over 10,000 cookbooks and that doesn’t take into consideration thousands of other books Bob & I acquired over the years—biographies, autobiographies, history, fiction, travel – and my photo collection is mostly contained in over 50 photo albums with hundreds of loose photographs stored in boxes and tins.
Then, in 2010, Sharon wrote a short story about her grandmother, Alice Maude Fishleigh, and sent it to me and our mutual friend, Doreen – and I knew that Sharon’s story belonged with the photograph and the cookbook. THEN I misplaced my printed copy about Sharon’s grandmother. I thought I would never find the missing story. (My only defense regarding losing the story is that I have reams of articles and stories and other printed material that I have accumulated over the years—and in 2008, we moved; lock, stock and barrel with over 600 boxes of books and other household belongings. It took over a year to get everything unpacked.)
Recently, I began going carefully through a big box of my writing files trying to decide what to keep, what to throw away. Wait! That’s part of the problem – I never throw anything away. And sure enough, I found the missing pages, clearly titled in my own handwriting, “Sharon’s Grandmother”.
And so now, for the first time, I have all the components of a very good story—and a photograph to go with it. I think I should start with Sharon’s essay, which she titled “PEOPLE COME AND GO” – written by Sharon Prue:
Sharon wrote “There’s an email out there that I keep receiving from time to time. I can’t remember all the words in it but it talks about the people who come into and out of our lives. Some of these people remain in our lives throughout the years while others are there for just a short time.
I believe they come into our lives for a reason and only stay because we need them as much as they need us. Those others who have left may touch our lives in a very small way but that contact experience provides us with useful information which we will use at some point on our journey through life.
I am going o start to think about all those people who have meant so much to me over the years, those ones that have been long gone. My grandmother, my parents, my dog Boo-Boo and possibly my brother Bob were the most important things in my life as a child.
I grew up in a household where my grandmother lived with us, my dad worked long hours in the warmer months because he worked at a canning factory and my mother was back teaching full time after both Bob and I were in school. We always had a housekeeper in those days who cooked lunch for Dad, Grandma and the children and she even started dinner sometimes. Teresa cleaned the house and did laundry and made the beds every Monday through Friday. I was supposed to make my bed and clean my room but most of the time. I didn’t.
Grandma would help mom get dinner on the table and sometimes dad would make it home for a quick supper before heading back to the plant or sometimes, in the summertime, if he had some free time, he would head to Niagara-On-The-Lake for an evening sail. Mom was off teaching in the summer but she didn’t like to sail. Bob and I were supposed to help with the dishes but because we fought like crazy, I had to do [the dishes] one day and he had to do them the next. I can remember my grandmother ironing in the laundry room and using that mangle* to press the bed sheets. [*a mangle was a large machine that pressed fabric, such as sheets, by passing them through (heated) rollers. My own mother had one that took up a lot of space in the kitchen. I think my mother used it a few times and then it became a catch-all for odds and ends in the kitchen—sls]
Grandma would be downstairs early in the winter and get the hot porridge ready in the double boiler. One day a week she made Red River cereal because Bob liked it, but the other days we had oatmeal or cream of wheat.
Both my parents were very strict with us kids and the belt ruled when we were bad, something I never used with my son. Dad had a terrible temper and poor Bob got it worse than I did so sometimes he ran away. Once he ran away and I heard mom and dad crying and the police were called. Bob was found out behind out back fence later in the night. I never ran away but sure felt like it at times. Mom would sometimes fight with Dad over Bob and how Dad handled him, and I remember her once leaving the dining room table in tears. Grandma never interfered and never said a word when this was going on.
Grandma was very loving and caring with those years she lived with us…she darned socks, she knitted and quilted and did needlepoint. She sewed and sewed and mended, and she made the best graham muffins! I don’t ever remember her reading books but her bible was always beside her. I don’t remember her going to church She was always supportive of mom, and Bob and I, but when I look back, I don’t remember any relationship that she had with Dad, but she must have, living in the same house. Grandma comforted us when we were not well (I remember the mustard plasters) and she comforted us when we were upset about things. She was definitely a hands-on grandma who would hold us on her lap and hug us.
I don’t think Grandma ever had a job before she came to live with mom and dad. I know because of health reasons she moved from her home in Oshawa down here to Niagara to live after mom and dad adopted Bob. Mom and Dad had a built-in babysitter, but rather than use grandma for that, they usually hired a babysitter to watch us when they went out for an evening. I know she liked to listen to her radio to the various talk shows that were on and she rarely watched TV. Radio was big back in the early 50s.
I never saw grandma in a pair of slacks or shorts. She always wore a dress; she had day dresses, afternoon dresses and evening special wear dresses, and she wore stockings and a girdle. And those heavy black laced shoes.
My story continues with a few finishing touches on Grandma, Alice Maude Fishleigh (nee Hamley). I do know she married at the age of 18 which she said was too young. She always told me that I should do everything I wanted to do while I was young, before I got married and started a family. I followed her advice. I know she was happily married to my grandpa who I never met because mom always told me that she never heard them argue or fight about anything. Grandma came from a big family and if I remember correctly, she and Grandpa Theodore (Ted) raised her younger sister—I can’t remember her name—when her parents died. Mom used to say she idolized that aunt like a grown-up sister. The aunt died when she was in her 20s, just after she got married. Grandma had my mom late in life; she was a surprise baby. My grandparents had lost a son when he was a child (long before mom came along) and I think it was from scarlet fever or something like that.
Mom grew up almost like an only child, doted on by two older parents who offered her every opportunity they could afford. My grandpa worked for a famous piano company in Oshawa, but in his spare time he was very active on the local sports scene. He took his daughter, my mother, everywhere and involved her in sports, hence why mom was tennis champion of Ontario when she was in her teens. Grandma never worked outside the home or got involved in sports.
When Grandpa died suddenly of a massive heart attack at the age of 58, mom was in her first year at Queen’s University in Kingston (she was only 16 years old!) Mom thought she would have to quit school and go to work but one of Grandma’s brothers (I never knew him either) owned a bookstore and was financially secure so he sent my mother through her years of university.
As I have mentioned before, Grandma as never the disciplinarian but I do remember this one incident when she was watching my brother and I, and Bob did a big no-no. I can’t remember what it was but I believe he said a swear word. She pulled him by the ears over to the kitchen sink where she proceeded to wash his mouth out with soap.
Grandma was a tall, big-boned woman but not overweight. I remember she had thinning gay hair which she pulled back into a bun at the back with bobby pins. I never saw her with her hair down and she always wore glasses. She wore clip earrings which she would let me try on sometimes. I don’t remember her wearing anything else except maybe a brooch when she when out, and she always wore a wrist watch.
Grandma lived with us until I was about thirteen, when she fell in her bedroom and broke her hip, from which she never recovered enough to walk again. We tried to look after her at home but it was too difficult and she went into a nursing home a couple of doors away. I popped in to see her often before she passed away from a stroke when I was 15. She was 84 years old. My last memory of her was that of her lying in bed, frantic that I get away from there before the other woman in the room came in and hurt me. I came home crying and upset and my mom told me that Grandma was having many little mini-strokes which caused her to behave that way. That same week, we received a call in the night that she had passed away.
Grandma had two sisters who I did meet and knew a little about through letters over the years. They came for a few visits from out west in Red Deer Alberta every so often. Aunt Lottie and Aunt Edna remained single all of their lives and died at 98 and 103 in a nursing home out west. Mom had gone out to visit them on the one aunt’s 100th birthday. What’s interesting about them is that the two sisters headed out west to Hollywood when they were young and both got jobs in the movie industry. I believe they worked in the clerical end of things but not sure where or what and sure wish I knew that today.
I think I have written everything that I can remember about my precious grandmother. She embodied all those qualities of what I think a grandma should be; I can only hope that I carry on some of those today, thanks to her.” – Sharon Prue
“The Cookbook” Sharon entrusted to me is an old lined notebook with a black cover that is mostly worn away. On the inside cover is written, in blue ink, Theo’s Ration Card No PH 180198. Followed by the following recipe for constipation:
½ lb dates
½ lb figs
2 oz senna leaves
Put through meat grinder 3 or 4 times, then roll in small balls. Eat 2 at night.
Beneath that are two names and addresses, one that of a Mrs Dibb who lived in Bogota NJ, USA and the other for a Mr. J.R. Dick of Pomona California. Next are some loose pieces of paper; one offers a recipe for Grape-nuts pie and Scones. Next is a neatly folded sheet of paper from the Oshawa Tennis Club, dated September 13, 1945, inviting Dear Sir or Madam to attend a meeting. There is also a lovely handwritten recipe for chocolate cake that appears to be lengthy and perhaps a little complicated by today’s standards.
The book has lined pages and starts with cake recipes – New Chocolate Cake, Coronation Cake, Eagle cake, Chocolate Cake with Marshallow (sic) icing, Crumb Cake and King Tut Cake. The paper at the bottom of the pages is mostly worn away for Eagle Cake and King Tut Cake. There are recipes for Black George Cake, Peel Cake (made with ¾ lb of mixed candied fruit) as well as oat cakes, scones, date bars, sponge loaf cake, King Edward Cake, Sponge cake with the notation 1st prize at Oshawa Fair, Johnny Cake (which I think is a corruption of Journey Cake, a cornmeal cake that dates back to early pioneer times), Gold Cake and Mrs. Begin’s Fudge Cake—written in a different handwriting. Pasted inside the following page are two newspaper clippings for “Christmas Cake No. 2” and “A Cake of Unusual Flavor. Loose on this page is a full page recipe for Christmas Gift Cakes provided by a Mrs. Florence Stallwood who has won prizes at the Canadian National Exhibition and, when she lived at Jarvis Ontario, her cooking won prizes at the fall fair. At the bottom of the page is printed “Weekend Picture Magazine, Vol 3, No 47 – 195- (presumably from the 1950s—the last number in the date is missing) Mrs. Stallwood’s cake calls for sherry or brandy but she said that grape juice will do just as well. Also kept loose on this page were recipes for orange pudding, butterscotch squares and Chinese Chews. The recipe for Butterscotch Squares is written in a very fine handwriting and signed “Ethel Lysett”.
On the following page, under a recipe for boiling icing, is a recipe for what appears to be a cookie, called Trilbies. Never having heard of Trilbies, I Googled it only to learn that a Trilby was a kind of hat or fedora popular in men’s fashions in the 1930s! THIS particular Trilby appears to be a cookie with a date filling.
Next are some recipes for seven minute frostings, and recipes for date loaf and date cakes- and the page after that is a large newspaper clipping featuring (much to my delight) a lot of sauce recipes. After some dessert recipes for ice box pudding and apple snow, Apple fritters and carrot pudding, I found a variety of clippings from newspapers and pasted onto the pages. One page is filled with chicken recipes—chicken patties and chicken salad as well as a Jellied Chicken Salad. The following page continues with summer salads and some omelet recipes.
After this – there are many empty pages in Grandma’s cookbook. Then, closer to the end of the book, I found a recipe for Ginger Beer, more loose clippings, a few more cookie recipes – Fruit Jumbles, Shortbread, and Cocoanut Macaroons – then, to my surprise, a collection of canning recipes – cranberry jelly, Tomato butter, spiced beets, uncooked tomato sauce, chopped mustard pickle, something called Indian Sauce, crabapple catsup, tomato fruit relish, Mrs Henry’s Gooseberries. Nine Day Sweet Pickle—and then another surprise, some homemade candy recipes also clipped from a newspaper, some handwritten candy recipes – and final surprise, a recipe for making Witch hazel.
Almost in shreds is this recipe for fruit and nut filling. This could be used in any recipe that calls for a fruit and/or nut filling or you could use it as a spread between layers of cake, as a change from frosting:
Empty the contents of a smallest size tin of evaporated milk* into the top of a double boiler. Add 1 TBSP boiling water, 2 TBSP sugar, 1 TBSP yellow portion or orange rind (finely grated) and 1 cup chopped dates. Stir until the sugar is dissolved then cook over hot water until the mixture thickens. Remove from the fire and add 1 tsp lemon juice and 1/3 cup finely chopped walnut meats. Cool thoroughly before spreading.
*sandy’s cooknote: I have to guess what the size of “the smallest tin of evaporated milk” may have been over 50 years ago. I turned to Google and the general consensus at most sites was 5 ounces. I would have guessed about 4 ounces or half a cup but given the other ingredients, 5 ounces sounds good to me.
Grandma’s handwritten cookbook contains a lot of recipes using dates. Here is a recipe for Fruit Jumbles:
1½ cups white sugar
½ cup butter
1 lb dates
¼ lb walnuts, chopped
3 cups flour
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda dissolved in 1 TBSP warm water
Beat butter and sugar together; add beaten eggs, then flour, fruit, vanilla and last the baking soda. Drop teaspoonfuls onto buttered or parchment-lined baking sheets and bake in moderate (350 degrees) oven.
Sandy’s cooknote: Grandma doesn’t tell us what temperature to bake the jumbles at; try baking for 10 minutes and adjust baking time as needed.