COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Shortly after Jenny and Stephanie Brodie’s mother passed away in 2017, they spent an evening going through her recipe box at the direction of their father, who isn’t much of a cook.
The emotional act brought laughter and tears, as well as a feeling of gratitude for all Eileen Brodie did for them.
“My mom somehow worked full time and always had a home-cooked meal for us,” said Jenny, 37, of Columbus’ Olde Towne East neighborhood. Her younger sister lives in Denver. “The box has some really great memories in it.”
As they sorted through favorites — cranberry Waldorf salad, Frito jazz, the tape-covered and much-used lasagna — the sisters made piles of the cards they would like to keep.
Both, however, wanted the Swiss steak recipe written out in their mother’s pretty handwriting.
“It’s round steak, tomatoes and onions — nothing that if I’d looked at the recipe now, I’d say I need this,” said Jenny, who ended up with the recipe card. “But this is what I always want to eat when I’m stressed out.”
Given that recipes for just about any dish can be easily found with a quick internet search, the need for handwritten recipe cards has diminished.
But that doesn’t mean they are any less valuable to the cooks who keep them.
Like the cards found in the kitchens of the Brodie sisters, these cherished items tell stories, conjure up fond memories and preserve family traditions.
The handwritten cards have often been handed down through generations and become family heirlooms.
Food — how people prepare it, what time of year they eat it, who makes it — connects many families, said Vanessa Boucher, director of marketing for EverPresent, a company that digitizes photos and documents, including recipe cards.
The Massachusetts-based EverPresent began offering a keepsake cookbook service, which showcases scans of handwritten cards and old photographs, a few years ago and it now makes up nearly 30 percent of the business’ photo-book revenue, underscoring the popularity of preserving family recipes.
“A memory can be evoked by a smell or a taste,” Boucher said. “When I make my grandfather’s Swedish meatballs, it brings back more than just the meatballs.”
Indeed, any time Krista Horrocks makes mincemeat pie or suet pudding, she immediately thinks of her maternal grandmother Nellie Colgin, who lived with her family most of Horrocks’ childhood.
Colgin made most of her dishes by memory. However, before her death in 2013 at the age of 95, Horrocks and her mother, Becky Wagner, insisted that the family’s matriarch write down some of their favorites.
“My mom urged her to do it,” said Horrocks, 35, of Hilliard. “My grandma always made a turkey dressing every year, and one year, my mom made her sit down on Thanksgiving and measure everything out.”
Wagner, who lives in Fredericktown in Knox County, said she wanted to be able to share these beloved recipes with her two daughters and two granddaughters.
“I wanted her to do it for the memories and to pass them down to my girls,” Wagner said. “I know they’ll pass them on to their children. My eldest granddaughter — she’s 3 — I get her four days every month and we make a recipe every time she’s here. I tell her these came from my mommy.”
Although Wagner has most of Colgin’s handwritten recipe cards (plus, a few from both of her grandmothers) at her house, she transcribed many of the favorites into a book for the Horrocks.
Plus, Horrocks has her own handwritten version for the mincemeat pie from her grandmother, who mailed it to her one time when she needed it.
“She could’ve just given it to me over the phone, but she liked for it to be written out so I wouldn’t miss anything,” Horrocks said. “She was a particular woman.”
Though Allison Mills loves to experiment in the kitchen, she still treasures her great-aunt Helen Reilly’s recipe box.
When her great-aunt, whom Mills said helped raise her mother, died in 2010, her kitchen items were of particular interest to Mills.
“My mother has a lot of Aunt Helen’s things, but not the recipe cards,” said Mills, 42, of Victorian Village. “There’s something to be said about the sentimentality of a loved ones’ handwriting.”
With that in mind, Mills had some family recipe cards scanned into a computer and printed on fabric to make tea towels for her mother, Lynne, who turned them into curtains for a window in her West Salem, Ohio kitchen. On those curtains, recipes for Aunt Helen’s Chex Mix (probably the same one from the cereal box, Allison acknowledged) and one dated 1888 can be found.
Other people have memorialized these handwritten recipes by having them engraved on cutting boards. Some display the cards in scrapbooks or shadow boxes hanging in the kitchen.
In addition to the recipe box, Mills has a folder of recipes she found in Aunt Helen’s closet.
“It’s a bunch of recipes I’ll never use — they’re goofy,” Mills said. “She took the time to keep them nice. They were important to her so I can’t get rid of them.”