When I was in college I spent the weekend with a fraternity brother at his parent’s house in Houston for his birthday.
My finances were usually tight and I was never one to turn down a few days of free meals (and access to someone else’s liquor cabinet). They had a small group of family friends and relatives over and Bryan’s mother made us a Stouffer’s lasagna.
I remember thinking how sad it was that he made the seven hour drive to Houston, to see his parents on his birthday, and his mother put a six pound frozen pasta-brick in the oven.
That was the first time I’d had a Stouffer’s lasagna – or any frozen lasagna – and I remember that it was fine.
Flavorless,….. and fine.
If I had invited a fraternity brother to our house for the weekend my mother would have actually made a lasagna, or white chicken chili, and at the very least her chocolate cherry cake.
When I was growing up we had family diner every night – we rarely went to restaurants because anything they served could always be made better at home. For every meal we sat at the kitchen table, napkins in laps, television turned off and a conversation topic other than who threw up a school that day. Everybody usually helped with the preparation; someone was in charge of a veggie, my brother Josh would be on the grill, and I made the salad.
From a very young age we were involved in the cooking. My mother taught me to roast a chicken when I was eight.
It wasn’t just food that brought us together as a family, it also connected us to our past.
How could I ever make chicken paprika without thinking about my grandmother?
A couple decades ago my mother’s sister Jean was quizzing my grandmother about a dish neither of them had made in a years, and neither of them could remember the exact recipe. Not so much the ingredients but also the techniques it took.
That’s when she started writing them down.
It wasn’t long after that that my Aunt Jean presented me with my personal copy of those family recipes she’s been compiling; like chicken paprika, stuffed peppers, pirogi, rhubarb custard pie, and cabbage rolls. Nothing fancy, nothing overly complicated.
Just the same good food we’d been eating at those family diners all of our lives.
She called her book “Family Secrets”.
But it was so much more than just a recipe book, it was also a charm-filled read.
Because recipes, and more importantly the techniques, weren’t the only thing that my aunt had documented. She also incorporated stories about her family. There are tales of growing up Polish Catholic in a small town, and her childhood summers in Ohio, of my young grandparents, their neighbors, family holidays, and, of course, every story ends with a meal.
Last month she had the joy of seeing her book published.
Good thing too, because my original copy is a little stained (I prefer to think of it as “seasoned”) after all these years.
That’s my Aunt Jean, with my mother and my Aunt Pat, on the cover.
If you care to mosey on over to Amazon and grab yourself a copy I guarantee it’ll be worth your while.
I don’t cook as much as I used to.
But when I do,
These are the dishes that remind me of those family diners at the kitchen table.