I have several friends who love food and cooking just as much as I do. They are creative people who have brilliant ideas for dishes and a penchant for finding The Best recipe for whatever food you may fancy. When we talk about food recipes we tend to share websites or screen shots so that we can chat about what we may improve or try. But often, we come back to the tried tales of dinner’s past. Our hearts and our stomachs pull us back through time until we’re standing in our grandmother’s kitchens stirring bowls or more likely, licking spoons. We see our grandmother’s looking at a 3 x 5 index card, or a worn notebook-not a website to be bookmarked later. “Here’s my grandma’s recipe, but I don’t know what she does to make it so good.”
Food is a hot topic with the holidays coming up and we’ve started to discuss what we’ll be making to feed our loved ones. Some of us now carry the torch of hosting, while others are still just junior executives in the kitchen. I am still the latter and am entirely grateful that my grandma insists on getting up very early on the holidays and making two of my all-time favorite foods: noodles and pecan pie.
Let me explain noodles. You know how some dishes are region specific? Well, noodles seem to be one of those things that when I talk about them with folks from outside the Midwest I get a ‘what.are.you.doing.’ response. (On further investigation noodles on top of mashed potatoes may also be a thing in Amish communities, so I’m assuming this goes back to carbo-loading farmers. And some people add peas?!) These are not chicken and noodles, although they’re cooked in chicken broth and have chicken in them. It is not chicken noodle soup.
These noodles are salt*, water*, egg* and flour* with a little yellow food coloring*, brought together and kneaded a little*, rolled out to the edges of the table*, cut, and added to chicken stock. You get the chicken stock by boiling an entire chicken until cooked. Add the noodles and pull the meat from the chicken to add back in. Put in that* crock pot on low and let them go to town until time to serve. Finished they sit in almost gravy, and they will congeal when they get cold.
That’s my grandma’s recipe. Those asterisks are things that I cannot define on my own. This summer I spent a few hours with my grandma trying to transcribe what exactly makes her noodles, noodles. I now have two pages full of a recipe plus technique and know the history to the mixing bowls that she has used for 60+ years to make them. I know that I will never be able to replicate Grandma’s Noodles and there is no website, no food blogger, or Michelin rated chef that could ever reproduce them. Objectively-they may not even be that great but they are my grandma’s noodles and the feed more than just my belly. The hands that execute the love into those noodles cannot be purchased at a local super market and that’s why I can’t just simply share her recipe and ensure that it’s The Noodles. (She broke my heart when she told me she adds a little yellow food coloring to brighten them up but I would have never thought to do that on my own.)
Oh, and you have to serve them on top of mashed potatoes. It’s a thing, it’s delicious, and if you know, you know.
(I won’t even get into the pie crust recipe. Grandmas make everything look so easy.)
In our world of access, what is being lost in the cracks? I recently came across this article that put into words my feelings about needing to capture the culinary history of my family (and perked my interest in some new careers, gastronomy program, anyone?) Not only is there something so important about having the food of our loved ones live on, there’s something to having it written down, in their own words-with all the little extra tid bits to help us long after we can’t ask them questions. Many food bloggers replicate this by adding story and answering comment feedback creating an electronic recipe box for many-but what about that index card I mentioned earlier that tells you what aisle grandma finds the ‘good’ brand of something? There much more to these cards- family stories, personal memories, it’s our way to find home again when you can’t go back.
I have a recipe box. It’s not full but it does have actual cards written by family members. My grandma’s salad dressing that I love, a friend’s Thanksgiving stuffing that I got sick of asking her for every year and finally wrote down, and some from our engagement party where we asked all the guests to bring a family recipe to share with the soon-to-be wedded couple. The connection to those cards means the world to me and I’m going to make more of an effort to actually write down and use the recipes. I want to keep up the tradition of handing out actual cards rather than weblinks so that someday, my great nieces or nephews may lament over my cookie recipe-but still have access to it.