When this week's theme was announced, I cringed. I've never been much of a recipe-hound. Most of my recipes are jammed in a file and stuffed in a cabinet with my cookbooks, of which I only own four. But the more I've thought about it, the more I've realized the power contained in a simple recipe, power to create a place in the mind and heart that spans those human limitations of time and distance.
A familiar recipe--your grandmother's banana bread, or your mother's spaghetti sauce--can hurtle you into a virtual reality of places visited, celebrations enjoyed, friends and loved ones who've moved away. It's no wonder we call certain dishes "comfort foods." By incorporating sight, smell, taste, and sometimes even sound and touch, a recipe generates a living memory better than a photograph, a scrapbook page, or a message scrawled on the back of a postcard from some foreign locale.
As my kids have gotten older, they've started to ask for certain dishes on birthdays or holidays. They usually ask for the most mundane meals -- baked barbecued chicken legs, macaroni and cheese, etc. Those are the foods I've made repeatedly over the years, and for them those meals -- made according to my recipe -- hold that mysterious power of reviving the joys of childhood.
Our recipes will outlive us, sometimes by decades or even centuries. A dear lady now in her 80s shared with me her recipe for penuche. The rich, golden, fudgy became an instant family favorite. Every time I make it (I have to make it every year now) I'm reminded of her. My father's oatmeal raisin cookies, which I've never quite managed to replicate, and the French toast he cooked in an electric skillet on lazy mornings, stir up tender recollections of family breakfasts. And my mother's recipe for bread stuffing, made only on Thanksgiving and Christmas, sends me whirling through a mental slide show of Christmases past.
As we head into the holidays this year, the season of cooking and eating and sharing meals, think about those recipes you enjoy and what they mean to you. Pass those down to your children. My aunt has shared some family recipes with my kids this year that we will treasure. There's something special about taking your great-grandma's recipe for cornbread to a church supper. I never met my great-grandmother, but I can make her cornbread, and think about her and the time in which she lived and loved.
And in this season of economic belt-cinching, if you want to give someone a gift but can't afford something fancy, how about sharing a recipe? Not a wild, crazy one you copied off Martha's website with ingredients you can't pronounce or afford, but something you make that will remind them of you.
On that note ...
Serious question of the day: What's the first recipe from your repertoire that came to mind as you read this post?
Humorous question: If good recipes stir up good memories... what recipe would you like to delete from your memory banks and why? (Mine would be boiled yellow squash. Thanks, Mom.)