Perhaps one of the reasons I find it difficult to part with some of the things in my parents’ estate is because it is such interesting stuff.

I didn’t know what a fiddlehead was until a few short weeks ago when my friends, Mary Lynn and Burley, were showing me plants they had found in their back yard. One of the tall plants was a fiddlehead, and I was sure I had seen a recipe for fiddlehead soup in one of Mom’s books.

Sure enough, I searched the collection of booklets and found the recipe in a 1972 Farmer’s Almanac.

I am also the new owner of a Norge Frozen Food Digest as well as the GE Combination Sandwich Grill and Waffle Iron Owner’s Manual which probably date back to the 1940s.  

My mother’s vintage cookbooks could launch me into a new career as a recipe columnist. As far as my qualifications, I’m probably overqualified with suggestions on how to get out of the kitchen fast and not so qualified to share with those who have a passion for cooking.

But isn’t it a grand idea – for you cooks who know your way around the kitchen – if I just gave you ideas from the olden days? Like Mulligatawny Soup from the New Horizons in Gas Cookery book.

This new recipe book of mine is copyrighted 1939. Although it is a free book prepared by the Home Service Department of the Ohio Fuel Gas Company, I found a price of 35 cents within the book.

My parents were married in 1947, so this book was already eight years old when Mom started up housekeeping. My dad began working for the hardware store in 1939, so it was probably his complimentary copy.

The cookbook is in mint condition – a sure sign it was never put to good use. I will have to make the Cabbage with Mustard Sauce since I missed out on it as a child.

Mom would often tell us she didn’t remember what meals she made and would ask, “What did I make for you kids?” Those years were apparently one big blur for her. I told her I remember meatloaf. She made scalloped potatoes with smoked sausage pieces. And ham and beans. She made cherry dumplings which we considered a main dish.

In hindsight, my siblings and I think our meal portions were fairly small for there were so many of us. But none of us remembers being hungry. We probably headed outside after the dishes were done and food wasn’t much of an issue.

When my grandson Dean was four years old, he was at our dining room table with the rest of us for supper. After he had taken a bite of his meal, he turned to me and, as any four-year-old would do, boldly stated: “This is the best soup ever.”

Taking on a bit of a royal tone, I replied, “Why thank you.”

Deano responded with an equally royal gesture as he bowed and stated: “Your Highness.”

He made us laugh. A lot. When the laughter died down, he suggested we do a reenactment of our little exchange. Every time we repeated the words, the laughing started again. It’s always good when tears of laughter cause someone from the table to search for the nearest box of tissues to bring back and share with the rest. 

I don’t know if I remember anything that happened at the age of four, but Deano will always remember complimenting his grandmother about the best soup ever. I think it was the hot cheese on top of it which helped it earn the title of the best ever.  

An odd thing about the soup was the fact it was a simple pot of chili I had quickly thrown together. There wasn’t much of a recipe, and it made me think I must have opened the right combination of tomatoes and beans to stir together.

Chili may be a simple main dish; nevertheless, I’ve recently heard a few cooks say they’ve never come across a keeper recipe for chili. My daughter Teri had asked if I would type the recipe, which we named “Deano’s Chili” with the subtitle “The Best Soup Ever.” Those who have tried it were in agreement it was quite simple, and would dare not be in disagreement regarding if it really was the best soup ever. I decided to share his keeper recipe:

Ground beef, 2 pounds

Celery

Red pepper

Onion

Tomato sauce, 15-ounce can, organic

Diced tomatoes, 28-ounce can, organic

Kidney beans, 1 can, organic

Chili powder, 2 tsp., organic (add more as desired)

Real Salt to taste 

Pepper, organic, to taste

Cheddar cheese, Heini’s brand raw milk unpasteurized, available at Two Brothers in Montpelier

Sour cream, organic 

Fry the ground beef. Stir in diced celery, red pepper, onion. Gently fry. Drain.

Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, kidney beans, chili powder, salt, and pepper. 

Top with shredded cheddar cheese and sour cream as desired.

I buy canned tomatoes with nonBPA-lined cans. There are times we have stirred in a can of organic baked beans.   

I recently came across a recipe for chili which the author stated is a knockoff of Wendy’s chili. The ingredients include the following which you may consider adding to your best soup ever:

1 tsp. ground cumin, 1 ½ tsp. garlic powder, ½ tsp. dried oregano, 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper.

I haven’t tried my new recipe yet for Cream of Fiddlehead Soup from the 1972 Farmer’s Almanac, but it looks easy.

The recipe tells us to cook the fiddleheads in a little salted water about 10-15 minutes (depending on size). Drain. Reserve liquid, and chop the fiddleheads. To each cup of fiddleheads, add:

1 chicken bouillon cube, dissolved in reserved hot cooking liquid

1 cup evaporated milk

2 tablespoons butter

1/8 teaspoon pepper

Pinch of marjoram

Simmer just a few minutes.

Using organic chicken broth to cook the fiddleheads would eliminate the need for bouillon. There are many online videos for Fiddlehead Soup, one of which is basically a potato soup recipe with fiddleheads added. Asparagus can be substituted if fiddleheads are unavailable.

If ever I ask my daughters, “What did I make for you kids?,” they will remind me they liked chicken a la king. Porcupine meatballs with mashed potatoes and corn. They will remember the scalloped potatoes with smoked sausage. And ham and beans.

My daughters can make the best Kindergarten Sugar Roll-out Cookies, which tells me I did teach them something after all.

As I look back, my cooking skills have gone as far as I desire them to go, and I will be content knowing it’s the small things that take up the most room in our hearts. Things like simple meals and family laughter.

Perhaps the only thing we grandmothers need to remember is we really do make the best soup ever.