Food has a memory, for good and for bad. We can remember certain foods that
were important to us as children or food that made us sick. One time when I was
ten years old, my father thought I should try some shrimp. He didn’t believe me
when I said that I didn’t like it, but forced me to try it and watched me run to
the bathroom like a mouse with a cat on my tail, to get sick. That memory stays
with me today and shrimp will never cross my lips.
There are foods that are a part of tradition. My family makes a sauerkraut soup for our Christmas Eve celebration. It takes two to three days to make this recipe with the smell
of sauerkraut wafting through the house. We are also known for our dilly bean
recipe which is nothing more than pickled green beans. This too was a production
of momentous proportion each summer after the green beans came in!
Today for some odd reason, I decided to make German Kuchen. This was a recipe which
came from my mom’s side of the family. I remember vividly her, my aunt and
grandmother making dozens of these delicious coffee cakes in my grandmother’s
small kitchen. It was given to my mom from her grandmother who came over from
Switzerlandto live among the shores of Lake Erie. Pulling out the recipe, I noticed my scribbles on the old recipe card that my mom gave me. I was trying to decipher the magic code for a recipe that my mom knew by heart.
After a quick trip to the grocery store for ingredients, with recipe in hand, I was ready to begin. Like any good recipe, there are tweaks that have been done to it over the years. My mom used to use cake yeast, but I use bread yeast dissolve in warm milk. The recipe calls for one or two eggs. How do I know which is the correct amount? Do I split it and put in one and half? Mixing the sugar, butter and eggs into a nice blend was easy. But then I
got to the next stage, where it became truly challenging for me. I wasn’t sure what my mom meant by a stiff batter. Was that like pizza dough or more like cake batter? All I wanted to do was pick up the phone and call my mom or grandmother to ask them! They would know the secret to the scribbles on the recipe card so that I could become a part of the generations of Jones women who made this delicious dessert.
At this point, I feel the weight of generations on my shoulders. Will I be good
enough? Can I carry on the traditions of my family for the next generation? Will my children have the fond memories of cooking with me to look back on when they have children of their
own? I took a chance with the batter and went for something in between pizza dough and cake batter. Then I had to let it rise, and rise again. All the while, I am trying to channel my family members who can help me with this problem. I can’t call my mom and just ask her because she died over 15 years ago.
Parents are not supposed to die. They are the superheroes of every child. The “person”who can do no wrong and make all hurts go away with just one kiss. No one ever imagines a day when they will be without a parent- your father who will help you with your car, or a mother who knows just what to add to her secret recipe, yet we do have to go on without them here beside us. I thought I had accepted this fact until I tried to make her family recipe. Then I was back to being a kid wanting her mother to help her make things all better.
Food can make you closer to your family as you enjoy a treat
and think back to yesteryear, remembering the laughter and deliciousness of the
meal prepared with your family. Today I wanted that closeness, that bond with
my mom. Making the Kuchen was hard for me because I wanted to make her proud
and do it just like she always did. As I pulled the pans out of the oven, my
son asked about them and after the explanation of what they were, he remarked
that they smelled good. Tears formed in my eyes. Yes, maybe they will remember
these days when they are older with children of their own. Maybe the memory of
the Kuchen and my mom and grandmother will live on!
Musings from Michigan