I went to a hands-on cooking class today. During the demonstration portion and subsequent one-on-one instruction, I was reminded how important those personalized tips are to the successful preparation of a meal. A recipe can give you the ingredients and order they should be combined, but few provide the level of detail necessary for a novice cook to be successful. For example, the recipe for a pie crust will tell you to pulse the flour, salt and butter in a food processor until incorporated. But as a novice, you have no idea what the “incorporated” consistency looks like…it’s pretty much a guessing game. And, to up the stakes on a new cook, not all recipes clarify the details that seasoned cooks take for granted. For example, the butter and water used for the pastry crust must be COLD and when you work the crust it’s strictly “hands off” to avoid warming the butter in the dough.
Even a seasoned cook suffers from omitted instructions when it comes to family recipes that have been handed down over the years. You may have Grandma’s handwritten recipes but unless you stood side-by-side with her (or someone who has worked with her), chances are your creation will not be quite right. Especially if your recipes include measurements like “add some X” without specifying how much “X” is needed.
I have to admit that this scenario has become a reality with the family favorites that my Mother has made over the years. Like many old-school cooks, Mom never measured anything. She just “put some”. I tried on a few occasions to guess how much she was adding but my attempts to duplicate were never successful. I wish I had spent more time trying to perfect her tried and true specialties. We have her recipes but not the special tips that make all the difference. Without divine intervention, we will not be able to resuscitate Mom’s recipes…they will be lost.
So, I am now on a mission to preserve the recipes of my husband’s family. Over Thanksgiving, when everyone is together, we are going to make a list of all our favorite recipes that we want to include in a family cookbook. Throughout the coming months, we are going to spend time cooking together and making revisions to recipes so those all important…CRITICAL…details that make reproduction possible are documented. I plan to scan handwritten recipes so they can be preserved within the pages of our book. Photographs of the cooking and baking sessions will also be included…our cookbook will be more than just recipes…it will become a new family heirloom.
First up will be my husband’s “famous” peanut butter balls. He makes them every Christmas and shares with friends. We’ve heard multiple reports of family feuds (especially with one particular family) because the annual allotment wasn’t shared equally. One year we learned that the Mother of this family had eaten all of the peanut butter balls but hadn’t told anyone. The kids approached us asking when we would be sharing our traditional gift for that year. What could we do? We didn’t really have time to make another batch…but we couldn’t tell the kids the truth. So we did the only thing a good friend would do…we made another batch!
Now it’s your turn to consider the “state” of your family recipes. I challenge you to consider making a family cookbook before it’s too late.