Food & Drink · Lifestyle

Molly Fisk: Home-Made Cookbook

5308182185_3834dbe32c_bPhoto by Sarah R. via Flickr (Creative Commons License)

My first year in college, my friend Sari and I made cookbooks for Christmas for everyone we knew. She’s Jewish and used to live in Albuquerque, so she contributed recipes for Aunt Gladys’ Noodle Kugel and Enchiladas con Crema. I am now, as then, a lapsed Unitarian from California with no ethnic cooking traditions, so what I brought to the project were my mother’s family dinners and the desserts of my grandmother on my father’s side, a demon for homemade sweets.

My parents both cooked. Irving was a throw-it-over-your-shoulder-into-the-pan kind of guy, whomping up eggs or stir-frying whatever he scrounged from the icebox. His recipes are harder to reproduce, except for the pies. My mother, Toni, leveled every half-teaspoon of baking soda with the back of a knife and followed recipes to the letter.

Sari and I copied out our recipes by hand, since this was long ago when computers were the size of refrigerators and desk-top publishing hadn’t been thought up yet. She was heading for design school to become an architect, and her writing was beautifully stylized but friendly. Mine was legible, but sort of spiky. We added quotes about food from Bob Dylan songs and cartoons clipped from The New Yorker, and got the books xeroxed and spiral-bound for about a dollar apiece. I’m still a little unclear as to how a photo of Boston’s ice hockey team, the Bruins, made the cover.

After college I traveled a lot and lived in tiny apartments. For decades  my stuff was in storage and I didn’t even vaguely remember having created this book. But one day I found it, and have never looked back. By now my copy is fairly ratty: one corner singed off and quite a few anonymous brown stains. But it’s wonderful returning to all the family dishes I had forgotten. They’re either very low-fat, like Mediterranean Baked Fish — which has to be an old Weight Watcher’s recipe from one of my mom’s dieting phases — or the complete opposite (this was the 1960s, before health was invented), like Cheese and Onion Pie, which includes Jarlsberg, butter, Ritz Crackers for the crust (crushed and mixed with butter) and many eggs. Also lots of onion, cooked very slowly in. . . butter. It’s so good I have to bring the recipe to potlucks because everybody asks for it.

My brothers and sister got the original, but that was 40 years ago. Even if they don’t make the insanely fattening dishes very often, an occasional sensory reminder of our childhood might be comforting. So I’m going to produce a new edition for Xmas this year, adding in some of my current favorites, like Cioppino and Caviar Pie.

This time around I’m putting Mom on the cover. She’s been gone 15 years. It’s a photo from 1971: in the kitchen in her old blue apron with the perennial dish towel over her shoulder, one finger in her mouth to taste what she’s cooking, looking right at us, mischievously, and smiling.


Join the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Susanna Gaertner November 16, 2015 at 1:36 pm

    Look how we’re all responding! Thank you so much for this reminder of ancient aromas and their satisfying sensory memories. Clearly, you’ve struck a nerve!
    Molly, do you have a photo of the finished cheese and onion pie? I’d love to offer the recipe on my examiner site, preferably with a photo of you and the pie or just the pie if you’d rather.
    If you have questions, feel free to call me: 831.461.0668
    I’ve got to “feed” the site every 2-3 weeks and like to add other people’s faves as well as my own.

  • Stephanie Hansen November 15, 2015 at 5:06 am

    My mother has been gone 15 yrs now too. When she passed away, my sister took her lovely and expensive rings right away, but all I wanted were her cookbooks. I had memorized every cookie and dessert recipe I’d ever begged her to make for me as a child, every stain and scorch mark where she’d set down a hot dish, and every note she’d scribbled in the margins. I still choke up to see her gorgeous handwriting. She was a school teacher before I was born.

    Many years before I was born, too, her sisters-inlaw all got together, compiled and published a cookbook – not very many copies – but it’s an official cookbook, and I’m delighted to have a copy. I truly cherish it. I grew up eating the simple recipes in it, casseroles and cheap meals that were common to Eastern Canada and that era.

    I’ve been thinking for some time now about putting together a cookbook of my own, something just for myself, but I thought, “Nah. No one does that anymore. Everyone just puts there recipes in a file on their computer.” But your story has pushed me beyond that place of self-doubt. What fun! Adding quotes and pictures along with the recipes is just the ticket to making this project a labour of love. I’m looking forward to it.

    Thank you so much for sharing. And yes…the cheese and onion pie is definitely in my future! LOL


  • Millicent Borges Accardi November 14, 2015 at 3:17 pm

    Yes! I was going to say, too, please include a couple of recipes in this article. When I was first married, I interviewed my Sicilian mother in law over maybe six months and documented her recipes, as well as stories about the various foods and family gatherings. I gave copies of the cookbook as Xmas gifts too, most specially to my MIL who was delighted.

  • Molly Fisk November 14, 2015 at 3:01 pm

    Kathleen, if you go to your grocery store and find those little round glass jars of caviar (they’re not the expensive kind from Russia!), the recipe’s on the side. Comes in black or red and might be called “roe” but I think they try to snazz things up and say “caviar.” The big chains here in CA have them, as well as smaller “good” grocery stores. Not usually health food stores or co-ops, though. Have fun!

  • Suzy Morrison November 14, 2015 at 11:03 am

    you made me wish I could see the picture and see the recipes so I could make a few on my own. sitting here this morning thinking about what i will cook for thanksgiving besides the standbys my kids will expect…and wondering if i could put together a cookbook of my own for my kids. i was trying to think of a christmas present they would love and cherish and suddenly christmas seems awfully close…
    love your writing

  • Kathleen November 14, 2015 at 9:22 am

    While you are at it……I’d LOVE the caviar pie recipe!
    Your book sounds wonderful! My sister in law made one for all the family with our Thanksgiving recipes. So yummy and hits you in the heart, in a really good place!
    Have a wonderful holiday season!

  • Molly Fisk November 14, 2015 at 8:25 am

    It’s not even 5:30 a.m. at my house, and I’ve already been reprimanded by one reader on e-mail for not including the recipe. If it will fit in this little comment box, I’ll paste it here. You’re welcome. 😉


    1 c. cracker crumbs (Ritz is what my mom used. Try Ak-Maks for something nuttier-flavored)
    ¼ c. melted butter

    3 c. thinly sliced onions (4 medium sized)
    ¼ c. butter
    2 c. grated Jarlsberg (½ lb.) or other swiss cheese
    1 T flour
    1 t salt
    dash cayenne
    3 well-beaten eggs
    1 c. milk (scalded)
    chopped chives for garnish

    Combine cracker crumbs with melted butter and press into a 9-inch pie plate. (If you’ve only got a 10-inch, make a few more crumbs, maybe another ¼ c.)

    Cook onions in ¼ c. butter until tender, not brown. (Takes about 20 min.) Place in crust.

    Combine cheese with flour, salt, and cayenne. Add eggs and milk (let the milk cool a little after scalding). Pour over onions.

    Bake at 325 for 40-50 min. until set and golden brown. Top with the chives.

    This was one of my mother’s casual-company dinners in the 1960s, served with a green salad and some steamed zucchini. I make two at a time and slice one up and freeze the pieces, to reheat later as home-made fast food.