November 10, 2011

Cousin Beulah's Porcupine Meatballs

Cousin Beulah’s Porcupine Meatballs
We have an orange Rubbermaid card box filled with thirty years’ worth of recipes on index cards and clipped from the newspaper. The entire history of a family is contained in that little index-card sized box.
When I was a young woman, I graciously accepted recipes but secretly rolled my eyes and stuffed the index cards in the orange box. Each woman at a wedding shower brought me a special recipe from her family, and wrote a “helpful” hint on the card. Again, I smiled graciously, and stuffed them in the box.
Over time, I began to appreciate what I had initially rejected.
Not only filled with recipes for comfort and familiar foods, the orange box is filled with memories, history, love, and care.
There’s several “diet” recipes from my late mother-in-law, including “impossible coconut pie,” a mixture which begs the question, “What WAS she thinking?” There are recipes from the early days of microwaves, and tips on canning mincemeat from my grandmother’s church group. An article clipped out of the Sunday Evansville Courier and Press provides instruction on making a pound cake – for us it was more like six pounds and it broke the beaters of our mixer.
Tonight as we enjoy one of the last few warm days before inevitable winter, I pulled out the worn white index card with my mother’s handwriting delicately placed on it. “Cousin Beulah’s Porcupine Meatballs” is written at the top in Mom’s perfect elementary school teacher handwriting.
My mom was one of those people who knew the history of everyone in her family and in her life, and had a million friends. I don’t remember Cousin Beulah, nor am I sure I ever met her. I think she was from Michigan. But I’ve eaten her porcupine meatballs, a winter-time concoction of hamburger, rice, onions, tomato soup, and Worcestershire sauce, all of my life.
When my husband and I married, we came home to Indiana from where we lived in Florida for the big family wedding. After we got back to Tampa, my parents sent us a wedding card. My mother was big on writing letters, sending clippings, and cards, and for most of my life filled up my mailbox with comforting and often obscure items from home. 

Why she sent us a wedding card after we had been home for nearly two weeks is beyond me, but I’ve kept it all these years. Inside my mother wrote, again in her perfect Palmer-school handwriting, “We buried Cousin Beulah today.” That was it. No Happy Marriage, hope your honeymoon was great, nothing. We buried Cousin Beulah today. It still strikes me as very funny in a perverse kind of way, informative and yet terse.

Now as an adult I appreciate those connections to the past that my mother wove into our lives. Cousin Beulah, wherever you are, I love your meatballs. We are linked together by scant DNA and a fattening comfort food that tastes awfully good on a cold November night.