In response to my last post, my dear friend gb came out in defense of recipe mystery (and consequently, my in-laws) by saying that he rather likes the idea of saying, “wow, this is great (fill in the name of food stuffs here), but it’s just not like (fill in the relative) used to make.” He queried for an intellectual argument in favor of free recipe swapping and I fear I cannot offer him one. What I offer instead, is my defense of sharing recipes freely.
No matter how a recipe is passed down, there are just some people who are better at making it than others. Getting the list of ingredients doesn’t mean anyone can be a whiz with them. No matter how to the letter I follow recipes in cooking magazines and cookbooks, my dishes never quite look the same as the ones featured on those glossy pages. I have the exact same fixings and combine them all in the exact same way, and yet somehow something is always lacking. I think this is true of family recipes as well. Anyone can follow a simple recipe. What makes it something to talk about at family gatherings to come I feel has far more to do with the actual person who prepared it than the recipe scribbled down and passed on to a new generation.
My grandmother made the best scrambled eggs in the world.
As part of the custody arrangement, I got to spend six weeks out of every summer with my dad. During the rest of the year he’d save up as many vacation and sick days as he possibly could and spend them all with me. Despite going to work with colds and missing outings with friends, there were always days he had to work. On those days I got to go to my grandma’s house. My dad would drop me off early. He wasn’t much of a cook, so he took me over on an empty stomach.
As soon as I’d walk in the door I’d head to the back of the house and plop down on one of the brown vinyl kitchen chairs. Mine was the one closest to the wall. My grandmother would get out the eggs. She’d hand each one over to me and let me crack them on the side of the little green bowl. I had to be super careful not to get any eggshell in, but if I did, she never scolded or sighed. She never even let on that she’d seen it happen. She’d turn the bowl around and the shell would be gone. She’d grab a fork and start whisking wildly as I leaned over to turn the TV on. In mere moments the eggs would be on the stove cooking.
In retrospect what made those eggs great probably had little to nothing to do with the actual eggs. There were no special spices. No fancy mushrooms. Not even a hint of cheese. Just a plate full of scrambled eggs served on the white plates with the light brown floral pattern I watched reappear with each bite. What made those eggs delicious was being able to put as much salt and pepper as I wanted on them. It was spreading my toast with jelly instead of plain old butter. It was the tiny black and white TV with a dial that claimed to get 13 channels, even though we both knew on a good day only 5 of them came in. It was guessing along with contestants on The Price is Right and Press Your Luck. It was rattling the pencils in the painted coffee can, looking for the ones I’d gotten her as presents to add to her collection. It was the smell of bacon grease. It was the taste of ice cold whole milk straight from my plastic Kool-Aid man cup, which resided in her cabinet just for me to use. But mostly, I think it was my grandmother, sitting across the table, eating her eggs right along with me, asking me how I was and really wanting to know every detail of the answer, even if she’d heard it a hundred times before.
I lost my grandmother to cancer about seven years ago. I’ve never had scrambled eggs that good outside her tiny kitchen. The closest I came was in the hospital, the morning after my son was born. Again, I don’t know if it was the eggs themselves or the euphoria of holding my son in my arms.
All I know is that one day I hope I can make scrambled eggs half as well as she did.