“The Dish That
Keeps on Giving“
March 22, 2010
Several birthdays ago, I glanced up from my desk, to watch in shocked disbelief as a handwritten recipe slipped out of my printer/copier/fax machine without a cover page. I recognized my maternal grandmother’s elegant penmanship immediately from a few clues, including her habit of highlighting instructions and important tips with graceful exclamation marks.
“Mama Williams” was everyone’s go-to resource for recipes, not just traditional grandmotherly ones. My grandmother could dine at any table (including the most famous restaurants) and recreate the recipe in her home kitchen, always with an improvement.
She experimented with international flavors learned from her travels. She loved sharing her findings with anyone who even remotely expressed an interest in cooking, keeping up a regular exchange with relatives, her children’s friends, strangers, people she met when she traveled and her grandchildren.
Until her death, I was her most devoted student, and my hands were shaking when I picked up the paper that rolled out of my fax several years ago. During her lifetime she and I had exchanged hundreds of recipes. But this fax was highly unusual. Granny had died more than a decade before fax machines became a popular way to transmit printed messages over telephone lines.
Still, there was no mistaking her elegant script and uplifting style of coaching a new cook in the faxed recipe. She reminded me about the importance of fresh ingredients, adding “Don’t forget, recipes are only meant to be guidelines. Adjust ingredients according to best available ingredients and personal taste, to make any recipe your own. “Qui ne risque rien, n’a rien (He who risks nothing, gains nothing) she had copied from a French recipe collection.
In the kitchen, my grandmother refused to play by the rules. She was creative, innovative, determined and fascinated by modern inventions.
Nothing stood in her way when it came to sharing recipes. I opened the antique recipe box in my kitchen filled with my grandmother’s letters and recipes, reminded how, after all these years, I still think about her everyday in the kitchen.
The telephone call from a cousin offered disappointing news. “Did you get the recipe?” she asked. She had faxed her 20-year-old copy of my grandmother’s recipe, sent without a cover sheet. “Everyone Continued agrees as far as cooking is concerned, you’re following Mama Williams’ footsteps,” she said, adding.,“You’re the family recipe go-to person.”
I turned on the oven, pulled out a recipe letter and rummaged through the drawer for my favorite measuring spoons.
Mystery solved. My grandmother was not faxing recipes. Still, I appreciated the few moments when evidence appeared otherwise. Did I mention that this happened on my birthday?
That year, I spent the afternoon baking. No fax…no problem. My love of cooking had become my grandmother’s lifetime birthday gift to me.
This year as I’m planning to spend the day in the kitchen with some of my grandmother’s recipes. I’m even more aware of the gifts she gave me through her love for cooking and recipes …including a food writing career and this web site.
If the person who taught you to love recipes and cooking is still alive, this would be a good time to write a note, pick up the phone …or maybe you could send a fax.