Our family recipes were always somewhat of a joke. Greeks (and probably other ethnicities) have a terrible tendency to be a bit vague. Here’s one of my mother’s actual recipes:
“What is THIS?” I asked her, frustrated by my 75th attempt at getting some more detail so I could act like a grownup at the age of 50 and produce something resembling our holiday cookies.
“It’s…the koulourakia recipe,” Yiayia replied.
“No,” I insisted, “it’s not. It’s a list of three ingredients.”
Why they even bothered to write these down is a mystery to me. Best of all, though, I’ve seen actual published cookbooks that contain similar “recipes.” They also contain instructions like this:
“Knead dough until it feels right.”
“What,” I asked my mother, “Does ‘feel right’ mean?”
“Just -right,” she answered. “Not too sticky, just – right.”
Take a look at your family recipes NOW. Like, today. If they look anything like this, start cooking with your parent. Their recipes have been passed down like this for centuries – it’s the oral storytelling of many ethnic tribes, and it’s the best way to learn how to make dishes that taste “just like Mom’s.”
We Cooked Our Way Through Grief
When my mother passed away, the first thing all three of my kids did was start a massive cooking session; Greeks are all about food in times of joy, sorrow, and everything in between. Watching my kids do this centuries-old dance that evening was a bright moment in those early, dark days. The three of them greeted each other with warm hugs; they exchanged few words, but somehow, they all knew just what to do.
They knew just what to do because all three of them learned from Yiayia in the “oral storytelling” tradition – right next to her in our kitchen. Each of them is an expert in one of Yiayia’s dishes – our son faithfully replicates her rice; our middle daughter, her chicken; our oldest, her baklava. And I can, finally, make her cookies – with flour, sugar and butter, kneading the dough until it feels just right.
If you’re already past this point and cooking with your parent is not possible, don’t despair! You’ve probably got a relative or two who makes their own version. Warning: It may not be exactly like your family’s, but you can experiment with a little pinch more of that, a dash less of this – and eventually, it will turn out just right.♠
Leave a comment if you’ve got a family recipe to share, or if you’re looking for one – we’re happy to help!