While I was in Boston in August, I found an awesome cookbook: <i>Our Founding Foods</i> by Jane Tennant with S.G.B Tennant, Jr. I was super excited about finding this book so that as I write about the American Revolution I can include some foody aspects based on the recipes from Martha Washington and other famous first ladies.
This wonderful book prompted me to write about how recipes (aka receipts) have changed over the decades since the beginnings of the United States. As a result of that blog post (which you can read on my website: www.bettybolte.com/blog.htm) several of my nieces requested copies of family recipes that I have, and for some of my own.
Typing up the recipes for casseroles and cookies handed down from my mother, grandmother, and several aunts was easy. But they also want my recipes. Hmmm. Recipe?
I cook by adding a bit of this and a dash of that to the meats and vegies. How do I relay the quantities of seasoning when I “eyeball” the amount of each ingredient as I add it? In fact, the seasonings vary each time I make my smothered chicken or pork chops. Meatloaf has a few standard ingredients, but then there are whims involved as well.
I’ve had to tell my lovely nieces that those “recipes” will take longer to pull together than the ones handed down to me. Which illustrates why so many family recipes are lost unless someone takes the time to quantify the ingredients.
For example, my smothered chicken. I start with frozen chicken breasts (for simplicity when I was working full time and had no time to defrost them) in a covered baking dish. Then I decide between a can of no-salt added diced tomatoes, a can of cream of mushroom/chicken/celery (pick one) soup, or both. Then I add grated parmesan cheese and seasonings – garlic, pepper, herbs. Like I said, the seasonings change with my whim and the time of year. Stir that together and pour over the chicken. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about an hour, or until done. Obviously, if you’re using thawed chicken the baking time will be reduced.
My daughter has her own variations to that recipe, sometimes including sliced black olives or nuts. That’s the cool thing about the recipe, though, it’s variability. But it’s also why it’s hard to capture it on paper with any amount of precision.
But do we need precision when it comes to recipes? Some people do, some people don’t. I think it depends on how comfortable you are in the kitchen.
Which brings me back to my title question: have family recipes changed as much as those in cookbooks? We still have unwritten recipes that we share with each other that have never been anchored on a page. Indeed, they are only written in my head.
Like my characters, the meals I make each day are ingrained in my mind but do not appear in any cookbook. That’s not to say I don’t use recipes – I do! For baking cookies and cakes and brownies; I can never remember the amounts of flour, baking soda, etc., and do not want to court disaster. But fixing dinner or breakfast or lunch is a much different enterprise.
What family recipes do you have that only exist in your head? Tell me in the comments and you’ll be entered in a drawing to win a $20 gift card to Babies-R-Us/Toys-R-Us! You’ll also be entered to win the Kindle Fire at the end of the month.(Note that only U.S. residents are eligible to win the Kindle Fire.)
The RWA Southern Magic chapter in Birmingham, Alabama, is hosting their annual Romance Readers Luncheon on November 3, 2012. This event is a celebration of people who read romances and everyone is invited. I’ll be there, along with many other writers, so I hope you’ll try to join in the fun! For more info and to register to attend, please visit http://www.southernmagic.org/luncheon.html.