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The Recipe Box: A Novel
by Viola Shipman

Published: 2018-03-20
Hardcover : 336 pages
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Recommended to book clubs by 3 of 3 members

"Filled with cherished memories and treasured recipes, The Recipe Box is a touching tribute to the women and food that unite us and connect our past to the present." ?Richard Paul Evans, #1 New York Times bestselling author

"An easy, delightful novel" â??Good Housekeeping

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"Filled with cherished memories and treasured recipes, The Recipe Box is a touching tribute to the women and food that unite us and connect our past to the present." ?Richard Paul Evans, #1 New York Times bestselling author

"An easy, delightful novel" â??Good Housekeeping

In The Recipe Box, bestselling beloved author Viola Shipman spins a tale about a lost young woman and the family recipe box that changes her life.

Growing up in northern Michigan, Samantha â??Samâ? Mullins felt trapped on her familyâ??s orchard and pie shop, so she left with dreams of making her own mark in the world. But life as an overworked, undervalued sous chef at a reality starâ??s New York bakery is not what Sam dreamed.

When the chef embarrasses Sam, she quits and returns home. Unemployed, single, and defeated, she spends a summer working on her familyâ??s orchard cooking and baking alongside the women in her life?including her mother, Deana, and grandmother, Willo. One beloved, flour-flecked, ink-smeared recipe at a time, Sam begins to learn about and understand the women in her life, her familyâ??s history, and her passion for food through their treasured recipe box.

As Sam discovers what matters most she opens her heart to a man she left behind, but who now might be the key to her happiness.

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.



Apple Crisp

Fall 1939

Alice washed her hands in the kitchen sink, looked out the window, and smiled.

The last of the dayâ??s light filtered through the brightly colored leaves of the sugar maples and sassafras, basking the kitchen in an otherworldly glow. One good storm off the lake, one sweeping windstorm, and the leaves would be gone, the trees would be bare, the orchardâ??s twigs and limbs just silhouettes, the land ready to hibernate once again.

But, for now, she thought, the leaves remain.

She smiled again.

As do the apples.

Alice could see two figures moving in the orchard.

â??Leo,â? she whispered to the kitchen window, unconsciously twirling her wedding ring. She watched the dog circle the man, its tongue and tail wagging. â??Oh, Mac,â? she laughed.

The angle of the sun cast their shadows down the hillside, their silhouettes making them look like giants. The man held a basket, and when he reached to pick an apple, the light made it seem as if he were hugging the tree, caressing its limbs, saying good night.

Just like he does with me, Alice thought, leaning even farther to look out the kitchen window.

Alice could feel the chill in the approaching night air creep through the gaps in the windows and the chinks of the old logs.

And as Mac circled Leo in delight, his barks echoing through the orchards causing birds to scatter, Alice turned on the oven to preheat.

She pulled a carving knife and pastry blender out of the kitchen drawer as well as a baking dish and a red speckled enamelware bowl from the cupboard. Then she arranged flour, sugar, and cinnamon on the old wood counter. She opened the refrigerator and reached for the butter.

Her husband came through the door and handed her a basket of apples. â??You donâ??t have to do that,â? Leo said, looking around the kitchen, seeing the items lined up on the counter. His smile, however, belied his words.

â??I know,â? Alice said, â??but I want to.â?

â??OK then,â? he said happily. â??Iâ??ll build a fire. Getting chilly.â?

He started out the door with Mac, then turned and said, â??We make a great team, donâ??t we?â?

â??Like cinnamon and sugar?â? she laughed.

â??No,â? he said. â??We made it through the Depression somehow, this orchard intact. Weâ??ve been married over thirty years.â? He stopped. â??We complement each other, bring out the best.â?

â??Like cinnamon and sugar?â? she repeated.

This time, he laughed. â??Yes, like cinnamon and sugar.â?

He and the dog went back outside, and Alice began to peel and core the apples, her knife pirouetting in quick circles, leaving curlicues of bright red and green skin in the bowl. She sliced and diced the apples, then started her topping.

She worked from memory. The recipe was ingrained in her mind. She had been taught by her mother and grandmother. This dessert was the familyâ??s favorite, the one everyone requested while the apples were fresh, ripe, and just off the tree.

But now everyone is gone, Alice thought. On their own, leading their own lives. She stopped. Away from the orchard.

As she tossed the apples in sugar and cinnamon, she no longer saw her hands but those of her mother and grandmother: knuckles that were beginning to resemble the sassafras trees out the kitchen window, the skin more and more like waxed paper. Alice didnâ??t like the look of her aging hands, but today she appreciated their beauty, their imperfections, their character and history.

How many times have I made this apple crisp? she wondered as she continued, not bothering to measure, just going by instinct: a dash of this, a little more of that, eyeing the topping to ensure it resembled little pieces of gravel, not too big and not too small. She stopped for a moment and did some quick math in her head: What, ten times a year multiplied by forty-six if I started baking at ten? Four hundred sixty times? How many times will I make this before . . . ?

The thought ended as her husband came rushing back into the house carrying an armful of wood and twigs for the potbellied stove.

She finished the dessert and slid it into the oven, setting an old timer on the counter. Within minutes, the scent of apples, cinnamon, and sugar filled the little cabin.

â??Smells good,â? Leo called from the front room, where he was sitting in his favorite chair by the stove, the dog curled up on a blanket in front of the fire. Mac lifted his nose and sniffed the air. â??He thinks so, too.â?

â??The dog knows his apples,â? Alice laughed. â??He should. Heâ??s named after one.â? She smiled at her two boys, their noses twitching with excitement.

â??Soon,â? she called. â??Be patient.â?

As Alice washed dishes, the sun slunk behind the orchard, and the world was quickly cast in darkness. The thought she hadnâ??t finished moments ago came rushing back into her mind as she studied the soapsuds on her hands. Suddenly, she flicked bubbles from her fingers, grabbed a dish towel to dry them, and pulled an index card and a pen from a kitchen drawer. The card said RECIPE at the top and was adorned, appropriately enough, with little apples. She had received these as a gift from her church and had kept them forever but never used them.

Until now.

She steadied her hand and began to write, her hand dragging over the wet ink as she imparted the secrets that had never been divulged before:

Alice Mullinsâ??s Secret Family Apple Crisp

A big smile engulfed her face, and she added an exclamation point at the end, giggling at the audacity of it.

Alice Mullinsâ??s Secret Family Apple Crisp!

And then she wrote, step by step, ingredient by ingredient, her beloved family recipe, adding her own directions: May call for a few more dashes of cinnamon, or If apples are especially tart, add another quarter cup of sugar.

When Alice finished, she realized her handwriting was the same as her motherâ??s and grandmotherâ??sâ??same slant, same formal Fs, and Qs that looked like the number 2. Again, she smiled and, as the timer went off, she gave the index card a little kiss.

She put on an oven mitt featuring a few scorch marks and poked the crisp with a toothpick. It came out clean, and she smiled.

Perfect, Alice thought.

She pulled the dessert from the oven, set it on top of the oven to cool, and started in on some homemade whipped cream, adding a dash of vanilla and whipping it until it formed a soft peak and was as pretty as a cloud on a northern Michigan summer day. Alice dragged a finger through the whipped cream and tasted it, and then did it again just for good measure, accidentally dropping a dollop onto the index card, the fat from the heavy whipping cream leaving an immediate circular stain in the middle.

No, she thought, trying to clean it off. Too late.

Alice shook her head and grabbed two plates and a spatula to cut the crisp. She placed a big piece on her husbandâ??s plate, the apples steaming and sliding to the sides, before topping it with whipped cream, which began to melt as soon as it hit the hot dessert. She made a second, smaller plate for herself and then joined her husband by the fire.

Leo dragged his fork through the crisp, shut his eyes, and smiled like a child.

â??You didnâ??t have to do this,â? he said yet again. â??I know,â? she repeated. â??But I wanted to.â?

Alice took a bite, sat back as the plate warmed her hands, the fire warmed her aching body, and the apple crisp warmed her soul, and watched her husband finish his dessert.

That is the thing about baking, she thought. You bake for someone because it is familial and familiar, new yet ancestral, a way of connecting generations.

Mac sighed and rolled onto his side. Leo lifted a fork filled with apples and streusel topping to his lips and again shut his eyes.

You bake for someone because it is an act of love, she thought.

A few days later, Alice walked into the kitchen after a day of working the orchard and raking leaves to find a small wooden box sitting on the kitchen counter. The wood was shiny and new, and it smelled as fresh as the outdoors. On the front was carved RECIPE BOX.

â??I made it for you,â? Leo said, startling her. He walked over and picked up the recipe card that was still sitting on the counter and slid it into the box. â??See? Fits perfectly. A place to keep your family recipes.â? He stopped and smiled, pulling a key from his pocket.

â??And secrets.â?

He continued: â??I added a lock, just so you can keep them a family secret. Here you go,â? he said, handing her the key. â??All yours.â?

Tears filled her eyes, and Alice grabbed her husband and held him tightly, the wool from his jacket tickling her face.

â??Everyoneâ??s gone from here,â? she said. â??Just us now. This orchard. And these memories.â?

â??Write them down,â? he said. â??That way, theyâ??ll never die.â?

â??Whoâ??d want to make these old recipes?â? Alice asked. â??My farm cooking?â?

â??Anyone with a heart and a family,â? Leo said. â??Our family.â? He stopped and said in a hush, â??Anyone who wants to remember.â?

â??Remember what?â? she asked.

â??You,â? he said, his voice husky with emotion. He kissed her cheek. â??Better get busy.â?

For the next few weeks, Alice wrote every recipe she could remember and filled the box with cards. She added the key to a necklace she wore around her neck, just to keep it near to her heart, and locked her recipe box up every night to keep her secrets safe and sound.

One night, her husband brought in the last batch of apples, and she made another crisp.

Alice guessed it was not only the 461st crisp of her life but also the best one sheâ??d ever made.

It would be her last. view abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

1) The Recipe Box is inspired by the author’s grandmothers’ beloved recipe boxes. Do you have a recipe box? What memories does it convey, and what does it mean to you?

2) The Recipe Box is also inspired by the author’s treasured family recipes. What are your favorite family recipes? Why are they so beloved? Do they have a history? If so, what is it? Does your family ask for the same foods to be made on certain holidays/occasions? If so, what are they and why?

3) In The Recipe Box, the author writes, “You bake for someone because it is a way of connecting generations … an act of love.” Why is food and cooking such a great generational and emotional connector? Why are they so important in our lives and the lives of our families?

4) Do you still bake with family? Teach younger generations how to bake? What’s that mean to you/them? Are we losing that connection?

5) Recipe cards – from the handwriting to chocolate-y fingerprints – have a history. But, today, we look online for recipes: From favorite food blogs to Food Network shows and Facebook videos. Do you have family recipe cards? Do you think we are sacrificing history for convenience today?

6) In the novel, the author didn’t share how cooking and baking a recipe can go off the rails (in writing this book, the author tested all of the recipes many times, and once – while tired after being on book tour – added curry instead of cinnamon, and also once burned a crust and set off the smoke alarms). Share a funny story about a recipe that went horribly wrong.

7) A main theme in the novel centers on the importance of home and history. Sam – the main character – can’t wait to move from her hometown and away from her family to start a new life and career. Many people today move from the areas in which they’re raised for college, job opportunities, marriage. Do you think that “home” and “hometown” has changed since you were growing up? And has America changed since you were growing up? How? Why? Is this harming our small towns and family histories?

8) Another theme in the novel centers on Sam choosing – her father believes intentionally – the wrong men in which to surround herself, personally and professionally. Do you know women who do this, or have you ever stayed in a relationship or job too long for convenience sake or because you felt stuck? Why?

9) Sam’s job working for a reality star turned celebrity chef is a nightmare. Have you ever had a nightmarish job? What was that like? Did you stay or quit? Did you ever have to stand up to a bad boss? What was that like? That said, Sam’s father turns down a wonderful career opportunity to run his wife’s family’s orchard. Have you or someone you love ever said no to a great job. Why? What was that like?

10) Willo, the grandmother in the novel, is turning 75. Although the orchard and pie pantry that she owns and runs is celebrating her birthday with a big party, Willo is content with aging, feeling as if she’s led a life “with few regrets.” How do you feel about aging? Do you have regrets in life? What are they, and how did they impact you and your decisions? Do you think American society has difficulty embracing aging with grace?

11) What are your other favorite books that feature food? What are your favorite cookbooks? The Recipe Box is set on an orchard that has a U-Pick and Pie
Pantry and is inspired by a place close to where the author lives. Do you have a favorite bakery, donut shop, or pie pantry close to where you live? Or a U-Pick orchard?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

Book Club Recommendations

Visit ViolaShipman.com
by Homewithatwist (see profile) 06/02/18
Her site has great book club questions. We were able to arrange a phone call into our bookclub with author Wade Rouse. He was very responsive to my email and a delight to share his insights with us when he wrote the book.

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
by Amy S. (see profile) 10/13/18

The Recipe Box is a fun, sweet read! It’s set on an orchard and brings you to a place that is comfortable and warm full of apple crisps and cherry turnovers. The Recipe Box is a delicious read!

  "easy reading with no thrills"by ELIZABETH V. (see profile) 02/02/24

My library, the Romeo (Michigan) District Library, has a program they hold every year called "Romeo Reads" in which a book is chosen to be read librarywide, and events around the book's subj... (read more)

by Patti R. (see profile) 03/15/21

by heather s. (see profile) 09/29/18

  "Charming and Endearing"by Melissa A. (see profile) 06/02/18

Our group loved this book. Full of nostalgic moments and descriptive settings of Michigan summers, makes you want to bake and plan a trip to pick apples! I cannot wait to read more from Viola Shipman.... (read more)

by Deanna B. (see profile) 05/31/18

  "The Recipe Box"by Elizabeth P. (see profile) 03/20/18

A recipe box for her thirteenth birthday? Is that what Sam really wanted?

Probably not, but it made her mother and grandmother happy so Sam accepted it and made her first pie.


... (read more)

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