Memories of Sugar and Sweet Times

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My mother taught me to cook. Since she was from a long line of comfort food cooks, she wanted to pass along this tradition to me. To aid me in this process, Mother wrote to the Imperial Sugar Company and ordered me my very own cookbook.


I was delighted when “My First Cookbook” arrived in the mail. It wasn’t often that something was actually addressed to a seven-year-old, you know. I opened it and proudly wrote my name on the fly page.


Way better than the cookbooks my mother used, this one had only a few ingredients and included pictures on every page. I was intrigued by the wicked-looking egg beside the “Devilish Eggs” recipe and loved to stare at the majestic queen holding her very own bowl of “Grapefruit Imperial” — even if I was a little disappointed to discover this was merely a grapefruit cut in half, broiled with sugar and garnished with a cherry.



Before I could start any baking projects, Mother made me familiarize myself with the “Good Cooking Habits” on page two. My favorites included:


* Wash your hands (I still do this).
* Put on apron and fasten your hair back (I don’t do this).
* Ask your mother to teach you how to use the range and light the oven (I wish I could still do this).


My Mother and “My First Cookbook” taught me which ingredients to pack into your measuring cup (brown sugar and shortening) and which ones to scoop in gently (flour and “Imperial Pure Cane” powdered sugar). In my mind, I still refer to the pictures on the “Table of Measurements” page when I need to know how many teaspoons in a Tablespoon or how many cups in a pint.


I spent hours alongside my mother in this little book. Together we made homemade applesauce and Waldorf salad. The pages reflect the time we spent trying out new recipes — a little grease stain on the page for “Quickie Cake” and a spill of vanilla on the one for “Cutout Cookies”.


One of my favorite memories of this cookbook was one morning when my mother was helping my dad in the cotton field.


Deciding to help with lunch, I perused the cookbook to find a delicious recipe with available ingredients. “Best Baked Potatoes” seemed the perfect choice as it only needed two ingredients: baking potatoes and butter. I preheated the oven and washed the potatoes as directed.


But the third instruction stumped me. “If you like a soft skin, rub the potatoes lightly with fat.”


Although I’d never seen my mother do this, I deduced that it would probably produce a baked potato of rave reviews. Using the only fat that I knew of in the house, I lifted my T-shirt and went to work. My mother caught me dutifully rubbing each potato on my belly a few minutes later.


I don’t remember eating potatoes that day, but I do remember Mother recounting that story through the years.


I still have my copy of “My First Cookbook.” My girls and I used it together and one day, I’ll be using it with our three granddaughters. Like my mother, I want to continue the tradition started by our foremothers. I wonder what stories we’ll have together in a few years?