Grandma’s Receipts

Some years ago, as a gift, my grandmother (Boop) gave me a book of family recipes that she had gathered, and which, as these were not overly numerous, she had complemented with a number of recipes she had clipped and torn from magazines over the years, and put by perhaps imagining that someday some one of us, a child, a grandchild, a great-grandchild, the spouses of any of these, might try his or her hand at this most elementary and profound form of alchemy.

This treasure was put in a somewhat faded red (nearing blood-orange) three-ring binder.  This is not overly significant but that it is representative of a world composed of materials at hand.  She and my grandfather (Bobby), as befits a generation of recyclers, before there was an industry based upon it (one that seems to me to encourage a freer wasting of materials), used all things over and over and over again in numerous, numberless (I like that word, implying, though you could number them, there might be another one added to it), ways.  The usual objects like coffee cans were always found holding nails, screws, bolts (all things hardware), but also toys or game pieces, and lures and hooks, bobbers and weights (worms, too) for fishing

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.  But this hand-me-down binder had also surely done duty in as many ways as you can imagine: at the very least it had held other documents, likely building plans for all manner of projects with wood as Bobby is a carpenter.  Good containers make good savers, to heist a construction out of Robert Frost.

But, as to what raised that into my foretop: Boop had labeled this heirloom, “Receipts for Doug.”  Now, because I am an ungrateful boob of a sort, I made sure to call attention to this clear mistake of usage.  Of course I also surmised that this was a binder used for work receipts that Boop simply re-labeled, but I couldn’t really make sense of it other than seeing it as a mistake.  And once the exchange was completed and I was in receipt of the binder it was no longer on my mind.  Until today.  Today, Melville used this word in my hearing.

The first day there was “duff” to make—a business which devolved upon the mess-cooks, though the boiling of it pertained to Old Coffee and his deputies. I made up my mind to lay myself out on that duff; to centre all my energies upon it; to put the very soul of art into it, and achieve an unrivalled duff—aduff that should put out of conceit all other duffs, and for ever make my administration memorable.

From the proper functionary the flour was obtained, and the raisins; the beef-fat, or “slush,” from Old Coffee; and the requisite supply of water from the scuttle-butt. I then went among the various cooks, to compare their receipts for making “duffs:” and having well weighed them all, and gathered from each a choice item to make an original receipt of my own, with due deliberation and solemnity I proceeded to business.

As I was listening to White Jacket (thank you, Librivox) when I heard the narrator say “receipt” I simply imagined an error.  Back in the home library I discovered it was not so.

A discussion with my wife yielded what must seem obvious–a receipt, even in the only way I had ever used the word, is simply a list of items.  These are itemized costs tallied to a sum, but still just a list; and a recipe is as well, just a list, and this too, tallied to a sum (a “duff” in the above).  Noah Webster, in his 1828 American Dictionary, to use the likely lexicon Melville had at hand, puts “recipe” under “receipt” (though he insists there should be no “p” in the spelling) as definition #5: “prescription of ingredients for any composition, as of medicines, & c.”  Note, too, that Melville uses “conceit” and “receipt” together here as corollaries of the creative, usurping, authorial mind; using ingredients in a particular manner will create a thing to overcome all other thinking about that thing: build therefore your own world…out of whatever you can get your hands on.

The receipts in White Jacket, and the receipts in Boop’s binder, are recipes.  And these words are really simply variations on the same idea housed in the Latin “receptus”: to take or to receive.

Webster goes on to elaborate the use of the term in commerce:

a writing acknowledging the taking of money or goods.  A receit [sic, throughout] of money may be in part or in full payment of a debt, and it operates as an acquittance or discharge of the debt either in part or in full.  A receit of goods makes the receiver liable to account for the same, according to the nature of the transaction, or the tenor of the writing.

I’ve taken much from my grandparents over the years.  I might rephrase that as I’ve received much from them over the years.  I am in receipt of much from my grandparents.  It would take some time to itemize this legacy.  Still, it is worth a few more words to share some of the examples from Webster under the variant, “receive”:

“The idea of solidity we receive by our touch.” Locke

“Receive with meekness the engrafted word.”  James 1:21 (full verse: “Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.”)

“They kindled a fire and received us every one, because of the present rain and because of the cold.”  Acts xxviii (interesting regarding the Amazon digital reader, eh?)

(But as if in rebuke to Jeff Bezos.) “The brazen altar was too little to receive the burnt-offering.” 1 Kings viii

What are “we” but the sum, the summing, of a constant reception?  I would suggest that we all pay a little more attention to our giving and taking and keep in mind the kind of “duff” we seek to offer.

I am not sure for what I am liable to account to Boop and Bobby.  What I do know is that the sheet does not balance and that to detail the exchange will reveal one truth: I will be always be in their debt.


photo credit: John Murray Archive

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  1. Eric Sargent June 29, 2012 at 2:37 pm


    1. Douglas Storm June 29, 2012 at 4:33 pm

      thanks, Eric

  2. focus June 29, 2012 at 3:01 pm

    Very nice Doug. The study of words and the many facets of meaning, as well as the evolution of word, definition, supposed meaning, and spelling is fascinating.
    Your grandmother’s binder title made me think of old fashioned writing–such as Melville, Bronte etc.–where familiar words have slightly different meanings and/or spelling. Exactly where you found the word itself.
    Use and re-use. Perhaps that is the excuse I can give for my parents never wanting to give things away or throw things out–“but we might want to use it again” they tell me when I attempt to clear things out. I agree with your statement about recycling–we may be making a bigger fuss about it now but when things were actually made to last (rather than planned obsolescence) they LASTED. Dishwashers, cars, cuisinarts. They cost a lot but you were buying for a lifetime. Call it thriftiness or resourcefulness–it worked.
    I must say I love the idea of grandmother’s recipe binder. I wish I had one from my grandmother. It not only preserves family recipes to be handed down to you but gives you a peek into her thoughts when you see what recipes interested her enough for her to cut out and save them “to
    I have such a recipe binder–mine is an old photo album–the kind that has the plastic sheet that you lift and place the photos under. The plastic is supposed to be bad for the photos actually so I removed the photos and placed them in a safer place. The idea struck me that if I put my recipe cards under that plastic I could protect the recipes from the kitchen debris and be able to wipe the pages clean to boot.
    It is crammed with index cards with recipes dating back to when I was 10 or 12. It also contains many recipes cut out of newspapers, magazines, or more recently printed off the computer. They are fit on the page like a patchwork–some sideways, two or more to a page, squeezed together so there is no wasted space. No rhyme or reason to the organization. I always have to page through it to find what I want to make or perhaps to be inspired to try one of the cut out ones.
    Sorry for this long winded response! Something obviously struck a chord!

    1. Douglas Storm June 29, 2012 at 3:11 pm

      I especially like the serendipity sprung of disorder!

      1. focus June 29, 2012 at 3:22 pm

        It is a comforting disorder if you understand what I mean by that. My daughter enjoys paging through it and asking about the recipes. Her curiosity has fueled some of the kitchen adventures.

  3. SS July 3, 2012 at 11:08 am

    I find the evolving usage of words endlessly fascinating. This isn’t related at all, but I recently read that we actually use the word nauseous incorrectly as an adjective. Something can be nauseous in the sense of causing queasiness, but the original meaning of nauseous was limited to these grotesque descriptions, i.e. to say you are nauseous should mean that you are vile, not that you feel nauseated by something.

    Just had to throw that in there! I can’t find the article I was reading, but a quick Google search provided some support:

    So, cheers to non-nauseous receipts!

    1. focus July 4, 2012 at 4:04 pm

      I saw that same article–I think on the Huffington Post. I read it yesterday or the day before!

  4. Pingback: Happy 67th Boop and Bobby!

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