Remembering Where Old Recipes Came From

Our family recipe files are stained by tomato paste and smeared with olive oil. I came across a favorite recipe given to me by a favorite friend whom I haven’t seen in the many years since she moved to California. The recipe was on an index card, written in her own hand. “Add sour cream and parsely (fresh).” At this point she had written “Yummy!!!” Judy was always a three exclamation point person.

“Veal Marsala” was written out in my mother-in-law’s loopy penmanship on a folded piece of yellow legal paper. There was a brown stain (boullon?) in the corner. My mother-in-law passed away a long time ago, but I pictured her proud and flushed at a family dinner years ago. My daughter, then her only grandchild, had loved the veal. Grandma wrote out the recipe for me with instructions to follow it scrupulously.

“Tasty Curried Honey Chicken” was written by Rae, a Canadian friend my first husband and I had met in travelling though Europe when we were in our twenties. We shared a run-down trailer for a few days in rural France. The trailer had mice and a toilet that didn’t flush. Its appeal, however. Was a workable stove and we welcomed the change to try Rae’s delicious golden chicken.

On another page was pasted “Sally’s Zucchini Bread.” I ate this many times when Sally and I went on picnics with our kids. Zucchini reigns supreme in Iowa. Sally, earth and sweat-stained would stand in her garden and shout, “Enough already. Stop growing.” She gave away zucchini to friends and neighbors and even left zucchini in the mailbox for the postman.

In every culture, sharing food is sharing self. I look through these recipe files the way some people go back through photograph albums and scrapbooks. I can capture warmth and good-feeling, just remembering those who fed me.