On my morning dog walk, a grandfather confessed to me that his young grandkids won’t have clear memories of him when he’s gone. Heavy thoughts to get hit with while walking three dogs. Since I’m that person that says hello instead of wearing headphones, these types of conversations happen. I told him he was wrong and shared my story.
I used to call grandma “Old Mamma” in Slovak, a term of endearment. We honored our older, wiser family with respect laced with humor, but we all knew the line we couldn’t cross. All kidding aside Grandma was a force and I was drawn to her just like everybody else.
When people asked her for her recipes, I think they thought they were getting her actual recipes, but they weren’t. Her English literacy purposefully took a turn for the worse when pressed about her precious recipes. She would aways hold something back, like an ingredient or the whole method section, gaping holes like this were to be expected. Grandma was not only a force but a little sneaky. Her recipes were a source of pride, she wasn’t going to just give them away. Grandma believed in the captivating allure of the secret and that a little mystery helped make her unique and special. The women in my family always held a little piece of themselves back, they weren’t open books.
Because of this, my mom worked with my grandma to catalogue her recipes. Mom was a fast typer, back when people still counted typed words per minute as a skill set on resumes. With her fast typing she hoped to get it all down and thought that transcribing the recipes was all she had to do. In reality Mom was a terrible cook with no chef instincts. She had no way of telling if the recipes worked in the kitchen off of the page.
The two also didn’t share a patience for spending time together. I know that because I’m left with written proof of their collaborative efforts in the bread recipe pictured below. I think they hit a wall. No title, interchanging raisins with grapes and no method and technique included. They were probably losing their cool and I have written proof. Right about now, I picture a long power struggle about good mothering and proper daughter behavior.
Fast forward to these recipes falling into my hands. I had an interest, I was in culinary school when she passed. I was the granddaughter that picked food as a career, she would have surely made an exception for me. At first glance I thought I really had something, a full map to inherit Grandma’s cooking skills. What I had instead were vague notes. Some in typed English and some in handwritten Slovak on scrap paper. It’s frustrating when expectations don’t match reality.
It took me 20 years to sit down with these recipes again and really look at them with fresh eyes. I actually realized that I had more information than I thought. Instead of feeling cheated I could see the gift now, I had what I needed; notes, memories and knowledge from a lifetime of cooking.
The best thing about this project is that I’m forced to visit with her again. To think like she thought and act like she acted.
So for those that think that I have a beautifully organized and alphabetized collection of complete recipes to start with, they are wrong. What I have is a mess of memories that I am still trying to piece together. A beautiful mess.
To the grandparents of the world I say this; worry about making memories while you still can because later in life your grandchildren will reach out for those moments when they can no longer reach out for you.