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Secret Ingredients and Family Recipes

recipe box recipes

not my recipe box (don't have one)

by Jonathan Boxlunch Perry

Recently, I visited my mom in Minnesota, and while there I took the opportunity to dig through her recipe boxes and copy my favorite recipes for yummy happy eating time.  Fortunately, I had my camera, so I just photographed them.  You didn’t think I was going to hand copy 25 recipes in one sitting, did you?  I’m not a medieval monk.  In fact, during my visit, she helped me cook some stuff, even though she’s been quite ill.  Actually, I helped her.  The food was delicious, I got fatter, we bonded, I practiced domesticity.  There you go.  This will help me circumvent having to call her for recipes.  I’ll still call her, of course, being the doting son and mama‘s boy that I am.  It’ll just be more for the weather report.  And tips on removing stains.  Stuff like that.  Oh, and to check up on her.

So we grow up with these tasty dishes and hopefully learn to make them ourselves or mate with someone who can make reasonable facsimiles and hope there‘s no withheld secret ingredient to throw off a recipe.  I mean, who would do that?  Who does grandma think she is, passing off recipes without all the ingredients?  Is there some posthumous cooking contest she’s trying to win?  Her competition is either dead or senile in a home and  isn’t allowed near the stove anyway for fear of a fiery death.  Or did she think Kellogg-Kraft was going to rip off her 10-layer lasagna and cash in?  And what if grandma goes to the great beyond before she shares her terrible secret (which is probably a teaspoon of cinnamon)?  I’ll tell you what, you’ll be stuck eating inferior food the rest of your life and may be forced to abandon family tradition for Martha Stewart’s hoity-toity ringer recipe that requires obscure ingredients like Mongolian goat bouillon!  or whatever.  Well, that just won’t do.  Also, I’m a non-goat-eating vegetarian.  Only fake-goat bouillon for me, thank-you.

recipe texas sheet cake

Texas Sheet Cake Recipe

I’ve helped my mom make many of these dishes over the years and can probably replicate them if forced at gunpoint, though quite slowly and not as expertly.  One thing I noticed while searching the recipe boxes is that many of these recipes were ones she acquired from her friends over a period of 50+ years.  They say things like “From the Kitchen of Linda” or Vicki or Arlene.  There are also those special recipes from my grandmas and even an awesome one from my great-grandma Gottschall:  Dutch Apple Cake.  Yum!  It’s nice to know you’re making something that your great-grandma made 80 years ago.  Perhaps she got the recipe from her great-grandma, pushing the baked goods lineage back a few hundred years into Europe when sugar was first making a diabetic splash (you try not to suspect the recipe was copied from a 1930s issue of Better Homes and Gardens).

I always look forward to my mom, grandma and aunts cooking for me.  They make great stuff and sometimes there are weird memories tied to the food, like that time mom made lentils and my brother Jay tricked her into giving him the birthright.  Good times (see Genesis).  But these moments are fading.  It’s a good thing my brothers and I cook (well, mostly my brothers) or some of these recipes would just disappear forever and everyone would forget what Broccoli Jello Surprise tastes like (okay, that‘s not a family recipe).  Actually, I’m sure many have disappeared from generation to generation, which is sad.  Really, though, it’s survival of the fittest recipes.  I only copied about 25 recipes, after all, not the full 200.  (I never claimed to be an archivist.  I‘ll get more later.).  But of the recipes I have, all the ingredients seem to be intact, which is a relief.  Everything tastes right.  No glaring omissions from grandma.  No wrong-tasting Special K Loaf.  No secret ingredients withheld.  Unless the secret ingredient is love (and that just seems like a therapy issue).

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