Magazine article Vegetarian Times

Scents of the Past

Magazine article Vegetarian Times

Scents of the Past

Article excerpt

Aromatic cookbook links generations

Every December, I retrieve my grandmother's handwritten, cloth-bound cookbook from the bookcase. Sitting on the kitchen floor, my dog and cat vying for lap space, my back warm from the breath of the cast-iron stove, I open the volume carefully and inhale. Soft scents rise from the pages, musty but agreeable, a mix of Gravenstein apples, cool stone and freshly pressed linen. These are the smells of my grandmother's house in Switzerland, thousands of miles and several decades distant. I turn the pages reluctantly, afraid the smells will dissipate or the memory of my grandmother will rise with the heat and vanish forever.

I admire Ohma's precise but fading blue German script. Page after page is filled with my grandmother's recipes, some a century old, like my great-grandfather's recipe for Chartreuse. Most are typical Swiss dishes, like Rosti, or fried potatoes, fruit tarts with hazelnut crusts, and hearty barley soups to ward off Switzerland's winter chills. These are the dishes of my mother's childhood -and mine.

At Christmastime, I consult the cookie section exclusively. Arrayed there are recipes for buttery treats with exotic names-Leckerlis, Spitzbuben, Mailanderli-luxurious cookies dressed in red raspberry jam and confectioners' sugar, or brushed with a bittersweet chocolate or lemon glaze that drips onto the countertop and forms tiny peaks. I say the names in the singsong cadences of Swiss German, causing my dog to tilt his head, puzzled by the unfamiliar sounds.

Winnowing the selection, I am forced to eliminate at least one favorite, lest I run out of time. …

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