Thursday, November 18, 2010

Remembering through Recipes

If you've read more than one or two posts from me, it's not a secret I love cook...and to share recipes.  In fact, my love for recipe swapping led me to create a group on Facebook to do just that.  While I can browse my collection of cookbooks or scan recipes online, the best ones are from friends and family who make it over and over and know that it is good. 

Of course my favorite recipes are those that have been passed down from family.  Food can have such an emotional connection and just the scent of something simmering on the stove evokes a flood of memories.  When I cook a dish that was shared by someone I love, I think about them both while preparing and serving.  As we're eating the dish, I'm reminded of them, especially if they have passed.  It is a way to keep a part of them with us and feel connected to them.  That is what I love about sharing and passing down family recipes.

The best recipes are those that really don't have one.  This is especially true for favorite dishes of my grandmothers and of my mother-in-law, June.  Perhaps at one time they followed a list and measured each item with care but over the years it burned in their memory.  Maybe they tweaked it a bit here and there and made it their own.  To learn how to make a dish like that isn't something you can call and get or just copy from a card, you have to be there with them while they make it.  And that's the wonderful part!

I'm so thankful that I took the time and that June wanted to share her recipes with me.  I will always treasure those memories of being in the kitchen with her and watching her work.  Watching her frail and tiny hands mixing, folding and baking with expert care always mesmerized me.  I'd practice a bit with my copycat dish and frantically write down tips and bits while we cooked.  My recipes never came out quite as good hers, even if I followed her step by step.  She just had a secret and a way of giving a splash of love to all her dishes that I never could recreate.

However, now when I make a recipe of hers, it's as if I can feel her in the kitchen with me.  I can imagine her perched on my bar stool and that sweet smile she had.  As we enjoy the dish later, I know she's soaking up the moment and overjoyed we're remembering her in that way.  June loved nothing more than cooking for her family and she was never happier than to watch her boys and grandkids savor every bite.

Today someone asked for a dressing recipe and it immediately brought back wonderful memories of June.  This was one of the first recipes she taught me, after my husband insisted I learn.  He very nicely but sternly said one holiday, "Make it like Mom or not at all!"  It took several years to perfect it but I'm proud to say June approved it with a smile and a nod.  (Her health became so bad that I began to cook for the family on holidays a couple years ago.)  It's comforting to know that this year, as I prepare our Thanksgiving meal, I'll be able to carry on her traditions and share a little piece of her with our family - and anyone else I pass the recipe down to.


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