My hubby asked whether I knew the whereabouts of his plastic vitamin case.
"It's over there on top of the recipe box," I absently instructed him. Then remembering, and with a chuckle, I teased, "You know, the little brown box that launched a new cookbook."
Very true. This innocuous-looking brown wooden box, devoid of any kitchen decor but strictly practical and utilitarian to suit her purposes all those years, contained the discovery that prompted me, quite unexpectedly, to write my new Way Back in the Country Garden cookbook--the cookbook that prompted this blog, The Newfangled Country Gardener--and that started the dizzying promotion events that now swirl around me and my family.
The recipe box belonged to my Aunt Frances, our family's 102-year-old treasure and the last surviving member of Hubby and my parents' generation. Widowed for decades and childless, she doted on all her nieces and nephews; we, her primary caregivers, doted on her in return.
When she passed from us a year ago in May, the recipe box that for years she had kept fell into my possession. One day late last summer I casually thumbed through it. I was convinced I'd find nothing new. After all, my first book, Way Back in the Country, released in 2002, had mined every family standout family recipe that I could collect from my relatives and from my mother's recipe grouping that I also inherited on her passing.
As I dug into Aunt Frances' brown box, however, the first item that surfaced was the recipe for Cabbage Rolls, with Aunt Frances' notation that she often prepared this for Sunday-school covered-dish luncheons. That's strange, I thought to myself. I don't remember knowing about this one.
Then other new items began to crop up among the familiar. Okra Creole; Brown Sugar Apple Pie; Sauteed Okra, Corn, and Tomatoes. I began to realize that all these newly discovered recipes had a common theme--all were to be prepared with items that are homegrown--just the theme that I'd been contemplating with the rise in interest in home gardening that the Great Recession and other issues have spawned.
Besides my recipe-box find, I had been scribbling down some new stories that had poured off Aunt Frances' lips like rainwater during the last few years of her life. Even when her advancing age impaired her short-term memory slightly, our aunt always could be lightning-sharp about events that happened in days gone by. Vivid details about the legendary Oak Cliff Tornado which passed frighteningly near her Dallas home in 1957 and about Grandma Harris' serving Tomato Preserves when Aunt Frances and her sisters were schoolgirls were part of our aunt's clear recall in those latter days. As fast as she could reel them off, I recorded them--and then realized I had another book of family lore--lore beyond what I'd already captured in Way Back in the Country eight years ago--in the making.
When, recently, our 2010 garden brought forth its first cabbage head, I hauled it in and immediately had to turn it into Cabbage Rolls--admittedly a bit tedious to assemble (I can just imagine meticulous Aunt Frances carefully stuffing each individual cabbage leaf and then fastening each with a toothpick to secure). The actual cooking occurs for an hour in a covered skillet (you also could use a crock pot), with the pungent aroma filling every crevice of my kitchen as the mixture bubbles throughout the day and makes all the effort worthwhile.
When we at last dined on Cabbage Rolls, the delicious meal--combined with the fun I'm having seeing my new cookbook get in others' appreciative hands--made me immensely grateful for Aunt Frances' little brown box that spawned it all. Besides, the box does make a great spot on which Hubby's plastic vitamin case can rest.
8 cabbage leaves
1/2 cup brown rice
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt (we use salt substitute)
1 pound ground beef (we used ground turkey)
1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
1 (1/2-ounce) envelope spaghetti-sauce mix
1 (1-pound) can whole tomatoes, undrained
1/4 cup evaporated milk, undiluted
Steam cabbage leaves in water for 8 minutes or until they are slightly softened; drain thoroughly. Combine rice, water, and salt; cook covered 20 minutes or until rice is tender. Mix together cooked rice, beef, onion, and 1 tablespoon spaghetti-sauce mix. Fill each leaf with approximately 1/3 cup meat mix. Fold leaf over meat; tuck in ends; fasten with toothpicks. Place rolls with overlapped side down in large skillet that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Mix together tomatoes and remaining contents of sauce-mix envelope; pour over cabbage. Simmer covered for 1 hour. Place rolls on platter; remove toothpicks. To tomato liquid in pan add evaporated milk. Simmer until thick but do not boil. Serve cabbage rolls steaming hot with sauce. Makes 4 servings.