The pale-pink tin box bears greasy smudges and a condensation ring from a beverage placed on it sometime in its distant past. The bottom shows wear from frequently sliding out of the cupboard in which it was stored. White knobs, like cartoon eyes, protrude from the front of the drawer and a soft tug causes the drawer to slide easily out of the metal sleeve encasing it.
Opening the box reveals hundreds of recipe cards—mostly handwritten—and scraps of paper and magazine clippings. Like the box itself, most of the recipes bear signs of frequent use: additional instructions noted in the margins, a smudge of an ingredient on the card, edges of a card worn by handling through the years.
I knew my mother had Grandma’s recipe box; occasionally I’d call and ask her to look up a recipe. (Okay. Let me be honest. It was the same recipe over and over. Rhubarb Cake. Every summer I’d write down the recipe while Mom read it to me over the phone. I’d make the cake, everyone would love it, and I’d put the recipe somewhere safe for the next summer when rhubarb came back in season. That recipe must be stashed in many safe places because every summer I needed to call Mom to get the recipe again.)
Sometimes I wondered about other recipes that I suspected could be found in the box. Whenever I make a plain white loaf of bread, I remember the crumb of Grandma’s homemade bread and the joy I had as a child when she’d hand me a thick warm slice of bread with a smear of butter melting on top. Every time I see shiny cupcake wrappers at the store I am immediately back in Grandma’s kitchen on a hot summer day. My cousins, older sister, and I are lined up by age (me at either the beginning or the end), hands held out to receive the chocolaty treats in foil cupcake papers that Grandma pulled out of the freezer. The secrets to making the culinary delights of my childhood could be found in that pink tin box.
It never occurred to me to ask Mom if I could have the box. A few months ago I asked. Unfortunately, like I did every year with the Rhubarb Cake recipe, Mom had put it in a safe place and now couldn’t remember where to find it. Yesterday at our family gathering to celebrate Easter Mom told me that she had found the box at the back of a very dark cupboard.
Today I took possession of the box.