My father worked at Bethlehem Steel for 20-some years and my mother never finished high school. There weren’t conversations around the dinner table, or elsewhere in the house for that matter, about how and why I should attend college, so I didn’t. I started a family at 22 years old; I had more than enough to keep me busy so I don’t how not having a degree found its way in to start gnawing at me, but it did. I looked away from it until I was 34, at which time I thought, “I’m ready.” What I didn’t realize was that I might be the only one in my household who was.
As Baltimore writer Sheri Venema reacquainted herself with her mother’s quaint church cookbook, she pondered “a time when a woman became a suffix to her husband” — once her baking was done, she realized much more.
The recipe for Steamed Cranberry Pudding did not speak to me at first. The directions seemed too cryptic: Waxed paper? Tin cans? Also, the tattered cookbook in which I found the recipe originated in the long-ago kitchens of women in my childhood church, and it seemed laden with dishes predictable and dull.
Tuna Noodle Casserole.
Miracle Cheese Cake (lemon Jell-O with cream cheese and sugar).
Oven Barbecue (Spam, tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce).
Typed on a manual typewriter and then Xeroxed and bound with cheap plastic coil, the cookbooks were sold to raise money for a church society. My copy long ago lost its red cover. I sometimes took it out of its protective Ziploc bag to find a cookie recipe, but mostly I felt superior to this little book with its stains and misspellings. Clearly it came from a time when cream of mushroom soup and oleo ruled every kitchen in my neighborhood, and I had walked away from the Midwestern housewifery prescribed in its pages. I owned a wok and a Silver Palate cookbook. I made my own hummus.