Braille Brownies

FOR THE BROWNIES:

2 c. flour

2 c. sugar

1 c. butter

1 c. coffee

1/4 c. cocoa

1/2 c. of buttermilk  (“If buttermilk isn’t handy, use sour milk: add a tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to milk.”)

2 eggs

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. vanilla

1/2 tsp. salt

FOR THE FROSTING:

1/2 c. butter

2 tbs. cocoa

1/4 c. regular milk

3 1/2 c. icing sugar

1 tsp. almond flavor

PREPARATION NOTES

1.  Pretty hands unclasp the thick lid on a large Tupperware box. The hands drift inside, lifting out stacks of yellowed paper, which has been spooled onto silver rings. My great aunt Gloria’s fingers, gently wrinkled and beautifully manicured, consider the brailled headlines on each spool, sifting through decades worth of recipes recited to her by her mother, sisters, and daughter, Cindy.

2.  Gloria lost her sight as a young bride. She had just dropped out of twelfth grade to marry Fred, her high school sweetheart. He tuned pianos and she minded their two blond babies. Suddenly, she was struck with glaucoma.

3.  With blindness came the beeps. Lots of things talk in Gloria’s kitchen. My favorite is a small device with two metal prongs that hook over her teacup, which chirps once the cup is nearly full. She has mastered her domain through meticulous organization, diligent labeling, and a steel memory.

4.  At her kitchen table, Gloria is wearing one of her many coral-colored shirts. It brings out the blue in her prosthetic eyes. Cindy, now in her forties, is washing up the dinner dishes. Gloria considers a couple recipes for our dessert. “Cream squares—those are as old as the hills.” Pass.

5.  She spies—with her touch—some pages in: Brownies. Gloria insists that the recipe is ‘a real winner’.  “We would always bring these brownies to Tupperware parties and boy were they a hit!”

6.  A Tupperware party was a small social gathering where women could test and purchase Tupperware products within the comfort of a neighbor’s home. Beginning in the 1950s, the Tupperware company created a hierarchy of housewife distributors who traveled from home to home, demonstrating the latest in food storage containers. “You’d get a percentage of the sales if you hosted,” Gloria says, tucking the other recipe stacks back into the box. “You wouldn’t make any money from it but you’d get it all in Tupperware. I hosted tons! They were just rampant in my day.”

7.  Gloria reads the ingredients aloud. Our baking session is impromptu, and she worries we won’t have everything on hand. She reads with her index and middle finger, moving slowly over her own braille. Her eyes look forward, her mouth tight with concentration as she reads her contracted writing.

8.  “You put your flour and your sugar in your bowl, you’re going to stir that up real well.” Her fingers pull down to the next line.
A pause.
“Cindy, what’s this?!”

9.  Neither Cindy nor I can offer much help. Gloria frowns at her fingers.

10.  Gloria moves onto the next line. “Now this I can see very plainly! You put the wet ingredients with the…”

Pause.

11.  She offers her best guess: “Okay you’re going to put those wet ingredients in the pot…Stir wet until boiling…”

12.  But it’s no use. We can’t get any further. “It’s the technique that makes them good,” she insists.

There is no Tupperware party to attend anyway.

13.  The recipe returns to its box. 

Ali Withers is producing a short documentary on Fred & Gloria as part of her Master’s degree in film and video journalism at New York University.