Since I started this blog, I’ve had a couple of emails from family members to the tune of, “If you like, here is my recipe for ___.”
All I can say is, yay. In the past week, I have been offered recipes for jam, polenta, risotto, and bread, to name a few. This has made me think of recipes that I have made with family members: mom’s lasagna; my stepmom’s peach cobbler that, if I recall, has only four ingredients; Dad’s deer jerky; other Dad’s sesame chicken.
My great-grandmother on my father’s side passed away just over a year ago, and she was famous in our family for her ways in the kitchen. In particular, she made chocolate pie that would make you drool just to see it. Thankfully, a cousin of mine was interested and geographically close enough to learn many of Nanny’s recipes in her own kitchen before she passed. My grandpa has sent me a couple of her recipes, and I will be hounding him for more as the years pass.
My mom, I know, has expressed frustration in the past at not being able to reproduce some of her grandmother’s recipes. She tells a story about being on the phone with her grandmother, who was narrating her recipe for homemade biscuits. She instructed my mom to add milk to the mixture, and when Mom asked, “How much?” her grandmother replied, “Oh, just until it looks right!” For me, this highlights the ephemeral nature of recipes and of meals in general. After my great-grandfather passed away, my dad gave me one of the last jars of pear jelly he made. It’s been in my fridge, unopened, since he passed, because I feel like I should do something special with it. It shouldn’t go on toast while I have my coffee in the morning. Or should it?
I have a unique family. I have a mom, a dad, and a stepdad. I have six siblings, three to whom I am close, and only one of whom shares my last name. By extension, I also have more grandparents than a lot of people. I have family members whose only link to one another is me. In my stepdad’s family, there are five of us with four last names. I have a grandmother who lives thousands of miles away, but with whom I email pretty regularly. I learned at an early age that family is not predicated on blood, or geography, or nomenclature. Your family are the people who welcome you at their dinner table, no matter how long it’s been. I once heard my grandfather say, “If you claim us, we’ll claim you.”
Recently, Esquire magazine did a feature on Roger Ebert, who you may or may not know has, due to illness, lost the ability to eat and speak. In the article, Roger Ebert tells the interviewer about how he and his wife continue to go to restaurants for meals. Friends stop by and everyone converses, in a fashion. In discussing this article with a friend, she quoted another Ebert article, this time from his blog: “for me, unless I’m alone, it doesn’t involve dinner if it doesn’t involve talking. The food and drink I can do without easily. The jokes, gossip, laughs, arguments and shared memories I miss. Sentences beginning with the words, ‘Remember that time?’…. You don’t realize it, but we’re at dinner right now.”
Food not only facilitates conversation, but is often the occasion for conversation itself. We get together over pasta, coffee, dessert, queso, homemade cookies, frozen pizza, Chinese takeout, and the best sushi in town not to eat, but to experience each other. The food is good, sure. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t converse over it. But the food serves a greater purpose: it brings us together.
In much the same way, I am in conversation, or “at dinner,” in the words of my friend, with relatives who had no idea that I was a foodie, whose shared love of food was unknown to us both, and with whom I am not frequently in conversation. I am happy to have these recipes passed on to me, so that I can pass them on to you. I hope, as they get posted, you can enjoy them as much as I am sure I will. But even more than that, I am happy to be virtually “at dinner” with so many of my family members, and happy to take the time to share this blog like a dinner table. I can’t promise to make your recipes in anything resembling a timely manner, but I would love to try them, if only to share some time with you.