This piece is not actually a recipe, but a humorous anecdote about a family recipe.
My mom would would tell about how her grandmother I believe it was had the recipe for a pot roast that got passed down and it was, you know, it was dictated by her and written down and continued for a couple generations which, uh, included, after the, the general preparation and seasoning, uh included the instructions “cut off the ends of the pot roast” and then put in the oven at whatever temperature it was supposed to be cooked at. They did it dutifully until somebody, someday asked, finally: “I don’t understand what this does to it — cutting the ends off. How does that help?” And she said “Oh you know, otherwise it doesn’t fit into the pot!”
This story gives insight into how family/folk recipes are developed, and how a seemingly random or arbitrary part of the preparation may originate out of necessity: obviously, not everyone’s pot would be too small to cook an entire pot roast, but the members of this family followed the recipe verbatim out of respect and trust for the grandmother, even though the cutting of the ends only applied for her personal cookware.
Marc’s mother, as I said, is of Arab descent, so I had a feeling that his mom would have some traditional recipes that she has had passed down. Marc told me about a dish that his grandmother home-makes, and taught his mom, and something that Marc has at all family gatherings.
Marc told me about his family recipe for his favorite dish. “Its something that we usually eat whenever our family gets together. It’s called Hameth Kibbee ‘d Girsa. They are kind of similar to meat dumplings. The stuffing inside the dish is what my grandmother taught my mom, it has chopped meat, spices, and homemade vegetable sauce. You then can make the outer shell out of different types of wheat and then you stuff it with the center stuffing, making it almost like a dumpling or ball. My mom has added her own twist to the recipe trying different spices and stuffing, it is one of my favorite family meals”
Background Info: Marc explained how his mother makes this Iraqi dish almost at all family events, but she learned it from her mother who also helps make it at many events. It’s a rare dish, but one of his family’s favorite.
Context: Marc told me about this tradition while we were in his apartment hanging out during small talk.
Analysis: When Marc explained this dish, it did really sound like the Asian dish of dumplings, or shumai. He explained how it has a very middle eastern type of flavor, as opposed to a very fishy flavor like traditional dumplings. This sounded very good and diverse, and Marc’s mom promised to make them for me one day.
2 Cups Bisquick
2/3 Cup oil
1 to 1.5 teaspoons Vanilla
1 Box brown sugar
Beat eggs and oil until frothy. Add vanilla. Beat in brown sugar until thoroughly combined. Add Bisquick. Bake in a greased 9×13 pan at 350 degrees for about 30-40 min. However, be sure to check with a toothpick. Cake will fall upon removal from oven. This is part of its charm.
Recipe originally written by Elizabeth Bassa, Laura’s mother-in-law. Laura continues to bake “Sad Cake”.
Sad Cake is a charming desert which is comparable to the better-known “blondie”. The name Sad Cake is derived from the falling action of the cake which occurs when it is removed from the oven. As a result, the cake is very dense – especially at the middle of its pan.
This is a simple, tasty desert recipe which can be made with minimal preparation or supplies. It is accompanied by a name which makes it special, and something of a novelty.
I asked Mae her earliest memories of traveling to Chicago to visit her extended family, she responded:
“My great- great grandma moved to the U.S. directly from Italy so obviously they had a really Italian family and they ended up living in south side Chicago. She owned chickens, and every Sunday she would go into her coop, ring a chickens neck, clean it kill it, and make pasta Bolognese using the meat.”
I then asked, “When did you first learn the recipe or heard about the story?”:
“I must have first made the Bolognese sauce in 4th grade. I know I didn’t hear the story until later because I remember in 9th grade for an art class I did an art painting about my family and I painted a chicken head on the front”
Background: Mae is a 19 year old girl raised in Westwood, CA and currently living in Los Angeles, CA. Her parents are originally from Chicago and Little Rock, and she lived in Princeton, NJ briefly as a young girl.
Context:Mae shared this story with me while we were cleaning the dishes in our apartment.
Analysis: It is incredibly easy to overlook elements of someone’s culture that affect their folkloric practices simply by never asking questions. Mae is one of my closest friends, and I had no idea that her grandma immigrated from Italy or lived in south side Chicago. Understanding where someone comes from culturally and geographically creates the opportunity to really understand more about their identity. Hearing this story about Mae’s grandmother I felt like I was seeing a new side of her and gaining a clearer understanding of the origins to her stories she tells every day. I was reminded of recipes I have learned from my family members that have truly become a part of my own identity and my family’s identity like my mom’s banana bread and my grandmother’s scalloped potatoes.
Main Piece: Chili
The following was a story told to me by a college of mine, RD, and I am DM. The story was about a family recipe that was passed down that she learned to do on her own.
RD: Every Christmas Eve we have tamales and it’s just a tradition we’ve weve for as long as I can remember we eat tamales but uh her specific salsa she told me always had to go on her tamales otherwise I would be cursed so um to this day even if its not one of her tamales I need her salsa to put on it otherwise I can’t eat it cause I don’t know I feel like something is going to happen to me.
DM: Do you know what’s in her salsa?
RD: Yes I do.
DM: Can you tell me?
RD: Sure so its uh a couple different kinds of chiles she puts um jalapeno then she put habaneros and then she puts cilantro and tomato and onion salt and pepper. I think that’s it. Yeah I think that’s it.
The participant is twenty-eight years old. She is a Mexican American assistant principal at a high school. One day she posted a picture on instagram of her making her grandma’s recipe from scratch. I wondered how long that family recipe was passed down in her family, so I asked her about.
DM:Why do you like sharing this recipe/Why do you know this recipe/ Where/who did they learn it from/ Why is this repice important to you?
RD: Cause he salsa is the best salsa I’ve ever had in my life um even when I go to Mexican restaurants I want it know. I don’t know if its because she’s convinced me that it has some special power or just because I think it is really good. She was also really important to me and she’s has alzheimer’s so um it’s like definitely not the same person as when she kind of gave me the story so I feel like it’s kind of a way to keep that part of her.
Analysis/ My Thoughts:
I think this story was actually very similar to what we were debating in class about oral versus written folklore. Her grandmother’s recipe book in her head with becomes something authored by her. She won’t be giving it to another else but her family. Instead of being an oral book it will now become something physical that can be passed down within her family. It raises the question of who the recipe book belongs to. The recipe book is hers, but the recipe book is her grandmothers. As it gets passed down, will it raise the question of where these recipes came from.