The Recipe Box

Breathing new life into my culinary inheritance

Lilly McKay

Lilly McKay
Tampa, Florida, United States
January 30
Lilly is a 26 year old English author and journalist who has recently made her home in the USA with her American husband. She spends her days writing, listening to forgotten jazz recordings on vinyl and delving into the bequeathed recipe box of her grandmother. You can follow me on Twitter if you'd like @LillysRecipeBox


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SEPTEMBER 26, 2011 5:00PM

Granny's Recipe Box

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My earliest food memory is being perched on an Irish kitchen table watching my great grandmother make fudge. My granny was an exceptional woman: beautiful, kind and funny. She was also the best chef. During the day, she filled the grumbling bellies of local children at the elementary school as Head Dinner Lady. In her own time, she cooked for us.
And not just for us. Granny cooked for every family gathering; weddings, christenings and funerals, however distant the relative. I think she was a good cook because it was her greatest pleasure in life to hear people ask for seconds. This had a lot to do with my grandfather, to whom she was absolutely devoted. Like me, he was greedy and always had room for more when it came to food. In her later life, she found great delight in being able to afford small luxuries too. Her time as a rationed war bride had left her with an insatiable appetite for previously unattainable items and there was no limit to her experimenting.
Everything that came out of her small, homely kitchen was delicious. My childhood memories are filled with the scent of warm pies straight out of the oven, mounds of colcannon potatoes smothered in gravy, and giant, perfectly shaped loaves of bread cooling on ancient wire wracks by the window ledge. Tea time at her cottage became a thoroughfare; friends, neighbours and relatives always seemed to 'drop by' just as her selection of cold meats, baked goods and steaming pots of tea hit the table. When she made social calls, her handbag would always bulge with biscuit tins to be gifted.
I inherited many things from Granny. Not only am I the spitting image of her 26 year old self but I have a penchant for second hand treasures and am loathe to leave the house without high heels and lipstick. Alas, her most lasting legacy - food - is something that seemingly passed me by.
A year ago, I moved to the USA with my new husband. Far from the domestic bliss I'd previously imagined, I made many anguished phone calls to Ireland. 'Granny, I burned the pie pastry' or 'Granny, these bloody eggs just won't BOIL'. I was a hopeless new bride with the kitchen skills of an elephant yet she was always there, ever patient, with the advice I needed.
When she passed away six months ago, at the grand old age of 87, I was understandably devastated. Even from a great distance, I always took comfort in knowing what Granny was up to in the coastal cottage of my childhood. At 7am, she'd be pottering in the kitchen with a cup of tea and a slice of toast planning for the day ahead. At 11am, I knew she'd be playing bridge with the neighbours over a still-warm wedge of fruit cake and coffee. It was as near to being home as I could get.
This week, the mailman rapped on the door of the three bedroom Floridian bungalow I share with my husband James. He'd placed a large, ominous looking brown box on the front porch and was asking me to sign for it. Airmail. Dragging it into the house, I unwrapped the outer layer to find a letter from my mother.
Lilly,  I wanted to send you some of Granny's things - little mementos. I know you'll make use of them. Love, Mum
Overjoyed, I took great care in unwrapping the neat little stacks of domestic journals that once belonged to young, newlywed Granny. Delving deeper into the box, I uncovered hundreds upon hundreds of recipe cards too, each one containing her most beloved, tried and tested creations. Armed with these precious possessions, I decided to start a blog - this blog in fact - in order to embark on my own newlywed culinary journey; working my way through her recipes and memories.
Now tell me because I'd love to know - what is your first food memory?
Lilly x

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How wonderful to have your beloved grandmother's recipes and journals, Lilly, it sounds like she was a great gift to you... good food memories are few, but I grew up with roast beef and Yorkshire Pudding on holidays..I loved that Yorkshire Pudding. Welcome to America, how much of a culture shock is Florida?
Hello Just Thinking - thanks so much for stopping by. Roast Beef and Yorkshire Puds are my absolute favourite meal and its one that Granny was famous for - good choice. I have her Yorkshire Pudding recipe (I salivate at the memory of them) so I'll be sure to post the details here when I make them this weekend. Florida was a HUGE culture shock - just huge. I'd never been to the USA until I married my husband, who grew up here. After a year I'm still adapting and feel as though people still can't understand a word I say!
My first food memory is from my grandmother's recipe box. She used to make apple strudel with sauerkraut. I loved it so much and have never tasted an apple strudel like that anywhere else. My cousin stole her recipe box and refused to share even one of them, because then she would have to admit she stole it.
rated with love
This is just simply perfect.
If it helps any, Florida was a culture shock for me when I first visited too, and I grew up in Georgia...
...although the people are great : )
I'd LOVE a good recipe for Yorkshire Pudding (my mother made one big casserole dish of it)!
I don't have my mother's...
My first food memories are also of my her small kitchen in Lakewood, Ohio. I was young, and didn't realize she didn't speak English, but some type of Hungarian dialect, being Slovenian. I want to on your blog list! I also post recipes on my blog:
I don't like politics and religion is so personal, but food! It's universal. Looking forward to your next post!
Congrats to you for appreciating her in the real sense! They just don't make 'em like they used to....
Ooops! Sorry...a food mother (Irish American) would make the most delicious soft boiled egg smushed in a tiny pyrex glass cup with salt, toast, butter. I came across the pyrex cup in her house that now belongs to my sister and me. Sweet memory!
It's nice how much your Granny added to your life. Now with all of her recipes you can feel even more connected to her each day. My first food memory is from Thanksgiving at my great aunt's house, eating delicious homemade brownies. I looked forward to them every year.
Welcome to the US, and what a wonderful gift from your granny. My favorite food memory is a lovely savory beef stew and fresh bread, eaten by the wood stove in our kitchen. Snow was falling outside. The snow, stew, and fire all go together for me, and I'm nine again.

I guess you had better start to work in the kitchen now that you have your granny's wonderful recipes. One dish at a time in the beginning.
I grew up on Turkish cuisine. My family ate our meals together around the dining room table in leisure every chance we had, so I have wonderful food-related memories. Nice to "meet" you, I'll look forward to reading yours.
Your blog promises to be absolutely delightful, and your grandmother sounds as dear a woman as my own was. Tell me, have you been to Disney World? What did you think? Have you been anywhere else besides Florida (we had over 170 inches of snow last winter up here)? ...Oh, my food memory: there are a few. Pancakes with real maple syrup, bacon, and coffee: the smell takes me right back. But I distinctly remember when I was about 5, around Halloween, a chilly, windy evening with a full moon rising. We'd taken a long walk to gather some hickory nuts (still in their husks, what a beautiful smell! Do they still grow hickory trees?) and we were going home to what I still think of as the best fall meal possible: mom's meatloaf, mashed potatoes, sweet corn, garlic bread, and chocolate ice cream for dessert.
This is so sweet. My 87 year old mother also loves when people ask for seconds but she's not much of a cook.

First food memory - choking on a butterscotch ball candy, retrieved from my throat by an MD by chance visiting next door who held me by my ankles and shook me. I may remember that from being told it rather than independently so the next one, definitely independent, is of my mother making "kool-aid" from Jello when we ran out of the real stuff at my 3rd or 4th birthday party. I sat on the kitchen counter and thought she was brilliant.
Here's a good food memory I have of my grandmother. She also was a great cook, with a real interest in trying things that others did not do in those years (1960s), like making her own yogurt. When my grandfather retired, they moved to an area north of San Diego, California, where they had a few acres of avocado trees on their property. Avocados are a basic food group for Californians - I was living in NYC going to school. There were few opportunities to enjoy a good ripe avo. So my grandmother, who kept a line of baskets on her porch with avocados of various ripeness, picked 1 beautiful fruit out of each basket and sent me 7 avocados in the mail. She timed it so that I would have 1 perfectly ripe avocado each day for a week. What a treat for a poor, starving and homesick student!
What a delightful idea for a blog--I'm looking forward to reading about more of your adventures! I can't remember what my first food memory was, but my parents said one of my first words was "peach."
So what ever happened to your blog? Haven't you done anything, cooked anything, or gone anywhere since September 26?