Family Recipes

I’ve been collating some family baking recipes recently in order to send to my daughter who is away at university. It’s been an interesting end of the year experience, finding recipes I’d thought I’d lost, and taking the mostly handwritten scraps and transcribing them into a legible, digital format that I’ll later print out and bind together into something more cohesive than the dishevelled archive I’ve managed to salvage.

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Along the way, I’ve been adding anecdotes beneath the name of the recipe, beside the list of ingredients, and even in the directions. The anecdotes provide a brief history of the recipe’s origin (whether it was gifted by a family friend or neighbour for instance), or insight about a particular brand of flour, when to add just that hint of liqueur, and little notes about the consistency of dough. As I write them, I’m realizing these little bits of extra information also tell a story about the people (in this case, my late mother, as well as myself) who’ve used these recipes to create these family treats.

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The recipes from my late mother are, for me, particularly special, not least because a few of them are written in her own, large and looping handwriting. But they’re also special because of what they don’t say. For instance, a typical recipe from my mother often consists solely of a list of ingredients. Like other women of her generation, you were just supposed to know what to do with those ingredients, and what temperature to bake them at. I find this trait of my late mother’s humourous and endearing. But the collection is intended for my child, whose view of baking is a little less chemistry, and a lot more improvisation (with predictably disastrous results), so some guidance is required.

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By filling in the gaps my late mother left, I realize I’m also adding my own voice into the mixture. In the anecdotes, I write things like, “This recipe is huge, so feel free to cut it in half. Grandma always thought she had to feed an army, which in some cases, she practically did!” Or another one: “Bake at 350F. I’d say about 12-15 minutes. You’ll know the cookies are done when they’re brown on the bottom, but DON’T walk away, because cookies burn easily!” I can already imagine that without the warning not to leave the kitchen, those cookies will get burned to a crisp!

So the collection I’m creating is, like the recipes themselves, annotated. And while we inherit family recipes from those who came before us, we also change them: add a little more spice, reduce the amount of salt or sugar, or perhaps bake them using entirely new flavours, orange-cranberry instead of banana, hazelnut instead of almond.

I don’t know what my daughter will ultimately do with the collection of recipes. Use some and ignore others. Change some by adding new flavours, or maintain the tradition and spirit of the original recipe, and bake as directed. But I’ll send her one recipe in my own handwriting, too: adding my stamp to what came before, leaving my voice for what’s to come.

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2 responses to “Family Recipes”

  1. Mansour Noorbakhsh Avatar
    Mansour Noorbakhsh

    Looks fantastic. Thanks for sharing.

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