December 24, 2015 Savannah, GA. A spoken, two-minute version of my favorite Christmas story, airs on Tom Ashbrook’s On Point. You can listen to it here. Here’s the transcript:
We lost our mother 33 years ago to Leukemia. She was only 62 and young at heart and an avid sailor and a brilliant cook with a large library of cookbooks, the best of which was her own handwritten collection of recipes collected in the 40s and 50s. When Mama got sick, our father became the cook at home. Several years after she died he married Lila, a much younger women. Their prenuptial agreement was basically that he would shop and cook and she would clean. When they moved aboard their book I inherited Mama’s cookbooks except for those few gems that my father kept for himself, the best of which was that old college notebook. Invariably my siblings and I would call Daddy at Christmas desperate for a cookie recipe, for while Mama was an exceptional cook, she never really taught us how. When handling the boat became more work than fun, Daddy and Lila bought a simple house on a canal in Florida. That landlocked Christmas my father — at 72 — bought himself a computer, taught himself to type, and painstakingly copied the fragile pages of Mama’s manuscript, recipe by recipe, page by page. By then he had been the cook at home for over 10 years. While Daddy transcribed Mama’s notes, Lila baked. For Christmas that year each of us four kids received not only a copy of the marvelous recipes but also tins of cookies — a dozen each of a dozen varieties, each labeled with the recipe title and the page number in the book. It was the most thoughtful gift that I had ever received, and I continue to find wonderful ideas among the recipes. The notebook also contains her lengthy and precise directions for making Danish pastry for scratch which we always had first thing on Christmas morning before we went outside for oysters and champagne. Before the ham biscuits, the quail, the ambrosia, the cookies, and the eggnog. Now that I’ve got the recipes, I still don’t see how she managed it all.
This is a shortened version of a story I wrote for Charleston Magazine in 2004, a sort of going-away present to the city as we left. You can read the original on this blog page.
In an unusual coincidence, the New York Times ran an article in the same FOOD section that mentioned my oyster knives, on a short cut to Danish pastry. Oh, Mama would have loved this!
But what she REALLY would have loved is seeing me in the New York Times. I first wrote for the paper back in 1985, but she had died in 1982 and never even knew that I had become a food writer. Here’s the Times endorsement of my oyster knife. Yes, I sold out.