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Secret ingredients

Agriculture.com Staff 07/06/2010 @ 5:04pm

With the mercury stuck in single digits in the Midwest, ice storms across the southeast, and snow extending from the Gulf Coast to the Pacific Northwest, it's been hard to escape winter.

If March goes out like a lion, surely we deserve full immunity for caving into our cravings for comfort foods. I'll be combing through faded, handwritten cards and vintage cookbooks for Mom's cherry cheesecake recipe.

My brother, Bruce, loved it. Over the years, my sister, Anita, has made cherry cheesecake for his July birthday. Recently he confided his doubts. "It's not quite like Mom made it," he says. "Do you have Mom's recipe?"

I can't find this recipe in Mom's handwriting. I suspect that it was in a cookbook. But which one?

My church cookbooks offer several recipes with a graham cracker crust, cream cheese, whipped cream, and cherry topping. Cherry Cream Crunch in the Pillsbury 14th Grand National Bake-Off Cookbook has one cup of coconut -- but no cream cheese or cool whip -- and it's baked for 15 minutes. That's not it.

Research shows that 60% of us say friends and family are our first resource for getting a reliable recipe.

Last year, a friend sent me a recipe tree letter. The goal was to receive 36 recipes. I sent it on to six good cooks who knew my friend's family well.

I only got one nibble -- too many stamps and complex directions! I did receive a French Onion Soup recipe from a Glendora, California, woman.

But I may have started my own recipe tree a few months ago when I wrote about apple butter recipes, Marilyn Glenn sent an e-mail saying that she makes hers in a slow cooker. That prompted Pauline Testina to ask for her recipe. Irene Reynolds also shared her solution to an end-of-the season green tomato surplus.

She dusted off a Piccalilli Relish recipe from the 1953 edition of Meta Given's Modern Family Cookbook. Summer Mincemeat came to her rescue from The Art of Pennsylvania Dutch Cooking by Edna Eby Heller, 1968. It combines apples and tomatoes -- no meat. (E-mail me and I'll share these recipes.)

Today a growing number of women prefer Web sites such as www.mixingbowl.com, a new social network created by our sister publication, Better Homes & Gardens magazine. You can join groups such as Cooking for 2, Cooking for Kids, and Healthy Eating.

In these waning days of winter, the empty pages of a Recipes to Treasure scrapbook silently rebuke me. If I look again, will I find Mom's recipe?

Maybe not. After all, Bruce was 22 years old when Mom died. Is a secret ingredient actually missing from the recipe? Or is it how the ingredients were combined with a mother's love?

Photograph: Greg Scheidemann

With the mercury stuck in single digits in the Midwest, ice storms across the southeast, and snow extending from the Gulf Coast to the Pacific Northwest, it's been hard to escape winter.

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