Kipling promised respect to those who “can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you.” He was talking to me. And he was talking about the Marie Kondo tidying movement. (We won’t talk about who’s doing the blaming. And we won’t talk about Swedish Death Cleaning, as in “Would it kill you to get rid of some of this junk?”)
I’ve been struggling to keep my head above the rushing waters, but it’s hard to swim against the tide of a popular craze. Recently when I felt myself sinking, I found a rock and a convenient branch I could grab on to. I could tidy up my recipes.
I could gather them into one spot, eliminate the ones that did not bring me joy, and organize the rest. Actually, the idea even made sense. After all, these recipes were my legacy in a way. Some were the very recipes that I had held hostage from my children after they first left home. I had been afraid if I handed them over in written form, I’d never hear from the kids again. Granted, it was a gamble that sometimes meant a phone call in the middle of my sixth hour class asking how to make “that chicken in the red sauce stuff with noodles.”
Unfortunately, on my way to doing the actual, physical culling and collating, I became temporarily distracted considering some of the less recognized categories into which my recipes could be sorted.
Comfort Recipes: No doubt this category was suggested by the great sheets of clean snow visible out our kitchen window and the fluffs of fat flakes drifting down to join them. A pair of cardinals shared the bird feeder, scarlet and rust against the white. It was a vista that whispered “hot cocoa.” I thought of the homemade cocoa mix snuggled into my first piece of genuine Tupperware my older sister gave me when I left for college. Nothing says adult like Tupperware. The handwritten recipe card she included is still in the little oak box on my counter. But a comfort food category could be problematic. My “yum” is the next person’s “yuk.” Not all comfort foods are sweet, but the aftertaste of feeling that lingers from them is.
Tribute Recipes: These are among the recipes inspired by literature and cinema. Madeleines for Proust. Steak and kidney pie from long immersion in a world of British lit and in response to my husband and his brother cooking kidneys according to Joyce’s “Ulysses.” The Jean Shepherd Memorial Supper of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, red cabbage and green beans because in his stories that’s what Ralphie and Randy, of “Christmas Story” fame, ate. Often. Ham à la Bumpus Hounds – in the story it’s the Easter ham, not the Christmas turkey, that the Bumpus Hounds steal. Spaghetti Clemenza from the scene in the “The Godfather” where they go to the mattresses. Hey, you gotta take good advice when it comes. You never know when you might have to cook for 20 men.
Heirloom Recipes: Some might call these secret family recipes, but I like the term “heirloom.” Secrets are guarded; heirlooms are treasured. Heirlooms become heirlooms because they are shared. Secrets become secrets because they aren’t.
Some heirloom recipes are, indeed, family recipes. “That chicken in the red sauce stuff with noodles” our son called about entered our lives as my mother’s “veal paprika,” at a time when veal was socially acceptable and available without taking out a second mortgage.
But heirloom recipes don’t come only from family. There is the toothsome, peppery cornbread stuffing Emma and Linda made at In-school Scouting Day Camp. Thankfully, it obliterated the dining hall nightmare of my college Thanksgiving exiled in Texas where a truly frightening scoop of gelatinous, yet gritty, yellow goop was identified for me as cornbread stuffing.
There are the recipes from years of cottage potlucks where Sue brought her German potato salad and the kids dug in to Florence’s famous “pink stuff,” a fluffy concoction of sweet mystery and pineapple that only at cottage potlucks could pass for salad.
At a recent family dinner, our granddaughters asked if the salad would have “Dada” dressing. They didn’t know it as the dressing their dada grew up eating. They didn’t picture my college roommate Lorena laughing in our postage stamp kitchen with the olive oil bottle in her hand as I watched, and laughed, and learned from her. I need to tell them about her. And show them her picture. It’s one of the recipes that isn’t written down. Yet. It’s one of the recipes that brings me joy.
Pen Campbell lives in Benton Harbor.