Part of my 40 before 40 list was to eventually put together my grandmother’s recipes in one place for the next generations to enjoy.
I learned to cook from my parents, who never used a recipe book when teaching me how to cook. They learned how foods blend, while the ingredients warm up to the proper consistency in the end. Their parents taught them in the same fashion.
In addition, sometimes we do things like add an ingredient that does not necessarily make sense, for example caraway seeds to a red cabbage dish. I asked my grandmother why and she said, ‘It is the way it has always been done.’ She wanted me to except her explanation as she did when she was a girl. I had to know why. Science tells us that the caraway seed helps with the digestion of the cabbage to prevent you from having gas. Someone added it for a reason, and that information passed down generation to generation through the recipe and never explained.
I love the story about the mother showing her young teenaged daughter how to make her first Sunday roast. With all the ingredients spread on the marble covered island, the mom said ‘First start by cutting the end off the meat and then place it in the pan like so.’
The daughter asked, mom why do you have to cut off the end?’ ‘You know, I am not actually sure, lets call grandma and ask.’
And so they did. They picked up the phone and called grandma, who said the same thing, you know dear, ‘I do not actually know. I will pass the phone to Nana.’ Curled in front of the TV was Nana watching Jeopardy, the teenagers great grandmother at first had no idea what they were talking about. Then after thinking about it for a while, she started to laugh. ‘Oh, we cut off the end so it fits in the pan!’ They all had a good laugh that the cutting off the end passed down from mother to daughter, over again as if part of the recipe.
Back in the day, you could buy roasts by the pound from the butcher, and her grandmother pre-ordered the cut. The butcher would often throw in a little extra, and it simply did not fit her roasting pan. Instead of offending the butcher, the great grandmother thanked the man politely and cut off the end when she got home and fed it to the dog.
My grandmother had little patience in teaching me how to cook. I had so many ‘why’ questions and she was not a very tolerant teacher when it came to children. She was from the Victorian generation, when children were meant to be seen and not heard. When I got to the question of how do you know the roux is ready, her answer was, you just know. When I asked, ‘So when it is brownish, and smells like garlic, Nagymama? Then it is ready’ I tried to coax more information out of her. But she was sharp as a whip and was on to me. She thought I was being cheeky and that was the end of my first and last cooking lesson with my grandmother.
My father and mother had more patience with my endless cooking questions and I started to cook when I was very young. I was a heavy kid, who loved to eat and in turn, although my parents worried I would have issues with weight, they taught me how to feed myself. Today I could not be more thankful. My love of food drives me. I discover food, as Columbus discovered land; with excitement, adventure and love.
My tribute to this love is Travel, Eat, Repeat. The same recipes can also be discovered on our food category here on this website.