Two decades ago, when life tugged me away from the little Catskill Mountain town where I’d hoped to live out my days, many years passed before I realized how much of my heart remains there and how much of Bovina lives on in me to this day.
The Bovina farm women were so generous in sharing not only their skills and recipes, but their lifestyle as country women, with the newly-married, naive city girl I was then. In 1974, a year after I married my dairy farmer, the Historical Society published Bovina’s Country Cupboard cookbook, a collection of recipes by then-and-former community residents. I slid it from my bookcase several days ago as I prepared my Thanksgiving shopping list, struck once again by how many Bovina recipes remain a part of our traditional menu.
This year I signed up to make pumpkin and apple pies (with my sister, Bonnie), cranberry bread, golden onion bread, cranberry relish, corn pudding, and a pumpkin-roll cake for the feast. I leafed through the first few pages of the Country Cupboard cookbook, which contains several handwritten offerings of grace, and paused to read several. The Table of Contents followed with broad categories that directed me to the recipes I wanted: Ruth McGowan’s Cranberry Bread and Mildred Reinertsen’s Pumpkin Pie, my favorite for more than 40 years because it contains just the right amount of molasses. Jackie Gallant’s Blueberry Pancakes recipe caught my eye and I decided to make them one morning for my sister, also named Jackie, who adores blueberry pancakes.
I pulled out Aunt Madeline’s antique wooden recipe box and found Gladys Doig’s (my mother-in-law) handwritten recipe for Cranberry Relish. Bonnie and I modified it a little by increasing the cranberries, decreasing the sugar, and substituting some honey. Gladys had an old-fashioned, manual meat grinder that she clamped onto her counter top to grind the fruit/; Bonnie and I used my food processor, which worked wonderfully. The recipe turned out fabulously tasty.
Next, I dug into the file for Desserts and pulled out the Pumpkin-Nut Cake Roll recipe, clipped from a Farm Journal magazine decades ago. The recipes were stained and yellowed with age. Years ago I would have copied them over on clean cards and thrown these imperfect ones away, but after all these years the originals become more precious each Thanksgiving, especially when I gaze at my sweet mother-in-law’s handwriting. She’s been gone for so long now. Or when I reminisce about the many wonderful recipes like the Pumpkin-Nut Cake Roll clipped from our country magazines that still fill Aunt Madeline’s recipe box.
Making the cake roll last week was tricky, as always, for when, hot from the oven, you invert it onto a confectioner-sugar covered towel and roll it up to cool, you hope it doesn’t crack. Later I unwrapped it to fill with cream cheese frosting and re-wrapped it tightly, hoping it didn’t split as it did last year. It rolled up perfectly this year.
I think back to the gorgeous meal with many, but not all of our family members just last week and flash back to more than twenty Thanksgiving Days on the farm. I linger as I hold both places in my heart and treasure the ever-increasing gratitude I feel each year for both lives. Thanksgiving today and back then, both with the soft, precious common threads of giving thanks for all we have been graced with.
Before I close the cookbook, I return to the pages of grace and whisper the one I love the best: In gratitude we bow our heads to thank you for our daily bread. And may we use the strength it brings, for doing kind and helpful things. Amen.