“You know I am no epicure”: Enslaved Voices in Eliza Lucas Pinckney’s Receipt Book

By Rachel Love Monroy

The Papers of the Revolutionary Era Pinckney Statesmen

The Pinckney Papers Project at the University of South Carolina includes both the Papers of Eliza Lucas Pinckney (1722-1793) and Harriott Pinckney Horry (1748-1830) and The Papers of the Revolutionary Era Pinckney Statesmen. Both editions are published by Rotunda, the digital imprint of the University of Virginia Press, in its “American Founding Era Collection.” The Pinckney Family represents one of the most important, yet lesser-known, families of the founding period. Eliza is best known for the management of her father’s South Carolina plantations at a young age and subsequent experimentation with cultivating improved strains of indigo in the colony. Her sons, and their cousin, are the subject of The Papers of the Revolutionary Era Pinckney Statesmen: Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (1746-1825), his brother Thomas Pinckney (1750-1828), and their cousin Charles Pinckney (1756-1824). They served as military, economic, political, and diplomatic leaders in South Carolina and the nation during and after the American Revolution, working as governors, diplomats, military officers, and delegates to the Constitutional Convention.

 

Image 1 – The first page of Eliza’s receipt book marked simply with her name and the date 1756, as well as Rect. Book No. 2. at the top. Citation: Pinckney, Eliza Lucas, 1723-1793. Eliza Pinckney receipt book, 1756. (43/2178) South Carolina Historical Society.

The pages of Eliza Lucas Pinckney’s receipt book reveal one hundred and thirty-nine recipes: ninety-eight culinary, thirty-nine medical, and two household related. With titles from “Plumb Marmalade” to “For an Ague of Fever” they depict an image of Eliza in the kitchen testing, improving, and adjusting her own concoctions. When she reminds us “your mold must be greased with fatt bacon before you put your wafers inn” and “be sure to grease it again each time,” the intimacy of her tone, knowledge of the ingredients, and tactile descriptions paint a picture of Eliza’s fingers stained with currant juice, hands sticky and scented of rosewater, and palate carefully judging.[1] Yet her familiar tone and interjections of advice obscure a different reality. The surviving manuscript is conspicuously clean of grease marks and stains. Eliza’s name is alone printed on the front, but what follows is a forced collective effort not a solitary enterprise. It is Eliza’s work, but it is also the work of enslaved people, their thoughts, inventions, ideas, and alterations. Eliza has erased and appropriated black hands mixing, chopping, stirring, kneading, and folding; black mouths tasting, black minds adjusting, and black voices retelling the recipes recorded in her own hand.

As a plantation mistress in colonial South Carolina Eliza Pinckney was a slave owner. Historians estimate that at the time of her husband Charles Pinckney’s death she kept between two and three hundred slaves.[2] She grew up among slaves in Antigua and inherited them from both her father, George Lucas, and late husband. A 1745 inventory of her father’s slaves at Garden Hill Plantation listed 79 individuals by name.[3] Yet Eliza’s receipt book included no passing mention of black enslaved labor to produce ingredients or execute recipes, no discussion of “Mary-Ann” who “understands roasting poultry in the greatest perfection you ever saw,” or old Ebba who fattens the birds “to as great a nicety.” She left out Daphne who made “a loaf of very nice bread.”[4] In Eliza’s day, recipe books transitioned from products of independent women perfecting their recipes to collections of recipes reflecting the wishes of the household mistress more than her labor. Culinary skill transferred to the author of recipes and away from those who painstakingly executed them. Cooking was still an act of the hands, but not hands in peeling, dicing, or folding, but a hand grasping a pen and recording a recipe on the written page.[5]

Image 2 – An example of the recipes included in Eliza’s receipt book. This page includes recipes for “Little Pudings” and “Rusks.” Citation: Pinckney, Eliza Lucas, 1723-1793. Eliza Pinckney receipt book, 1756. (43/2178) South Carolina Historical Society.

Eliza consumed her slaves’ physical labor, as well as their creative power: their knowledge of native ingredients’ medicinal power in her remedies. Her whitewashing of recipes obscures both the role that slaves played and her own contribution. It is difficult to know how the drama unfolded. Did Eliza dictate and observe, or pass along recipes as an absentee cook? Where did her knowledge end and theirs begin? Were these Eliza’s ideas, or recipes developed by enslaved Africans for which she simply took credit? Eliza readily admitted, “You know I am no epicure, but I am pleased they [the slaves] can do things so well, when they are put to it” Eliza kept “young Ebba to do the drudgery part, fetch wood, and water, and scour, and learn as much as she is capable of Cooking and Washing,” while “Old Ebba boils the cow’s victuals, raises and fattens the poultry, Moses is imployed from breakfast until 12 o’clock without doors, after that in the house. Pegg washes and milks.” Mary-Ann pickled oysters very well, while Daphne cooks.[6]

Image 3 – A medicinal recipe from Eliza’s receipt book entitled: “For the Flux.” Citation: Pinckney, Eliza Lucas, 1723-1793. Eliza Pinckney receipt book, 1756. (43/2178) South Carolina Historical Society

Eliza discounted enslaved workers’ intimate knowledge of rice and sweet potatoes from West Africa and their ability to knead bread to its perfect consistency because they were merely an instrument in her cooking. Hers was the creative enterprise, intellectual pursuit, and scientific experiment. Just as Aristotle had called slaves an “instrument of their owner” a “living tool” Eliza’s slaves acted as her culinary instruments.[7] They were the knives, the ladles, and the frying pans. The kitchen tools were an extension of slave bodies, because to Eliza the slaves were tools themselves, that she held and manipulated. She recognized their contribution no more than she might have noticed the utility of a particular spoon or knife in performing the job at hand. Because just like these inanimate tools, Eliza believed tools of flesh and blood could not perform the task without her. They needed Eliza’s mind, her knowledge, and her creativity to breathe life into their bodies and cook.

 

[1] To make Wafers, in The Papers of Eliza Lucas Pinckney and Harriott Pinckney Horry Digital Edition, ed. Constance Schulz. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda, 2012..

[2] Ted, Morgan, Wilderness at Dawn: The Settling of the North American Continent (New York, NY: 1993), 262.

[3] List of Slaves, George Lucas, May 1745, in The Papers of Eliza Lucas Pinckney and Harriott Pinckney Horry Digital Edition, ed. Constance Schulz. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda, 2012.

[4]Eliza Lucas Pinckney to Harriott Pinckney Horry, n.d. , in The Papers of Eliza Lucas Pinckney and Harriott Pinckney Horry Digital Edition, ed. Constance Schulz. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda, 2012.

[5]Wendy, Wall, Recipes for Thought Knowledge and Taste in the Early Modern English Kitchen (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015), 50

[6] Eliza Lucas Pinckney to Harriott Pinckney Horry, n.d. , in The Papers of Eliza Lucas Pinckney and Harriott Pinckney Horry Digital Edition, ed. Constance Schulz. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda, 2012.

[7] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. David Ross (London, 1980), 212.

 

 

My Soda Bread

By Kathleen Lynch

There was something wrong about the package that was delivered to me at work one early spring morning years ago. It was addressed to me, and the return address also had my surname. But I didn’t recognize the name as a family member, and I didn’t know anyone in the town in Connecticut on the address. So I opened it with some sense that this package wasn’t intended for me, and that sense was amplified when I found inside a pair of house slippers, a zip-top plastic baggie that seemed to hold some dry ingredients, a recipe for Irish soda bread, and a note signed “mom.”

Why did some other Kathleen Lynch’s mom send me her soda bread recipe, never mind the slippers? That was the question I asked when I found a phone number online and called to report that this mom’s package had gone to the wrong Kathleen Lynch. In conversation, the mom assured me that she had addressed the package to her daughter correctly, and that said daughter was in Washington for a congressional internship, staying on East Capitol Street. A closer look at the package’s address confirmed that Kathleen was staying right across the street from my workplace, Folger Shakespeare Library, and that the package had been misdelivered, not misaddressed.

I rewrapped the package, added a note of apology, and left it on the doorstep of a townhouse across the street. I must have asked about her family’s soda bread recipe, noting that mine featured raisins to her caraway seeds. The next day, I had a charming note in return, discussing that Kathleen’s grandmother’s approach to soda bread, “equal parts deference and rebellion towards the old way.” What we shared was an appreciation for a simple bread, easily prepared, best eaten warm out of the oven, and laden with memories of our grandmothers, and for me, a recipe I will always call Aunt Pat’s. But were either of our breads true soda breads? I knew both could be dismissed as “tea cakes,” not soda breads. For some, it is an adamantly held distinction.

Intrigued, I wanted to know more about the history of soda bread in Ireland. In particular, I wanted to know if the oral history was true that I had heard many decades ago when I spent a year at university in Cork: the British government denied yeast to the Irish. In any Irish cookbook I pick up now, I read the headnote to breads to see if they introduce the history. Though Colman Andrews prefaces his Country Cooking of Ireland with “A Note on Geopolitics,” addressing the still contested terminology for national boundaries and county names, it does not address the specific trade regulations or coercive practices that framed rural subsistence diets. In My Irish Table, local chef Cathal Armstrong calls these “quick breads,” and notes that “yeast would have been too expensive for people in the countryside in the time of the British occupation” anyway.

Multiple editions of Aunt Pat’s soda bread recipe. Credit: author.

 

Whatever the longer history of Irish hearth-based home cooking of breads in ‘bastibles’ or cast-iron, three-legged pots, the soda bread recipe took its recognizable shape in the mid-nineteenth century with the introduction of baking soda into Ireland. Combined with sour milk or buttermilk, this agent worked to create “a very light and palatable leavened wheat bread that can easily be produced at home,” as Regina Sexton reported in A Little History of Irish Food. And as Armstrong adds, “most households in Ireland have their own recipe for quick breads passed down through the generations.”  In stressing ease and simple ingredients and tools, these authors all lightly skirt the question of impoverishment in old Ireland. For the spread of this breadmaking through Ireland also tracks the years of famine, death, sporadic relief efforts (including by English Quakers), the introduction of maize meal by the British government to offset the failing potato crops, and mass emigration.

I still don’t know the documented history of yeast in Irish baked goods. None of Sexton’s historical recipes in her “Cereals” section include it. I do understand how the oral history holds open the wounds of oppression. At the same time, I see welcome new cooking traditions taking hold in Ireland. They are based on the riches of land and seas, and often influenced by the work of the Allen family at Ballymaloe House and Cookery School in County Cork. Each of the authors above gives credit and expresses gratitude to that family. These new traditions speak powerfully to the work of nourishment and healing that food can do.

Slices of soda bread. Credit: author.

 

Memories are slippery things, formed and reformed over time and across experiences. In looking for a printed copy of “Aunt Pat’s” soda bread, I had to consider if I shouldn’t start calling this “Aunt Maureen’s” recipe, given that Aunt Pat—my mother’s sister—told me once that she adopted her recipe from Aunt Maureen—my father’s sister. So maybe it’s a Lynch recipe rather than a Gibbons one. On finding multiple printed copies of a recipe I haven’t consulted in years, I was also taken aback that Aunt Pat listed shortening as the fattening agent. That doesn’t make the bread any more satisfying to a purist, but it holds the memories of poverty closer. Or does it only speak to its time? Kathleen wrote to me that her mother made so many substitutions in the name of a healthier loaf that the “result was a dry, unpredictable rock.”

If in its purest form, soda bread does without even sugar and butter, is that not also a reminder of resourcefulness of the subsistence farmer? If Kathleen and I and all the sisters and daughters of our economically-deprived foremothers add those embellishments for a richer loaf, don’t we do it to carry forward traditions rather than be bound by them? In sitting down to a cup of tea and a slice of steaming hot soda bread with generous dabs of butter, don’t we keep their memories alive?

Irish Soda Bread

  • 4 cups flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ cup butter
  • 2 cups seedless raisins
  • 1 ½ cup buttermilk (or substitute whole milk with 1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar per cup milk)
  • 1 egg
  • ½ tsp. baking soda

Simmer raisins in pan of hot water. Mix and sift flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Work in butter with fingertips until it resembles coarse corn meal. Stir in drained raisins. Combine buttermilk, egg, baking soda. Stir buttermilk mixture into flour mixture until just moistened. Do not overmix. Bake in greased medium baking dish at 375 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes.

I think of this as my Grandma Gibbons’ soda bread recipe, and I’ve adapted it from the recipe my Aunt Pat contributed to her garden club cookbook years ago. But Aunt Pat tells me she took it from my Aunt Maureen on the Lynch side of the family. So I pass it along from both the Gibbonses and the Lynches of County Mayo.


About

Kathleen Lynch researches and writes about the Protestant spiritual autobiography and the communities of devotion that gave rise to them. She is the executive director of the Folger Institute at the Folger Shakespeare Library. She tweets @thatklynch. Her only regret about a year spent in Cork, Ireland as an undergraduate is that it predated the opening of the butter museum there.

A Great Tea-Drinking: Collective Memory and Victorian Invalid Cookery

By Bonnie Shishko

Midway through Charles Dickens’s Bleak House (1853), Esther Summerson relinquishes her beloved role as adopted housekeeper and assumes another: sick nurse. In a tense scene that’s painfully relevant in this era of COVID, Esther rushes to isolate herself and Charley, a servant who has contracted smallpox. Quickly locking her bedroom door, Esther quarantines with Charley and nurses her around the clock. The two women mark Charley’s recovery by drinking tea. “It was a great evening,” Esther tells us, “when Charley and I at last took tea together.”

But it is the night of the celebratory tea that Esther realizes she and Charley have shared more than a room and a food ritual. Esther has contracted Charley’s smallpox. In a role reversal foreshadowed by the chapter’s ambiguous title, “Nurse and Patient,” Esther becomes the patient and Charley, at thirteen years old, the nurse.   

Although told from Esther’s perspective, the chapter “Nurse and Patient” makes one thing clear: for many Victorian women, illness and disease was not a private but a collective experience. “If I am to be ill,” Esther tells Charley, “my great trust, humanly speaking, is in you” (433). Esther’s assumption that she and Charley—both young, inexperienced, and of different social classes—are capable of and responsible for nursing each other through a grave disease exemplifies what Talia Schaffer calls the “reciprocal” and communal nature of Victorian caregiving. For much of the nineteenth century, “nursing occurs within the home,” Schaffer writes. And so, “in Victorian fiction, care really does take a village” (198; 193).  

While the realist novel might have fictionalized collective care through food, another genre offered explicit instructions in how to provide such care: “invalid cookbooks,” or cookery books intended to nourish the ill and disabled. Such cookbooks were not groundbreaking; invalid recipes appeared in manuscripts and print domestic manuals since the Renaissance (Notaker 201). Yet, Victorian discoveries in nutrition science and the ensuing effort to reform domestic cookery prompted a plethora of publications geared to help women prepare nutritionally-appropriate meals for the sick (Adelman 189; 194; 203).

For all their claims to modernization, however, a glance across the dishes in mid-Victorian invalid menus reveals a noticeable uniformity with cookbooks past—and with each other (Adelman 193-4). In her bestselling 1859 Book of Household Management, for example, Isabella Beeton includes a chapter on “Invalid Cookery,” with dishes that echo Hannah Glasse’s 1747 The Art of Cookery: mutton broth, barley water, gruel. Other writers boosted this trend. Caregivers who wished to spice up Beeton’s recipe for “Toast Sandwiches”—a slice of toast layered between two buttered and salted slices of bread—need look no further than J.W. Walsh’s recipe for “Toast Sandwiches for Invalids” from The English Cookery Book (1859). In a twist on the bland diet traditionally assigned to the ill, Walsh’s recipe permits a dab of mustard (316).

On the one hand, the repetition of recipes across Victorian invalid cookbooks testifies to received beliefs around invalid diets. As Juliana Adelman argues, such texts established a “canon of foods” for the ill (193). But Victorian writers were not merely standardizing but collecting; they self-consciously harnessed the recipe’s status as a form built for exchange in order to construct a discursive care collective for working- and middle-class women who, like Esther and Charley, found themselves performing the role of nurse. What I especially want to emphasize is the centrality of the recipe as a narrative form to this enterprise. Janet Floyd and Laurel Foster explain that “[t]he root of the word recipe,” the Latin imperative recipere, or “take,” signals the restlessness of the form; its need to “exist in a perpetual state of exchange” (6). “Meaning both to give and to receive,” they write, recipes function as what Luce Giard calls ‘multiplications of borrowing’” (6). Recipes are mobile; they are traversable; they cross borders of time and space. With each “borrowing,” the “care community,” to borrow Schaffer’s term, multiplies. 

Frontispiece, Book of Household Management, Isabella Beeton (1861). Credit: British Library, London.

 

To see the invalid recipe in action as an exchanged object, we might turn again to tea; this time, to the popular invalid dish “beef tea.” Between Beeton and Walsh, we find six recipes for beef tea, including plain, “baked,” and one “quickly made.” The recipe I want us to notice, however, belongs to a third writer: the celebrated French chef, Alexis Soyer. Beeton borrowed Soyer’s previously published “Savoury Beef Tea” for the chapter. Visually demarcated by the parentheticals “Soyer’s Recipe,” yet tucked between her own beef tea recipes, Beeton’s recirculation of Soyer’s instructions makes visible—and replicable—another option to administer care. In Walsh’s cookbook, the network of exchange materializes in the very subtitle, undergirding the work’s structure itself: “Receipts Collected by a Committee of Ladies.” Although “compiled” by women “at the head of well-conducted establishments,” Walsh spotlights their diversity and dailiness. “Many come from their own family scrap-books,” he boasts, and are “In Daily Use By Private Families” (iii; Title Page).

Soyer’s Recipe for Beef Tea, Book of Household Management, Isabella Beeton (1859). Credit: author’s own photograph.

 

Invalid recipes are a form of recollection; a food memory. As formal objects with histories of exchange from “family scrap-books” to the print marketplace to sickrooms across Britain, invalid recipes like Walsh’s collect and publicly record private sickroom experiences of both eating and feeding. As we track the kinetic energy of the recipe, its urge for movement across space and time, a vast collective record of care, illness, and recovery comes into view. Perhaps more than any other recipe type, invalid recipes thus occupy the border of public and private memory. In his study of food and its relationship to memory, David Sutton argues for food’s ability to blend “social” and “individual” memory. “In producing, exchanging and consuming food” he explains, “we are continuously criss-crossing between the ‘public’ and the ‘intimate,’ individual bodies and collective institutions” (160).

Invalid Recipes, The English Cookery Book, J.W. Walsh, editor (1859). Credit: author’s own photograph.

 

Perhaps this is why Esther narrates her personal recovery from smallpox through a shared food memory. “How well I remember the pleasant afternoon when I was raised in bed with pillows for the first time, to enjoy a great tea-drinking with Charley!” (481). Both the communal act of drinking tea and the recollection of doing so carry healing for Esther. Yet this alimentary care is delivered not by Charley alone, but relies on a third woman: Esther’s beloved friend Ada, who prepares a tea-table for the event. Although banned from the sickroom per Esther’s strict infection protocol, it is the tea-table’s traversability that I want to call attention to, particularly its ability to move between and bind together three women of different social classes isolated in separate spaces of their home. For “nurse and patient”—and for their friend, relegated downstairs and off the page—the “great tea-drinking,” like the invalid recipe, connects the nodes in the care network and memorializes its collective labor.


References

Adelman, Juliana. “Invalid Cookery, Nursing and Domestic Medicine in Ireland, c. 1900,” Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, vol. 73, no. 2 (2018): 188-204.

Beeton, Isabella. Book of Household Management. London: S.O. Beeton, 1861.

Dickens, Charles. Bleak House, edited by Jennifer Mooney. New York: The Modern Library, 2002. 

Floyd, Janet and Forster, Laurel. “The Recipe in its Cultural Contexts.” The Recipe Reader: Narratives, Contexts, Traditions, edited by Janet Floyd and Laurel Forster. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2003. 1-11.  

Notaker, Henry. A History of Cookbooks: from Kitchen to Page Over Seven Centuries. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2017.

Schaffer, Talia. “Disabling Marriage: Communities of Care in Our Mutual Friend.” Replotting Marriage in Nineteenth-Century British Literature, edited by Jill Galvan and Elsie Michie. Columbus: The Ohio State University Press, 2018. 192-210.  

Sutton, David. “A Tale of Easter Ovens: Food and Collective Memory.” Social Research: An International Quarterly, vol. 75, no. 1 (2008): 157-180.  

Walsh, J.T. The English Cookery Book. London: G. Routledge and Co, 1859.


About

Dr. Bonnie Shishko is Assistant Professor of English at Queens University of Charlotte. Her research and teaching focus on the history of women’s domestic writing, especially the Victorian cookbook and the contemporary food novel. Her work on the recipe and its transformation into a mode of art criticism in the late-Victorian era is forthcoming in the edited collection Elizabeth Robins Pennell: Critical Essays (Edinburgh University Press, Spring 2021). She has also explored the connection between Victorian recipes and the national trend of baking bread during Covid-19. Her essay can be read here

Grandma Sloan’s Houska

By Lina Perkins Wilder

My family makes houska wrong.

Author’s mom’s recipe card.

Hoska [sic]

  • 2 cakes yeast
  • ¼ c lukewarm water
  • 1 c milk scalded
  • ½ c sugar
  • ¼ c shortening
  • 2 t salt
  • 4 ½-5 c sifted flour
  • 2 T fennel seed
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ c raisins
  • ½ c cut up almonds

In Czech, the word houska means roll, and as one might expect from such a pliant name, the bread has many variations. International cookbooks describe houska as a braided bread roll topped with seeds, salt, or cumin. All of these toppings suggest a savory rather than sweet bread. You can also find recipes for houska that are much sweeter and call for mace, coriander, or lemon zest. Some include citron peel or candied fruit in addition to the raisins. Marie, the proprietor of Little Prague Bakery, in Seattle, and an acquaintance of my mother’s, confirms that this sweet bread is normally called vánočka, but the internet abounds in Czech-Americans who inherited a recipe for a buttery sweet bread called houska. Marie makes vánočka at Christmastime in huge nine-strand braided loaves.

Our houska isn’t very sweet, but it is a Christmas bread (so Marie thinks it should be called vánočka). The recipe calls for braiding, but Mama always makes it in two large loaves. You can braid them, but it’s really too much trouble. It always burns. It is best eaten toasted, with butter and honey. It is flavored with fennel seeds. (Marie says that fennel would be too strong for her customers.) Our recipe comes from my great-grandmother, my mother’s father’s mother, Emma Helen Kolarik Sloan (1895-1992).  

Emma Kolarik was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Her parents, Wencil and Helen Zamastil Kolarik, immigrated to the United States, separately, from Bohemia, in the late 1870s. They got married relatively late, a second marriage for him, a first for her. Emma’s mother was almost 40 when she was born. The Kolariks weren’t religious. Emma got “saved” at a rally led by Billy Sunday.

She met Fred Sloan when he came by her home in the Czech neighborhood of Cedar Rapids. He was there selling sweet corn door-to-door using a few words of Czech that he had learned for the purpose. They married in 1919. They had two sons, Fredric (my grandfather) and James.

Emma had high cholesterol and was told not to eat ice cream, but she ate it anyway, in the kitchen, with the serving spoon. Like a lot of evangelical Christians, she was an enthusiastic Zionist. She sometimes said that her family was Jewish, but that probably isn’t true. Her son Jim liked to tell her Czech jokes, just to get her goat. Grandma Sloan made houska during Advent, in braided loaves the size of a cookie sheet. She would cut the loaf into three pieces and send one home with each of her sons’ families when they came over for Sunday dinner. She was 96 when she died.

Grandma Sloan’s short-term memory didn’t work very well during her last years. This is when I remember visiting her. On one visit, I was about ten and I wore my hair in two braids. The ends curled a lot more in the Iowa humidity than they did in western Washington, where the summers were dry. I stood in my braids in Grandma Sloan’s room in the old folks’ home. She greeted each of us, going around. “Oh and how are you? And who is this handsome young man? Oh”—coming to me—“she looks like me when I was a girl!”

A photo of the author as a baby with her Grandma Sloan. (L to R, it’s Heather Simko [the author’s cousin], Paul Perkins [the author’s father], the author, and Emma Sloan [the author’s grandmother].)

 

Mama made houska around Christmas, most years. I never liked it. I don’t like the taste of fennel.

I looked up houska recipes on the internet a few years back and thought that I had discovered the problem: in the recipe I found, the first step in making sweet houska is to make a sponge. My new recipe contained a full four times the sugar called for in Grandma Sloan’s recipe, twice the fat, and butter instead of shortening, mace and ginger instead of fennel seeds, and candied fruit peel and yellow raisins. I made the bread in the traditional braided shape. It was beautiful. It was delicious. It did not burn.

A photo of the houska made by the author.

 

I called Mama. “I figured out why the houska always burns! You’re supposed to make a sponge! So there’s less sugar left in the dough and it doesn’t burn!” Mama was less than enthusiastic. She read me her recipe over the phone. I wrote it on a recipe card along with notes about the new recipe.

A few days before Christmas this past year, I reposted a Facebook “memory” from 2017, a photo of Mama baking Christmas cookies with my two children. My sister commented asking for the houska recipe. My sister-in-law also asked for the recipe. I posted a photo of my annotated recipe card. Mama replied, “I sent a text with the recipe. Best eaten with butter and honey!”

With thanks to Patricia Perkins.