Have you ever read an article in a newspaper or magazine so beautiful that you that it haunts you for years? I have a few such treasured reads. A particular favorite is Searching for Lillian, written by Jeanne McManus and published in the Washington Post in 2002. It also appeared in the collection of The Best Food Writing of 2002. With good reason.
This piece tells the story of a binder of carefully collected and curated recipes found among bags of trash in front of a home in Takoma Park Maryland. The neighbor who found the binder while walking her dog sent a note off to Ms. McManus, fully recognizing this treasury documented a lifetime of culinary curiosity. It read:
“An elderly widower in my neighborhood recently moved from his longtime home to a retirement community. Among the piles of old stuff placed at his curb, I found his wife’s 50-plus-year-old recipe notebook.
“The leather-bound binder is full of: typed recipes; handwritten recipes including carefully drawn diagrams, e.g., how to shape and serve chopped liver appetizers, chicken en papillote and a chestnut dessert from the Italian Embassy; . . . newspaper recipes and booklets . . . circa 1953 from places like St. Louis, Chicago and D.C.; recipes attributed to Jackie Kennedy and the Duchess of Windsor; and reminiscences of Maryland cooking from the early 1900s.
“Would you be interested in reviewing it?”
Yes, Ms. McManus was interested, and she sets out to search for the story of the curator of this book… Lillian. Trust me, read the article… it’s a gorgeous little story.
I would like to think if Lillian had lived in our era, she would have transformed her passion for food and binder of treasured recipes into a food blog with a loyal following. In some ways, I think of Bourbon and Brown Sugar as my own personal binder of recipes – classic recipes tweaked to my liking, and creations inspired by my lifetime of travels and dinners enjoyed at restaurants with friends and family.
Some of these recipes are quite simple, as in this coleslaw. This is a slight variation on Nigella Lawson’s New Orlean’s Coleslaw, and my summertime go-to slaw. My version is a bit lighter – less mayo, more buttermilk. I do love the bit of maple syrup to sweeten the dressing… and the crunch of salty toasted pecans. It is bright and delicious – I have served it at dozens of summertime meals, and it’s always a hit.
I suspect Lillian might have liked it too.
- 4 cups shredded savoy cabbage
- 1 cup shredded carrots
- 4 scallions, chopped, white and green parts
- ½ cup good-quality mayonnaise
- ¾ cup buttermilk
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 3 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ⅔ cup pecans, toasted and finely chopped
- Whisk together the mayonnaise, buttermilk, maple syrup, and vinegar, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Place in the fridge to chill.
- Toss all the vegetables together in a bowl.
- When you're ready to serve the slaw, toss the dressing with the vegetables and the chopped pecans.