Since I started eating closer to home, I've had a great time getting to know the farmers who grow my food. I've become more curious about the history and, I suppose, anthropology of local food. After finishing Everett Rau's memoir, Stand Tall, I still stop by to chat with him and his wife, Peg, in their hilltop farmhouse. During one of our visits, Peg brought out a treasure trove of handwritten cookbooks from her mother, grandmother, and grandmother-in-law, along with her own box of recipe cards, which she began the year she married Ev.
My hands trembled when I opened the old notebooks, carefully turning their food-stained pages, brittle with age. Determined to preserve them, I carefully scanned the notebooks and cards and sat with Peg as she regaled me with stories of Grange dinners and favorite family recipes. At 93, Peg doesn't cook anymore, but she is passionate about nutrition and can still recall the first time she tried many of the recipes in her collection.
Heirloom Recipes focuses on a handwritten cookbook begun by Everett's grandmother, Sarah Ogsbury, in 1891. We know the year because she used a complimentary journal from a thread company that is stamped with the date. Throughout the book is elegant ink penmanship from Sarah, who was a teacher, interspersed with clumsier pencil recipes from young women. The girls' writing is in several different hands, presumably her daughters, Margaret and Elizabeth. When Peg found the book in a drawer after she married Everett, she also found newspaper clippings, which she pasted, as if in a scrapbook. She says she never saw her mother-in-law, Margaret, use the cookbook, because Margaret had "all the recipes in her head."
The second half of the book features a selection of favorites from Peg's own recipe box, including many of her mother-in-law Margaret's that Peg wrote down while they cooked together.
Bump's Apple Sauce Cake
One of the best parts of finishing the book is having time to try some of these vintage recipes. Most of the old recipes lack cooking instructions, so it's often useful to back them up by googling vintage recipe sites. This applesauce cake was pretty straightforward. To save a step, we purchased homemade applesauce from Indian Ladder Farms near Altamont. The lard came from the baking section at Hannaford supermarket. We made a half-size recipe to test and cooked the cake in an 8" square cake pan for about 25 minutes. The result was moist and spicy. When I took a couple pieces over to Ev and Peg they said it reminded them of their early married days.