My Oldest Sister and her Cookbooks

My sister, Pat

This is my oldest sister, Pat. Catching that fish says a lot about her. Intrepid.

She’s eight years older than me. I have three sisters (no bothers) but she and I were always put together because the other two are identical twins so they were bundled together. That’s how it is; don’t mess with nature. The twins are in the middle, Pat is the oldest, and I am the youngest.

I vaguely remember sharing a bed with Pat and I vaguely remember getting single beds, though her memories are not at all vague. We might not have shared a bed for long, but we shared a room for six or seven years, most of her teenage years. I was little, I didn’t care, but it must have been hell for her. Then we moved west and all of the sharing was over because we had our own rooms (except the twins; they had a bigger room, but liked being together. They still do even though they live six hours apart).


All grown up now, as we are, people decide their own way and Pat consults a cookbook and follows the recipe. If she likes it, fine. If it needs tweaking, then she has no problem changing it. She’s the sort who has stuff in margins of recipes she likes.

Historians call these notes marginalia and marginalia is always cherished. A scribble in a literary work gives insights into the mind of the author. The same for a cook. That’s where she makes the recipe hers. A piece of Pat’s mind is there for anyone looking.

Pretty Pictures

Our mother had some cookbooks but they usually didn’t have pretty pictures in them, or any pictures at all. Pat’s always do. I suppose if you were in the business of food picture taking like my friend Tracey is (soon to be ‘was’, as she is taking an early and well deserved retirement), then Pat’s cookbooks would look out of date, but thankfully the recipes are forever. Her choices made up the food she fed her family. The ones her three grown-up kids ask about: Do you put the fruit in first or how long do I knead it for?

The pretty pictures in Pat’s cookbooks are what make them good browsing – dumplings with one or two cut open so you can see the finely chopped mushrooms and leeks; cakes wedges showing the crumb; scones for high tea with Spode cups and saucers; cleaned fish with heads on a platter ready for the grill. And they show far away places with steep stairs and usually a sun-beaten old woman tending sheep. You know that woman is probably a really good cook since all she has done since she was a kid is tend sheep, look after the farm kitchen, cook, and clean.

I come across pages in Pat’s cookbooks that are greasy and sticky, favourites she returns to over and over. But some of her cookbooks, though they are fine specimens of cooking and photo art, there are no sticky pages. She says you’re lucky if you get one or two recipes from a single cookbook. She’s right. Cookbooks are like this, some speak to you, other ones don’t.

The Internet

Pat also consults the internet. It’s vast and new (to us), but she has her search terms like best ever (fill in the blank). She may take a screen shot when she chooses something, but for the most part she never revisits a recipe. No sticky pages, just a sticky keyboard.

And the Internet is handy for new diets like gluten-free or allergies. She’ll adhere to her guest’s food restrictions but still wants to make the best ooey gooey chocolate thing (or whatever) because she’s interested in showing people what good food is. She is on a mission. If I were her friend I would feel lucky to be invited to her place, or know that she is bringing something good to a pot luck. And she goes to a lot of them. She gets her juice (so to speak) from talking to people.

She is proud of her cooking, but she isn’t boastful. I’d say, she’s a classically trained Anglo-Canadian cook, which means she apologizes for and worries about her offerings – overcooked, too tough, too tart, too sweet, too anything. And, yet, whatever it is, it’s always good.