I’VE LONG BEEN drawn to vintage recipe boxes at estate sales, and I am used to poignant scraps of paper tucked into them along with the recipe cards — they so often served as an intensely private spot to preserve newspaper clippings and notes from friends. When my mom died, I left to the very end her cookbook cupboard and recipe box. Even more than sorting through the board games and record collection, the recipes created an absolute storm surge of memories.
There’s the Better Homes & Gardens dessert cookbook from before I was born, with its absurdly gaudy cover. Its pie chapter is so well-used as to be almost illegible, which I’d expected. I’ve shared recipes for bourbon pecan, rhubarb orange and green tomato pies in these newspaper pages, and I don’t recall a single family holiday that didn’t involve at least one pie for every person present. The book is also the reason I begged Mom for baked Alaska for my 10th birthday. She was vastly more interested in her career, travel and volunteer work than in cooking, but she enjoyed occasional grand culinary gestures, and by the time she prepared that fussy dessert, I was making family dinner regularly, along with my breakfasts and lunches. The book’s binding is disintegrating; its photography is gruesome by today’s standards; and, for me, it’s an absolute treasure.
The program from Julia Child’s 1978 event at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral was tucked in the back of that book (Mom already had given me the cookbooks Child had signed), next to pages from this publication in 1989. Those pages feature another well-used pie recipe, alongside a list of regional restaurants known for blackberry pie. Some, like Duffy’s in Aberdeen and Village Taphouse & Grill in Marysville, remain open.
Beyond hard proof of the multigenerational pie obsession, I was thrilled to uncover recipes from everywhere I was raised. There’s the “Virginia Hospitality Cookbook” from Hampton Roads, the Washington Fryer Commission’s “Cock-a-Doodle Cookbook” and several booklets by the American Mushroom Institute — my hometown, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, is known as the Mushroom Capital of the World. (Fellow Taste contributor Rebekah Denn lived nearby, in Hockessin, Delaware; as adults, we’ve bonded over the bentwood hampers that mushrooms were sold in, along with regional candies, like Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews.)
Mom made these Pickled Mushrooms just twice: the first time for a cocktail party, and the second for the same party after I secretly gobbled the entire jar. Whether she forgot she had the recipe or wanted to avoid me adopting a strict pickled-mushroom-only diet, I’ll never know. What I do know is that they’re as splendid now as they were in my memory — silky from olive oil, tangy from vinegar and fantastic on an antipasti platter. Rediscovering them was a delight that far surpasses the nostalgia trip of the other books, and confirmation that not even Lightners live by pie alone.
Makes about 1½ pints
This isn’t hot-processed, so any 20-to-24-ounce lidded bowl or jar works. Choose one that lets you pack your mushrooms tightly. Use the smallest mushrooms you can find, with tight caps that show minimal gills.
½ pound small cremini or button mushrooms (15 to 20)
2/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1/3 cup water
1 tablespoon minced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon oregano leaves, crumbled
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon chili flakes
1. Wipe mushrooms clean as needed, and trim the ends of their stems. Place in a heatproof quart container with a lid, and set aside.
2. In a small saucepan set over medium heat, combine oil, vinegar, water, onion, garlic, salt, oregano, pepper and chili flakes. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes. Carefully pour hot liquid over mushrooms. Cover, cool to room temperature and refrigerate for at least two days before serving. Serve cold or at room temperature. Best eaten within 1 week.
— adapted from the American Mushroom Institute