Thinking Ahead


I’m always moved by stories of people who put things aside for children. Not long ago, I heard a story on NPR about a mom who had written letters to her daughter at fairly regular intervals through her childhood. The mom died when the daughter was about 11, and the dad presented the letters to the girl when she graduated college. I was weeping in the car.

I haven’t done anything like that, and I’ve been trying, long before I heard the Public Radio story, to figure out a way to honor the spirit of the idea without stealing someone else’s technique. I think I’ve come up with something that will be meaningful to my children not only because of what it is in the “big picture” sense, but also because of what it’s actually comprised of.

I love to cook. I sometimes joke that there are only three things that I’m reliably good at – I am a true and loyal friend, I am a fantastic mother, and I kick ass in the kitchen. My idea of the heirloom keepsake for my girls incorporates all three of these things, I think.

My plan is to ask people who are important to my daughters – aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins, family friends and family-related-by-love – to write their favorite recipes. I want the recipes in the handwriting of the people submitting them – that part is important – and I will scan them and have them made into cookbooks for the girls. I love getting recipes from people who love me; the connection I’m able to make not only to the process of cooking, but also to the end product, seems to always leave me feeling warm and well-loved. My hope is that these books will not only offer the girls a good foundation of culinary knowledge, but will connect them to those who love them in a very real and tangible way.

I’m not sure when I’ll give the books to them – I suppose a lot will depend on when I actually finish collecting recipes – but I’m thinking they will be given to mark a momentous event; a graduation, a first apartment, a wedding, something like that. I began the process this afternoon by asking my grandmother, who’s currently undergoing chemotherapy, to write out some of her favorite recipes. I got a lot of my kitchen standards from her, and I want to keep that connection strong in my daughters.

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5 responses to “Thinking Ahead

  1. After my mother died, we (6) grown children were cleaning out her apartment. It was . . . wistful? sad? something. Then we came across a fat notebook of recipes she had put together over many years. The question went around, who wants this? One of my younger brothers said, in his funny way, “Why would anybody want her recipes? None of them work.” We all had a nice laugh, my mother was a pretty bad cook (but a pretty wonderful mom).
    The things we remember . . .

  2. I love the idea that these recipes will be handwritten. I treasure the few recipes I have in my grandmother’s hand. Maybe each person can also write a personal story or pearl to pass on to your girls. Maybe you can present them to your daughter’s when they set-up their own kitchens.
    A dear friend did a cookbook of her mom’s favorite receipes. It turned out very lovely, a true work of love and art. It has recipes, photos and loads of memories of what the dish means to different family memebers.

    I’ve been journaling forever so starting a journal when I was pregnant each time was a natural for me. When they become adults I plan on giving them their journals.

    I have a friend that writes her daughters’ letters every year on their birthdays and plans on giving them when they get older.

    Great idea! And one that will be cherised and practical.

  3. Yeah, Gerry – my biological mother couldn’t cook to save her own ass, but my adopted mother is a kitchen goddess. I learned most of my comfort in the kitchen from her. Funny story – The Biologic was a fanatic recipe follower, and when she taught me how to make mac-and-cheese (the kind from the box) she insisted that I measure out the “six cups of water” to boil for the macaroni. Seriously. Imagine the wonders that revealed themselves to me when I spent time in Mom’s kitchen, where ingredients were substituted and quantities adjusted with impunity! My life was forever changed!

    Meg, I’m still trying to figure out how to best execute this project. I’m thinking of giving potential recipe donors pretty paper and inviting them to communicate the recipes in any way they want, adding stories, pictures, and anecdotes as they see fit. It’s important to me to get it “right,” but I still haven’t quite figured out what that means yet.

  4. What I love about this is how much meaning is imbued into it, how much love. Ths is the stuff that too often gets lost in the madness of daily life. This kicks ass.

    In terms of the recipes themselves, why not give suggested questions to address in the anecdote along with the pretty paper – where did you find these now very special recipes, when did you first make it, who did you make this for, etc. I think having this extra facet of memory attached to the recipe will contribute to its very nature of a keepsake handed down. Hmmm… maybe include a handy substitution list, kitchen tricks, favorite tools/gadgets as part of the questionnaire. Finally, how about also giving a scanned copy on cd/dvd to store for posterity?

  5. I think this is a great idea. But you might want to give them a copy if they sre younger than 25 or so. These things tend to get lost and that would be a shame.
    I am a mediocre cook, so i envy you your ability.

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