Famous Last Recipes

Holidays are times of feasting—days when we get together with friends and family to share food…and either conversation or football.

At every event someone inevitably turns up with a great new dish we all enjoy. He or she is rewarded with accolades and folks clamoring for the recipe.

I am happy when a diner asks for my recipe. I feel like I’ve accomplished my goal of making something exceptional, or at least I’ve created a foodstuff worthy of imitation or duplication.

All my recipes are written down. They are most specific. If I say to use a bag of marshmallows or a can of milk, I’ll tell you how many ounces because manufacturers can change their standards. I’ll tell you what size and shape of baking pan to use and whether or not to grease it. I want you to have success.

Often what I get in return is less than I’d hoped for. The cook may rattle off a list of ingredients as if he or she thinks I can remember all that. When I do get a written recipe with instructions, it may be full of ambiguities such as “a large can of beans” or “put in a pan” or “cook until done.”

I’m not sure if this is a subtle way of guarding a secret or a cook’s code I’ve never learned but recipes like this never seem to turn out right for me. What is “large” to my family of two might be small to the cook who routinely serves eight at her table. “Chop” can mean anything from 1/2-inch cubes to a fine dice. Results can vary widely. The whole point of a recipe, I thought, was to give instruction.

My late husband’s grandmother made a family-famous pound cake no one could duplicate, though she gave oral instruction to several people. Hers was moister than any recipe and the closest I ever came to it was a whisky cake or the Bacardi rum cake. I suspect the little teetotaler had a secret ingredient she was reticent to admit.

A couple of years ago, our bible study group was planning a Mexican dinner and we were asked to bring salsa. This is Texas; one does not bring salsa in a jar labeled “Pace.” We decided to try to make my sister-in-law’s salsa recipe. It was so widely sought after, she had typed it up and distributed it to all the family members. My husband had a copy.

This was one of those vague recipes using “big cans” of tomatoes, “full peppers” and a “bunch of cilantro.” After much discussion, we decided to leave the seeds and membranes in the peppers and chop the whole bundle of cilantro as it is sold in the store. All this was supposed to “fill a regular size blender,” yet contain “2 big cans” of tomatoes.

Our salsa came out green instead of red. It tasted decidedly like cilantro, even overwhelming the jalapenos and serranos, garlic, onion and cumin. Everyone politely tasted it; then we took it home and composted it. Whatever “a bunch” is, it is not the whole bundle. I kept the recipe but labeled it: DID NOT TURN OUT WELL.

This year I’ve been asked to make my mother-in-law’s popular cornbread stuffing. I’ve been told it uses a bag of Fritos, two eggs, some celery and onion and two cans of cream of chicken soup. Oh, boy!


About janets123

Children's writer, newspaper columnist, essayist, poet, storyteller
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4 Responses to Famous Last Recipes

  1. Maragen says:

    My Mom’s cornbread dressing was always wonderful. She said the secret was in the crockpot. She said cooking it in the crockpot causes each of those cornmeal granules to just kind of explode. The thing is though, that to make it moist enough you ALWAYS have to add a can of soup to whatever recipe you are using so that it will plump up and be just right. She used standard Campbells cream of chicken sometimes or cream of mushroom other times or even cream of celery. I make my dressing in the crockpot and although I only make it once a year and I use the recipe on the cornmeal bag and I adjust it however I want including substituting all items to be gluten free and I ALWAYS add much more sage than the recipe calls for, my family raves about how good it is. The secret must be in the crock pot – just cook it until its done! :o) I mean until it browns around the edges.

  2. janets123 says:

    Well…as Adrianne says (see the Southern Buttermilk Biscuit post), everyone’s mom makes the BEST dressing & we can’t argue with that. (I detest crockpot dressing!)

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