By Elaine Rohse • Columnist • 

Rohse: Don't get between me and my recipes

I fear that I am a junkie.

My dictionary says a junkie is a person who derives inordinate pleasure from, or who is dependent on, something. My inordinate pleasure is collecting recipes.

Rohse Colored Glasses

McMinnville's Elaine Rohse is fascinated by words, books and writing - and spends much time sating that fascination.

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True, there are more deplorable habits, but no one wants to be a junkie.

Monument High School offered no home economic courses of any kind. I spent little time at my mother’s knee learning homemaking. Rather than making sourdough biscuits, I preferred to bring in the cows at night or gather the eggs or ride horseback to town to get the mail. At college, home ec classes were not on my desired list.

So, when I married not long out of college, I was ill prepared to serve up three nourishing, tempting meals a day.

Homer, an Air Force pilot, was then based in Arizona, flying bombardiers on practice bombing missions. His schedule was abominable. For two weeks, he flew mornings and we got up at 3:30 a.m. Eggs Benedict was not on his breakfast table, but I at least started him out with protein, fruit and many cups of coffee. On night schedules, he left for the base in the early afternoon and was home about 2 a.m. Always, I waited up for him and often four of us wives played bridge. The lonely evenings when I did not play bridge were the cause of my becoming a junkie.

As a newlywed, I wanted to be a good wife and prepare three wholesome meals a day. But having not even a cookbook, on nights when Homer flew and I did not play bridge, I started going to the local library. Instead of reading bestsellers, I checked out cookbooks. I began copying down recipes that sounded interesting.

They weren’t meat and potato recipes. I wanted to cook interesting and unusual things that might not have been on our Eastern Oregon table. I wanted to try gnocchi, mushroom tapas, baked Alaska.

One evening, Homer and I and another pilot and his wife were having dinner in Phoenix and it came to light that the favorite food of both husbands was pork chops. Suddenly, surprising even myself, I burst forth with an invitation. I asked our companions to dinner Saturday evening. I’d cook our husbands’ favorite food: pork chops.

Surely, Homer was as startled as I, but he was a plucky husband. He managed to stammer, “Yes, do come. We’d love to have you.”

Our friends said they’d love to come — and instantly, I was appalled.

I would be cooking my first company dinner and cooking pork chops for the first time.

But I wasn’t a total dummy. I’d been reading cookbooks. All I had to do for tender succulent pork chops was to be sure to cook them until they were tender. The night of our dinner, I cooked those pork chops until I was pretty sure they were tender. But I didn’t want to take any chances and didn’t want Homer to be ashamed of his wife’s cooking, so I cooked them some more, and then I thought, just to be sure, I’d cook them a little longer.

Not even steak knives would easily have cut those chops.

But despite shaming myself at my first company dinner, I made a discovery: I liked having company. This entertaining was fun. And surely anyone could learn how to cook. What I needed were the right recipes: palatable dishes that even I could master. I wanted to experiment and create. I bought a cookbook “The Joy of Cooking” — and a joy it was. I read it as avidly as if it were a Grisham thriller. I visualized cooking every dish.

With the end of the war, I began wholeheartedly collecting recipes. My habit was developing.

I joined Cookbook of the Month and almost every month ordered another couple of cookbooks. I subscribed to Sunset, Bon Appetit, Better Homes and Gardens. I saved every issue for its recipes. Eventually, those magazines filled up one side of our garage.

At restaurants, I begged the recipes for their gourmet dishes. When friends invited us for dinner, I begged recipes from our hostess — even for recipes she didn’t usually share. When we went to the state fair, and other such occasions, I took home all available recipe folders.

And then I realized I was indeed addicted: I started stealing recipes.

In a doctor’s waiting room, upon finding in a magazine a recipe I had to have, I stealthily looked about to see if anyone was watching and then carefully tore out that page and took home my stolen prize.

During this collecting, I learned that complexity of a recipe and number of unusual and expensive ingredients did not necessarily produce the most gourmet results. I loved the simple recipes that also could do so. Recipes such as for beer bread. For a time, everyone made beer bread. And Bisquick originated its “Impossible Recipes.” The “Impossible Coconut Pie” took only about 10 minutes and was special enough to serve to company.

Then along came Lester Cushman’s golf cookies that he first made and then shared with his golfing partners. Those simple cookies didn’t even require baking, but golfing buddies forever after hoped they would be playing in Cushman’s foursome if he brought that offering.

Over the years, my collection of cookbooks grew to voluminous size, to say nothing of my loose-leaf collection. As a recipe-collecting junkie, I needed to be able to find the recipe I wanted. I created files, loose-leaf files, notebooks, card files — plus unfiled recipes in paper sacks and boxes.

Perhaps it will be disheartening to other junkies who collect recipes, but I must warn that apparently one does not recover from this habit. My habit still must be fed, although these days I no longer cook. I eat dinner out every day, have cold cereal and fruit for breakfast; soup, sandwich, fruit for lunch — and still I save recipes. Just last week, I “borrowed” a recipe from a magazine in my dentist’s waiting room.

My kids, when I pass on, will be faced with disposing of some 250 cookbooks, boxes, sacks, notebooks and card files of recipes — but not even that deters me.

I fear that I shall forever remain a junkie. And to be truthful, that recipe collecting habit, for me, has been a delight.


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