“Purple Stuff”

We all have favorite recipes and the best of us know them by heart; alas, I am not among the best. I have to read and re-read whatever I find myself making in the kitchen except for chocolate chip cookies. Thankfully for the family, my time in the kitchen is minimal; my husband is the cook, the creative, and the one who does not measure. To me, the whole experience is too much like chemistry lab: I cling to the directions and, like caffeine extraction, hope I get some product.

But I digress. I spent significant time this weekend searching for a recipe, thus far elusive, for “Purple Stuff.” This is a wonderful concoction enjoyed in two families of cousins throughout growing up time in the Midwest. Often put forth at Thanksgiving, there are embarrassing pictures of me with near platefuls of the whipped topping, bing cherries, pineapple chunks, marshmallows, and, well, that’s as far as I’ve gotten in remembering its constituents. Perhaps the Internet will help me save face, since it’s the creator of “Purple Stuff” now asking me for the formula.

My kitchen cookbooks are an archeological dig. Although I don’t do any cooking to sustain us, you’d never know it by the cookbooks and artifacts within them. They show a trail of geographic locations:  cookbooks from Meredith Hall, Purdue, and the foods course I took there I thought would help. Other books represent our sojourns in the southwest, Moosewood locales, England (gifts via the in-laws), and several volumes of Southern Living recipes donated by the American parents.  A Silver Palate tome looks good on the shelf, and typical for what I think I practice: “concept cooking.”

The notes and clippings within these books also testify to the past. A cryptic note on a goulash recipe says, “got to here, 5:15pm” Another says “bottom rack needs 50 more.”  Degrees, or minutes, I wonder. Here’s a favorite index card: “PACI in here, B. milk in fridge.” I leave that to your imagination.

We keep these mementos because they are part of us. Real meals or concepts, looking back upon them offers us a chance to bring back happy times.  And while the Web might produce the foamy salad I seek,  I will also keep looking for my well worn index card.  It’s written in the hand of someone dearly loved, and when I see it, I’ll also see all of us gathered around the table on a frosty November evening, giving thanks.

…Pause.  Didn’t I make “Purple Stuff” when I flew home to surprise the family for Thanksgiving, 2005? Maybe I took that card with me…

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