Handwritten Recipes: Chicken Soup For The Soul Even When They’re Vegetarian

The Mate and I have been downsizing again. You know. All those boxes that we decided to keep and store, the last time we downsized,10 years ago. Did they somehow go forth and multiply while we had our backs turned?

Among these boxes are old cookbooks, ones I swore I couldn’t part with 10 years ago. But have I used them in the last 10 years? Course not. So, into the boxes with them.

That part wasn’t too hard. But then I discovered the handwritten recipes.
Specifically, I found Aunt Erma’s recipe for fish chowder. Aunt Erma died 14 years ago, at the age of 90. She wasn’t my aunt, being on the Mate’s side, and she wasn’t actually even his—more of a cousin. First, once removed? Second? In truth, though, she was more of his adopted mom. Aunt Erma lived in a small hamlet near Gloucester, MA. She was a widely-renowned artist, and a wonderful cook. And her fish chowder was LEGENDARY.

Guess what recipe I found, in Erma’s handwriting?

It even includes illustrations!

In case you’re wondering, yes–I can actually read her handwriting. But the recipe’s become less legible over the years. Last time I made it, I simply modified an Internet recipe, Erma-style, by adding more butter. The point is not the exact recipe, of course. The point is the memories conjured by that loopy scrawl, that attention to detail, the voice I can almost hear as she transcribes her kitchen magic. She’d be making sure we had some good crusty bread to eat with our chowder. And of course she’d be warning us not to forget to pre-heat the bowls, whatever we do.

So I’m not sure exactly what I’m going to do with Erma’s fish chowder recipe. I guess since I’ve taken its picture and blogged about it, maybe it’s time to let the actual papers find their way into our wood stove. Maybe I’ll think about it for the next 10 years.

But I do know one thing: right now, I want to cook me some fish chowder. With extra butter, and pre-warmed bowls.

Speaking of old family recipes, handwritten or otherwise…now would be a great time and place to share one! 


The Importance of Cultchah: Reuniting With New England

It’s easy to assume the amalgamation of American culture, especially when traveling. Macdonalds, KFC, Shell, Walmart. Where am I? Who cares? Yeah, this is Dunkin Donuts country supposedly, just like the Midwest is Bob Evans and the South is Hardee’s, but on my way to the North Shore from Boston the other day I spotted two Starbucks and a Trader Joe’s, so even that regionalism is fragile.

So here’s a little celebration of everything that is completely, 100% New England.

Granite. Everywhere. (Cue pun about not taking New England for granite. I’m sure they’ve never heard that before.)


Squam Rock. If you can...just...make it...to that crack up there...you can climb it!

Squam Rock. If you can…just…make it…to that crack up there…you can climb it!

Houses built right up against the street (’cause the original street was just a carriage track). Austere architecture. (Who needs porches in this climate? And who has time to be sitting on them, even in nice weather? Get back to that gardening!)


OLD buildings. This “salt box” house, built around 1700, used to belong to The Mate’s Cousin Erma:


Nice, greasy, Italian-American food (or, in Gloucester, Portuguese-American):

Ask me about the special.

Ask me about the special.

And then there are all those iconic images, like birch trees:


…and those hard to capture with my camera, like the accent–“Pahk ya cah”–and the attitude, which, to a southerner like me, could best be characterized as cranky rude forthright. I lived in Massachusetts for four years, thirty-some years ago, and I still miss that.

So before we move on to a different slice of New England, here’s a classic icon to celebrate cultchah:

This lighthouse is a 5-minute walk from the Cousins' house.

This lighthouse is a 5-minute walk from the Cousins’ house.

What are your favorite emblems of where you’re from? List your top three.