Alan and I sat at the dining room table and peered into the oblong tin. It was his mom’s old recipe box, a collection of parchment-colored papers with now deckled edges and magazine clippings of various origins. The purple and white box was a former cookie tin, but it had been decades since butter tarts had graced its insides. Its hinged lid was perpetually open, stiffened by time and stuffed with barely legible memories.
He carefully pulled out a slip of paper. “Onions, garlic, can of tomatoes, paprika, salt,” he read aloud. “Wrap in foil. Cook til done.” There were no measurements, a telltale sign that the dish had been a favorite. What I was for was anyone’s guess.
The recipes were all similar in that regard. The less information, the more well-loved they’d been. There were entrees and sides, sauces and sweets. A holiday dish with an ingredient simply labeled “goose”. Random vegetables diced and grated topped with various blends of spices. Cream-of-something soup, a perennial staple. Toffees made from cups of butter and sugar. A layered dessert that was deemed better than Robert Redford.
It was our new Thanksgiving tradition. A peek into the past, when the holidays were filled with gatherings and green bean casserole, cousins and cocktail sauce. When favorite dishes were made not by owning the perfect device or imitating the latest influencer, but by observing the most simple of truths:
Cook until done.
Start something, anything. And then stop when it’s finished. Good advice for nearly everything, no? Start without hesitation. Without endless research or excuses. Without assumption or presumption. Just, begin. And then keep going until the end.
This year Thanksgiving will be more subdued than in the past, but we’ll cling to that simple rule. We’ll be baking in the morning, then dropping off food to our families. No prolonged visits, just a wave from a porch. A moment to reconnect. To share a loaf of freshly baked bread, an apple pie. A long drive, then a return home.
And then we’ll reignite the fire that will most assuredly be down to embers. We’ll spend the evening curled up on the couch sharing memories. Stories of those with us only in fragments of parchment-colored paper, of recipes that share their deepest wisdom. Of those who knew the most important parts of life need never be written down. They’re still with us, faded and brittle around the edges.
Maybe we’ll write our own recipes for future generations to ponder. “Apples, sugar; pour into crust. Bake until done.” For a moment they’ll think of us and remember. They’ll know what we mean. Or, maybe they won’t. It doesn’t matter. It was never about the pie anyway.