When I first started helping people communicate with earthbound spirits and helping those spirits cross over, I had very little to go on. At first, my grandmother was always with me because I was just a child, but because Grandma didn’t have the same ability as me, she wasn’t really able to give me much insight into how I should go about things. Along the way, I picked some things up myself, was told some things directly by the spirits, and had my abilities extended by whatever Power gave me this gift in the first place.
One of the things I picked up from my own experiences was to always take a notepad and pen with me into every job. It seems so obvious now, but back when I first started doing this in earnest, it didn’t occur to me. Usually the spirits were family members and I could just pass their messages on directly, or they were completely unrelated, and, to be frank, no one really cared what they had to say as long as they said goodbye and left them alone.
Bess was the spirit who taught me to keep a notebook and pen with me at all times, and she was also the first ghost to ever give me a recipe. I’d never thought about lost recipes until Bess either. In hindsight, I should have expected both things: the need for paper and pen, and the need to pass along recipes.
Food is everywhere. We have to eat to survive, if nothing else, but for most of us food defines our days. Morning is the time between breakfast and lunch; afternoon comes before dinner. Yet eating is much more than survival or a way to break up the day. It is a social experience. We conduct business lunches, we raise money with pancake breakfasts, and we share the day’s events with loved ones over dinnerand it wasn’t too long ago that eating was only half the experience. The other half was preparation. The size of the kitchen used to be much more important than how much space the living room had for a home theater. It used to be that an average kitchen had stove tops crammed with pots of simmering soup stock, drying racks holding freshly baked bread, and chopping boards festooned with chopped vegetables.
Times have changed. In this new age of toaster-pastry breakfasts, power lunches, and fast-food dinners, eating has become a chore and cooking is considered a hassle. Even so, most of us still define good times and good memories with food: the cookies a favorite aunt baked, or the chicken soup you always had at Grandma’s. I’m sure somewhere out there, some people even fondly remember the aroma of a nut roll made by a woman named Bess.
Eleanor, the woman who called me about Bess, lived alone. Her husband had been dead for years, and since then Eleanor had become more involved with the church. That’s where Bess first ran into herwhen she was alive, I assumed. Eleanor loved to bake, and her specialty was nut rolls. There was only one problem, as Bess explained when I got to Eleanor’s house: She can’t bake worth a tinker’s cuss.”
Bess must have been 80 when she died and she was actively trying to get Eleanor to stop baking her nut rolls: She’d blow out the pilot light on the stove, she’d steal key ingredients, she’d put the butter that Eleanor had left out to soften up back into the fridgeanything she could think of. I couldn’t fully understand it. Eleanor was actually baking the day I went out there, and the house smelled delicious. She goes around giving those nut rolls of hers away, and everyone just throws them out. I mean, look at them!” Bess offered, motioning to the cooling rack where Eleanor’s signature nut rolls were. I turned and gave them a harder look, and Bess was right. They might smell good, but they sure didn’t look good. They weren’t roll-shaped, for one thing, and they looked more pasty than golden-brown.
What?” Eleanor wondered, seeing me turn to look at her baking. What’s the ghost saying?”
Fortunately, I do not have to talk with earthbound spirits out loud. For me, the whole conversation takes place in my head. That has saved me a lot of heartache over the years because it allows me to filter what the spirits are saying. Not that I ever make up things or put words in their mouths, but I can soften the blow when need be. Some ghosts - just like the people they were in lifehave very little tact. The things they say can be mean and hurtful, even if they didn’t mean them that way. So talking to them in my head gives me the chance to rephrase things and be more polite, sometimes even more diplomatic.
Oh, we’re just talking about baking,” I replied carefully. I didn’t quite know how to tell this sweet old woman that her special nut rolls were so bad most people threw them away the second she’d gone. One glance around her kitchen told me that Eleanor derived a lot of pleasure from baking. Do you only notice things happening when you’re going to bake?” I asked, turning back to Eleanor. Yes.”
Well, Bess was a baker, too,” I said. So that explains that.”
Does she like my baking?” Eleanor asked hopefully.
Tell her I like her cooking,” Bess said. ”She makes good meatloaf and decent chili, and her stew doesn’t look bad. She just can’t bake. Can you stop her from baking?”
No,” I told the ghost. ”It makes her happy. I’m not going to tell her that, and once I’m done here, you won’t be able to bother her anymore. So you might as well go into the White Light once I’ve made it for you.”
We cook because of that connection to food that is always there. We want to cook for sustenance and joy. What I’ve learned over the years in talking with spirits is that this connection with food is not broken after death. In fact, some spirits become earthbound because of food. Perhaps there’s a recipe they didn’t intend to take to the grave, or that was passed on incorrectly, and they need to make sure it survives. Maybe they don’t like a relative’s cooking and are literally haunting them in the hopes of correcting the error. Sometimes they even understand that food can heal in little ways, but only if it’s prepared correctly, with the love and attention and ingredients that should go into every dish. Eleanor certainly had the love and attention to put in her nut rolls; she just didn’t have a good recipe.
Her nut roll recipe really is just awful,” Bess almost pleaded. How about I give you my nut roll recipe for her to use?”
So?” Eleanor cut in. What’s she saying about my baking?”
Oh, nothing much, I replied. Do you have a pen and paper? She’s so thankful that you called and got me out here to help that she wants to give you a recipe - her recipe for nut rolls.”
A secret recipe? Eleanor breathed, her eyes widening and sparkling. She got up breathlessly and fetched me something to write on and with.
I don’t know if it’s secret, ”I answered truthfully. But this is the first time a ghost has ever given me a recipe.”
Eleanor smiled broadly, and I could see it in her eyes that this one secret” recipe summed up for her everything she remembered from her childhood about her family’s cooks, and all the secret” recipes she wished she had now.
I also have fond memories of the wonderful smells that always came from Grandma’s house. On my mother’s side - the Italian side - it was Grandma’s spaghetti sauce and Grandpa’s pizza. There was homemade wine, with the fragrant aroma of grapes always drifting up from the basement. On my father’s Bohemian side, the food was heavier but just as memorable and delicious: nut rolls and doughnuts and the weighty scent of yeast and hops for Granddad’s beer. Visits were little more than one long excuse to eat and drink and eat some more. The food never ran out, and the beer and wine flowed in an endless stream.
That was the era, though. The women usually stayed home and kept the house, and the week was divided into chores around that: Monday was laundry day, Tuesday was for ironing, Wednesday for cleaning. But Saturday was for cooking and baking for the next week, so when we visited, there was always something fresh and delicious to be had. Cooking, baking, preparing food - that’s just the way it was.
Now we try to pack all those food-related memories into holidays, and we spend a week off work trying to cook from scratch without really knowing what to do. We follow recipes designed not for taste and nutrition, but for efficiency and show. We try to cram everything into one or two special meals, or one big meal a week, and invariably something goes wrong or the food doesn’t come out right or it just doesn’t taste like you remember it tasting when Grandma made it.
This book sets out to right those wrongs that so many earthbound spirits have perceived. These aren’t recipes from TV or created to highlight some trendy ingredient. These are recipes so beloved that the living asked me to get them before a loved one crossed over, or so meaningful that a loved one wanted to make sure it was kept by those they left behind. These are simple dishes from typical homes with basic kitchens, from all over the country. Some recipes are what we’d now call ethnic, while others are tried-and-true recipes with unique twists that add so much to the flavor. The best part is, they can’t help but also inspire the kind of love and attention that fills homes with mouthwatering aromas and creates long-lasting memories for guests.
These are recipes for some of the best home-cooked meals you can find, because they actually came from homes: straight from the kitchens of the mothers, grandmothers, uncles, and grandfathers who prepared - and perfected - them over a lifetime. We say it’s difficult in our modern society to find the time to make a fresh soup, but we still feel like we should try, and for good reason. Nothing will ever beat a home-cooked meal for nutrition, value, and satisfaction - that’s one thing every spirit who has passed on a recipe from beyond agrees on.
Eleanor called a few weeks after my visit and after Bess had crossed over. She was overjoyed but also circumspect. No one had ever asked for her nut roll recipe before, but since she started using Bess’s recipe, suddenly people were, and she didn’t know if she should give it out. In the end, she figured it should remain a secret recipe - but I found out much, much later, when she died herself, that Eleanor shared her secret recipe with almost everyone in the parish!
And now I’m passing on all these secret” recipes to you. I think you’ll agree with me that everything in this book is beyond delicious.