Growing up in the South, food and family are like two sides of the same coin. As a child, I learned early on that any time one was present, so would be the other. Coming from a family full of talented cooks, I have a sizeable arsenal of time-honored recipes that have been perfected over the years by kitchen magicians who came before me. Most are housed in my great-grandmother’s recipe box: an olive green metal hinge-top container filled with yellowed 4x6 index cards. Some have her hand-scrawled recipes while others have been clipped from magazines and newspapers.
Since I inherited the box, its contents have grown. Some of the cards I’ve added are neatly printed from the many food blogs and websites I frequent. Then there are cards with my hand-written recipes as well as pages from magazines, torn and folded to the appropriate size to fit in the box. Among these is another recipe scribbled on a folded sheet of wide-rule notebook paper, its ragged edge the sign of a hasty rip. If one ran across this recipe, he might have trouble figuring out what to make of it. The word “Sauce” is written at the top, underlined for good measure, but the dish this recipe outlines is much more than that.
I was born in Cookeville, Tenn., where I grew up eating simple food. My palate was anything but sophisticated.
But as a child, I spent a significant amount of time with my paternal grandparents who live in Knoxville.
When I visited my grandparents in Knoxville, we ate all sorts of food which, to my childhood self, seemed exotic and magical. Meals included things like homemade pizza, waffles made in a real waffle iron, and lasagna from scratch. My grandma’s lasagna was always a highlight of my visit. The labor and time that went into making it caused supper to feel fancy and special. And it made me feel fancy and special because she made a point to fix it for me.
When I was in first grade, my teacher gave our class a project in which we were to write a few sentences about our favorite food. I wanted to write about my grandma’s lasagna, but I wasn’t sure how to spell it. Apparently lasagna hadn’t quite achieved widespread popularity in my small hometown because my teacher didn’t know how to spell it either. Mind you, this was before the likes of Stouffer’s had made lasagna the common food dish it is today.
A few years ago, I asked my grandma to give me her lasagna recipe. I thought she might have it in a cookbook somewhere that I could copy. She went to her desk and tore out a sheet of paper from a spiral notebook. Then she proceeded to write out the recipe from memory. I watched her go through the steps in her head, and then write them down. It’s certainly more of an art than a science judging by her instructions to “add water to however you like” and “stir until the meat looks done.”
I cherish that sheet of paper, not just because of the recipe scribbled on it, but because of the happy memories and love it represents.
I’m embarrassed to say that even after asking my grandma for the recipe, I’ve never made her lasagna. I pull it out from time to time and read over the ingredients and instructions. Maybe I’m afraid my version won’t turn out like hers and it will lose some of that childhood magic if it isn’t quite as good as I remember. One day, I’ll get brave enough to try it. Until then I know the rusty metal box will hold it for safekeeping.
Kate Spears lives in Knoxville with her spoiled rotten dog, Leon. She usually reads the latest Metro Pulse while eating French toast at Gourmet’s Market in Bearden. She also has a blog: southernbellesimple.com.
(see my notes in parentheses)
1 ½ lb ground chuck
½ of a large onion – chopped
A little oil (1-2 Tablespoons?)
1 large can chopped tomatoes
1 big paste and 1 small paste (I guess you figured out she means tomato.)
Add water to however you like the consistency—thick or thin or medium
Basil, oregano, garlic powder, parsley, salt & pepper (That’s all she gave me, folks.)
Stir till meat looks well done (At this point I realize you were supposed to be browning the meat.)
Cook 12 lasagna noodles
Need – 1 large carton of cottage cheese
Mix together cottage cheese, one egg and Parmesan cheese, and parsley in a bowl. Beat well.
1 block mozzarella cheese. Ground up. (shredded)
Put noodles in pan, put three to each layer—fill in end. Add sauce and spread on noodles. Dot top of that with cottage cheese and then add lots of mozzarella cheese all over. Repeat till pan is full. On top, put sauce and sprinkle mozzarella cheese over that. Bake in oven at 300 about one hour or when the cheese starts to bubble and get brown.