The importance of preserving your family recipes
Food is how I underline and punctuate the best moments in my life, from getting homemade chocolate cake from my aunt on my birthday as far back as I can remember to sharing samosas and chicken curry when I graduated from university and, most recently, devouring pavlova and berries with my wife on our wedding night. This is because someone making a dish or curating the perfect bite for me has always been my favourite way of saying I love you without saying it out loud. So, it makes sense then as I’ve gotten older, I wanted to tell people I love them with food. The only problem was getting the recipes from my family, who made these dishes as synonymous with my upbringing as school ties and being awkward around my many crushes.
The most significant cook in my life – before my wife became a chef – was my mother. She made the kitchen the centre of our home, and when I wanted to wrap my head around the ingredients and methods for cooking, I turned to her, and I started off small. I asked her to send me one or two instructions over WhatsApp. Just for a simple mince curry. It was a flop. Because there’s so much that she left out, things that she didn’t think about or didn’t measure that I, as a much less-experienced cook, would have to be told about. That’s the stumbling block when you’re trying to learn from a person who has been making the same stellar dishes for 20 years – they do what they do so easily, without thinking. It’s so excellent and scrumptious every time because they can tell from just feeling. It’s not that the technique isn’t there; it’s that it is innate.
For instance, one of the first things my wife ever did for me when we first started dating was to make me a pear clafoutis. When I asked her how she did it, she couldn’t paint the complete picture – the little things she just knew how to do – so the next time she baked, I stepped into the kitchen with her and learnt, writing down what I could. And that’s how she learnt to do it too, from her grandmother and mother.
I also joined my mother in the kitchen and asked her to show me the how and why of what makes a good dish. I wrote everything down. I took photos, tasted and asked for substitution guides. Of course, it wasn’t always easy, and there are things I will always do my own way, but it was exactly what I needed, and I am so happy I did.
In this process, I also learnt some basics that work across dishes. Like if you’re roasting a veggie that grows below the ground, such as a potato, a carrot or beetroot, and you want to get it crispy, make sure to boil it for about 10 minutes before roasting it on high. Or whenever you make a curry base, fry your spices to wake them up and make them into a fragrant paste that serves as a robust flavour base. Other than absorbing a lot of knowledge, the magic was also in creating memories with my family.
Storing all this knowledge and memories is where creating your own cookbook comes in handy. It’s a way to collect and share the most magical moments of my life in food. It does what a photo or recipe from someone you don’t know sometimes can’t. It gives people you care about the moment to speak to you once again about how to make something you and they love. Because that’s what a collection of family recipes is to me, a series of love letters to moments passed.
Ready to preserve your food memories in your own personalised family cookbook? Click here to create your Family Cookbook, made with McCain and brought to you by Food24.