My mother’s cookbook is stained
with butter, brown sugar, smears
of chocolate, dabs of unknown origin
Her fingers dipped in oil
anointed the pages with the holiness
Pies and cakes, meatballs and turkey
long sacrificed on the altar of family
Pages torn by force of use
pages ripped from their moorings
in the storms of baking that swept
Priceless now, this dog-eared book
record of her life as chief cook
in the tribe of our not-chosen
but birth-born-to and loved
through the fragrance of herbs
hot meat, melting sugars
and crispy crusts of bread
cast upon the waters, returning
to me now, daughter, mother,
new high priestess in the church
of Betty Crocker.
So my daughter and I were baking cookies Sunday, and she said, "May I have this cookbook...."
"When I've kicked the bucket?" I asked.
"Yes," she said.
"Didn't I give you one of your own on your 21st birthday?"
"Yes, but I like this one."
"This one" is a dog-eared, ripped and stained Betty Crocker cookbook dated 36 years ago on my 20th birthday, given to me by my mother. It's a family tradition, the gift of the binder version of Betty Crocker's cookbook.
Certain pages in my edition are worn more than others. Pie crust, for example, is smeared with fingertips oiled by lard or shortening. Cookies, the whole section, are pretty messy too. So are the turkey page, the spaghetti page, Swedish meatballs, breakfast casseroles, and the ever-important page about emergency substitutions for things like bakers chocolate and buttermilk.
The photo is of what my daughter and I call snowballs, which are from the page containing "Russian Teacakes." They're made with butter, vanilla, powdered sugar, and flour, then rolled into balls, then baked and rolled in powdered sugar while hot. Yum.
We made those on Sunday, along with chocolate-chip cookies (that page is ripped out of the binder, it's been used so often), brownies, and pastry fans, made with butter, flour, sour cream, and sugar.
I thought it was sweet of her to want my cookbook, my well-used, smudged cookbook, in memory of me and her cooking the Christmas cookies practically every year of her life. She didn't used to like old things; she thought they were "dirty." Now she wants my snowmen, my cookbook, God knows what else.
So I wrote the poem "The Anointed One" just for her, in honor of her request. I have my own mother's cookbook on the shelf.