In every family, there is an iconic grandma or aunt who was the primary cook at the family gatherings but was never very precise with what was in the food and not clear on how to cook it. This is because she was keeping that mantle of “best cook” for herself, and you would have to pry that information out of her sweet little dead hands. God love her. She never needed help, but if she asked you to help, you had made it into inner circle. Her food stood the test of time in spite of changes in tastes, fads, or new dietary information. Change an ingredient? Add tofu?Use less salt? You may have just blasphemed!
Now, she could be making a classic like her potato salad, a Christmas dessert, or a cookie that everyone would ask for. Or looking at the buffet, a dish Uncle Stan would immediately be drawn to. Your mom would alway pointedly ask if you had some of Nana’s or Auntie’s revered dish. God help the first-time new significant other who showed reluctance to try it because of a dietary choice or without a doctor’s note. Oh, the long explanations that will have no chance of breaking through.
My Grandma Molly was like this. She was the baker at my Grandfather’s restaurant. She was an amazing baker and cook. When my daughter and I tried to recreate her recipes, we found that she left out ingredients or listed wrong amounts. Because she died suddenly, she never produced or gave anyone the code to decipher her recipes; we had to use trial and error. She was such a scamp. This was the start of my first cookbook, “My Daughter’s First Kitchen.”
The last part of the dance is the accolade part where everyone must give praise and thanks for Grandma’s effort and ask when she will finally pass on the recipe. She will explain that doing this for friends and family brings her joy. Now, as we have aged, it is our moms who have taken this roll as we now find ourselves chiding our children to praise the dish, or we try to explain that it’s always been done this way, and they try to explain today’s current food choices and fads ( as if that is at all relevant). Or worse, we are now the keeper or defender of the recipe. They don’t know the real scandal: we’ve already made changes to the recipe because they’ve stopped making the ingredients. But that is on a need-to-know only basis.