Tuesday, May 10, 2011

THOUGHT FOR FOOD....Recipes as legacy

Iron Chef Chairmn
"If memory serves...." that's how the Chairman on the original Iron Chef show usually began his musings of the coming challenge.  He'd scratch his chin, take a bite out of a pepper and regale us with a thought or two before sending his combatants into Kitchen Stadium for a head-to-head cook off.  

I love that show....and many of the other culinary broadcasts that have come our way since Madame Julia graced us with her presence (and persistence and patience) as The French Chef.

Julia Child in her West Bank apartment
To her and the countless others who brought real food to the American table should go several generations of gratitude from home cooks, wanna be chefs and Micheline Award winners the world over.  For it was those pioneers who really gave us a kitchen consciousness.  Before that, the place was just somewhere for wifey-poo to sling hash or, in more opulent society, where the servants were sent to do it....so to speak.

From a young age I was interested in food; in how to coax flavors, mix different colors and textures...and as luck would have it, mine was a large family with lots of food holidays, gatherings and Sunday dinners.  So there was ample opportunity to work with the stuff...to learn its traditions....to build a passion.

Mom had most of her standard recipes in her head, but there were some that were so special they were written down....or their cookbook pages saved with index cards or paper clips for future reference.  You could tell when something special was going on.  Mom would bring out "the big guns," like Fannie Farmer or Joy of Cooking and scan through the recipe box until she found just the right thing.  

More often than not she'd add an interesting variation or two; partially because some members of our large family were picky eaters. But I think there was more to it than that. I think it was her creativity shining through.
My mother was the first Foodie I ever knew.  

And I soon discovered I had been born into a whole family of 'em!
Aunts, Grams, Cousins....when we got together for a get-together, be it picnic or wedding reception, everybody brought something.  Their  "speci-ality."   Mom's famous meatballs, Aunt Virg's eggplant parmesan, Aunt Anne's green bean casserole, Dad's expert hand at the grill....on and on.  

To this day, sister Carolyn and I swap recipes and exchange ideas-regardless of the miles.  It's in our blood.

Recipes are more than a means to an end...more than just a pinch of this and a dash of that.  They are bits of memory; reminders of moments shared with friends and family. They are often passed down, generation to generation as part of a legacy.

There was a time when recipes were treasured and valued as gold.  Only certain people had them.  The rest of society hand to put up with what they could figure out on their own, until the printing press, common languages and measurements and inexpensive reproductions came along.

There's been quite a lot of history between that wooly mammoth steak on the cave man's fire and Chef Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares!

My recipe box
Even with times being tough, there's still an awful lot to be thankful for. We have blenders, sharp knives, modern stoves and so on.  We don't have to use bows and arrows to bring home the bacon.
And even when we do "rough it," we've come a long way from scavenging  on the open planes.  

Our hunting ground is a supermarket - the only things we have to deal with there are other customers getting the best deal first, sticker shock as the prices go up and the occasional botulism scare.

So as I go to my recipe box for inspiration, I am reminded of just how good it is to be alive...in spite of, and maybe even a little because of all the craziness going on in the world today. For you see, I have all the wonderful memories each treasured recipe brings and only have to start cooking to not only bring them to live, but make new ones in the process.

Now THAT'S magic!

As always, please feel free to share your thoughts, ideas, memories and recipes!  Full credit will be yours!

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