ROUND POND — It may sound like a clich?but Brenda Erickson’s paintings really do look good enough to eat.

That’s because they’re watercolors of favorite family recipes.

With titles like “Mom’s Spaghetti,” “MaryLou’s Fish Chowder” and “Merriam Family Camp Apple Pie,” Erickson’s work preserves memories of holiday dishes, grandmothers’ treats and just good old home cooking.

Each painting contains a favorite recipe written in India ink, along with images of either the ingredients used to make the dish or the completed dish itself. Sometimes the painting will include a favorite utensil, bowl or kitchen appliance that means something to the family.

In her home studio on the shores of Round Pond, Erickson opens her new book, “Kitchen Memories: Recipe Paintings with a Taste of Art” (Rocky Hill Publishing, $25), and points out a bottle of wine in a painting that represents a trip to France that the family who commissioned the piece took together.

Nestled among the tomatoes, garlic and other ingredients for spaghetti sauce are a peppermill, a favorite wooden spoon and a book labeled “Mom’s Recipes.”

Another painting is a recipe for whole wheat bread and includes a bag of King Arthur flour, a jar of Grandma’s Molasses, a measuring cup, an egg, a packet of yeast and a loaf pan. It was commissioned by a man whose mother baked bread every day when he was growing up. He fondly remembers smelling the bread baking when he walked in the door after school.

“They all have wonderful stories,” Erickson said. “As soon as I talk to the families, I say, ‘Tell me about your recipe.’ “

This is Erickson’s busiest time of year, when her customers want paintings and prints of their family recipes to give as gifts. Erickson charges $395 for an original, framed 11-by-14-inch watercolor. Prints are $35. Most people hang the paintings in their kitchen.

A dental hygienist, Erickson started making her recipe paintings about seven years ago. She always liked to draw and paint, and one summer, she decided to take some lessons. She loved it, “but I didn’t really enjoy doing trees.”

So she grabbed an apple and painted it. Then she took a bite out of the apple and painted it again. Fascinated, she did that six times until the apple was down to its core.

Then she went out to her garden and pulled up some onions and painted them. She was hooked.

The idea for her first recipe painting, salsa, came to her at 3 a.m. Then she did a whimsical “Maine Lobster Bake” with instructions that read: “Add a pinch of salt air. Blend with the sound of laughter. Mix with great company and good cheer. Serve on a warm summer night.”

“After I did those two, people started asking me, ‘Would you illustrate my recipe?’ ” Erickson said. “My first paid one was pierogies.”

Food can be difficult to photograph. Is it hard to paint?

“Cookies can be challenging because they’re little,” Erickson said. “Cakes are challenging. Trying to make the dill look like dill, things like that. And the fish, trying to make it have depth and translucency.”

Erickson has painted a lot of lobsters. She says she had no idea how different they all looked before she started paying such close attention.

Take, for example, “Mom’s Lobster Casserole,” which features a bottle of sherry, a box of rotini pasta, a chunk of cheddar cheese and a grater. (Instructions: “grate ’til you’re tired of grating; that will be enough.”) Out in front is a lobster that looks like it’s just been cut off in traffic.

“This guy, I had no idea how angry he was until I finished,” Erickson said. “Look at the expression. He’s a cull. He’s a one-clawed lobster. He’s an example of when I say, ‘I paint what I see and I see what I paint.’ I didn’t know he was angry when I was painting. I’m just looking and trying to get the eyes and the shadowing and again get depth. That’s why I don’t like to work from pictures, because you can’t get depth. You want it to look like you can take a bite.”

Sometimes the family brings Erickson the food they want painted, especially if it’s something unfamiliar to her, but often Erickson makes the dishes herself.

Yes, it can be tempting working around all that food. Cookies are a little dangerous because they tend to get eaten before the painting is done. “I’ve done lobsters before with bags of ice on top so I could eat them later on,” Erickson said.

Some of the paintings and prints end up becoming family heirlooms. One man and his sister wanted to pass along their mother’s clam pie recipe to their two children. They had a local potter replicate their mother’s favorite bowl, Erickson said, “and the children each got a bowl to match so they could continue to make it.”

Some of the recipes in Erickson’s book look delicious, which is understandable because favorite recipes are usually favorites for a reason – they taste good.

Others well, let’s just say they’re not likely to end up winning any cooking contests. But that’s OK. The families still enjoy the dishes, and they are serving up memories more than anything else.

Remember “Mom’s Spaghetti?” It’s made with garlic powder instead of fresh garlic, canned tomato sauce and four cans of tomato soup.

The woman who brought the recipe to Erickson told her it was the recipe her grandmother taught her mother to make when she was making dinner for her boyfriend for the first time. The mother and boyfriend eventually married, and because they lived on one income and had four daughters, the frugal recipe became a staple in their home.

Erickson’s customer and her sisters wanted to pass the recipe — now known as “Grammy’s Pasta” — down to their own kids.

“The woman I did this for, Amanda, knows what good spaghetti sauce is,” Erickson said, “but it’s the stuff she grew up with that she remembers the most.”

 

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: [email protected]

Follow her on Twitter at: twitter.com/MeredithGoad