Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Astonishment (02/02/12)
TITLE: Old Family Recipe
By Ruth Tredway
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I’ve seen movies where the mother’s cooking just sort of balled up in a slime and scooted off the plate. My mom’s cooking isn’t quite that bad, but we’ve had our share of food adventures, of practice sessions that didn’t turn out exactly edible. The biscuits just crumbled before we could even get jelly on them. The banana bread made with amaranth, and other ingredients we’ve never heard of, could have baked a little longer. It tasted okay, not great, but it didn’t look inviting.
Sometimes we don’t even want to ask what it is. We might get a real recipe name that sounds like real food. But it’s not what we were expecting. But Mom’s favorite answer is, “It’s an old family recipe.” Now before you start having visions of grandmothers in the kitchen, starting from scratch, and creating something simple and nutritious that melts in your mouth, you need a lesson in Mom talk. In our house, “Old Family Recipe” has come to mean something we’ve never had before, and the recipe isn’t even written down yet. If it passes, she might write it on paper, with notes on how to make it better. If it mostly feeds the scavenger animals in the middle of the night, we won’t ever see that one again. Thank heaven.
Mom has been especially persistent with pancake recipes. In the early years, she mixed up some flour, salt, baking powder and a little sugar, oil, egg and water. She thought it was less expensive than buying Aunt Jemima’s mix, or even the generic version. In those early years, the budget was tight, as it is for most young families.
The next generation of pancake mix started her facination with different flours. Corn meal, whole wheat, rye. It was still the same basic mix, with a little added flavor and texture and unknown specks. It took some adjusting of liquids to make them just thick enough to bake on the griddle without being too thick. We first learned about whole wheat from pancakes, not family style wheat bread. For variety, she might add nuts, or applesauce, or mashed banana. If it was a special day, we got chocolate chips. We had special syrups, too, or even jelly. Blueberry, homemade maple flavored, strawberry. We still preferred the good old pancake syrup from the store. No matter what she did to the pancakes, the syrup was familiar, unchanging.
Then Mom had breast cancer. She started studying foods more with the idea that some are better for us than others. She started bringing home new flours that nobody had ever heard of before, and nobody we knew actually used them. She tried new recipes for biscuits, breads, cookies, and of course, pancakes. The results have been mixed. One batch was so thin it fell apart just being lifted with a fork. Some were so thick they never cooked in the middle.
She always keeps a box of mix from the store, just in case we have company and she doesn’t think they have an adventurous spirit when it comes to food. When we are sharing breakfast with friends, she always volunteers to do the pancakes. But she insists on using her own formula, saying, “I can’t stand those store-bought mixes.”
At a recent family gathering, everyone knew Mom was doing the pancakes, and they were also aware the mix didn’t contain any of the flours which are part of a commercial mix. There were other foods to choose from, so if the pancakes tasted awful, they knew they wouldn’t go away hungry. Mom stayed in the kitchen, kept the supply going at the griddle, and the pancakes disappeared at the table. Ethan, one of the grandchildren, said to his mother, “These are really good! Why don’t you make pancakes like this?” He’s only 7, so his innocent remark passed with a few chuckles.
Mom smiled and kept cooking until the batter was gone. She’s finally found a recipe that can be called, in every sense of the word, an Old Family Recipe.
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