Does your family have a special recipe or dish that has been passed down for generations?
Boy, do we!
I come from a long line of exceptional cooks, Southern cooks, the kind of cooks that prepare the best comfort food, the kind of food that when you walk in the door and get a whiff from the kitchen your stomach starts to growl.
Grandma, my dad’s mother, made biscuits from scratch every morning, throwing flour, baking soda and baking powder into a big wooden bowl, then adding buttermilk to make the dough. There was always flour dust somewhere – on the table, on the red linoleum floor. Grandma never used a recipe, just her memory, and never measured, telling me “until it’s just right.” She would roll out the dough on the little table, use an old tin can as a cutter and have the biscuits in the oven before anyone was up. Waking up to the wonderful smell of baking biscuits was the best way to start the day.
Nammy, my mother’s mother, taught her to cook and those are the recipes that fill my cookbooks, things like English pea salad and kidney bean salad and buttermilk icing. Mother’s chicken-fried steak was legendary and she passed that skill down to Karyn. Since I had the two of them, I never learned the art of chicken-fried steak. Now they’re both gone so at some point I’m going to have to try!
Mother’s chocolate pie and fudge were also melt in your mouth yummy. Karyn tried replicating her pies and while they were very good, they weren’t the same. I tried making Mother's fudge one time. I was in high school, 10th grade…Mary Gail Claire and I decided it was something we could do. We poured everything in the pot, stirred for what seemed like forever until the temperature reached 320 degrees on the candy thermometer. Bad mistake: it should have been until it reached 230 degrees! The spoon was stuck in the cement-like fudge and we had to throw it all out, my mother’s very expensive Club cookware and all. Now I go with the microwave version.
I have perfected two of my mom’s recipes, meatloaf and dressing. The meatloaf has a couple of secret ingredients – Worchester sauce and a handful of cheese – and the dressing recipe is known only to me. I learned out of necessity in 1978: Mother was sick, had a bad cold, and didn’t feel up to making Thanksgiving dinner. She taught me how to make dressing that year using a recipe that had been handed down from her mother, my Nammy: cornbread, eggs, bread, chicken broth, celery, onions, poultry seasoning until it smells right. It is labor intensive with lots of slicing and dicing; I have to make cornbread from my mother’s recipe and if I’m making my own chicken broth need to remember to add butter to the boiling water if I’m not cooking a hen.
I bake the dressing in the top of Nammy’s roasting pan, just like my mother did. The filled pan weighs almost 15 pounds. The recipe makes enough to serve 16, a problem since my family is much smaller now! I’ve tried cutting it down, but it just doesn’t taste the same, so I’ve started making it at Thanksgiving and freezing half for Christmas.
My mom put together a cookbook for my brother Bill when he moved out on his own and my sister-in-law learned to cook from it. I need to write down the dressing recipe for my kids before it’s lost forever.
It’s the best.