One of the better pivots I witnessed in the past 15-plus months is new podcasts that popped up as a result. I mean, who didn’t relish every minute of Home Cooking that Samin Nosrat and Hrishi Hirway dreamed up? Another favorite was Travel Tales that AFAR magazine put together. Rather than a collection of various “go here” and “see/do that” travel stories, each episode is one of their contributors telling a story about a personal travel experience, compelling and interesting exactly for that personal touch: their unique journey.
The latest episode has a great culinary angle. The story comes from chef Sheldon Simeon, traveling to the Philippines in search of his family’s recipe for pork adobo—or at least one closely approximating it. I’ve just finished a book with a similar exploration for culinary family roots, Laura Schenone’s The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken, her destination Italy.
It definitely has me thinking about recipes in my own family’s context. There is no particular recipe I’d connect with family heritage, nothing multi-generational I know of that would link me to my ancestors through cooking. Which is definitely NOT to say that there aren’t recipes I associate specifically with my mom, with family meals, with my time happily alongside her in the kitchen.
It’s simply that of all those recipes—the ones barely held together in her overly-loved and falling-apart recipe file that I have—I gather that they mostly come from friends and magazine clippings and other various sources. None do I recall her making that came with a family story, a connection to my past beyond her.
Sadly, I don’t have my mom around to ask about that. It’s a pretty significant regret that I didn’t devote time to asking about such things years ago. My version of this exploration will start with finding a recipe that has deep roots in my family, if there even is one.
So forget—for a moment—about the ingredients being in the right order and the recipe method telling you exactly how to do things. Oven temp? What the dough should look/feel like? Detail about how much “a good amount of fresh spinach” or “a couple glugs of vinegar” is (let alone what kind of vinegar)? If it’s someone from your past speaking to you through food, the very fact of having any description of a longtime family recipe is all you need. Lacking in detail though it may be, it is a beautiful form of family heritage.
Does one such recipe come to mind for you? If so, count yourself lucky. (Also, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.) And if you’re not sure you can fill the gaps so you can recreate it in your own kitchen, do what you can now to learn from those who hold that information in their hands, in their memories, in the traditions of your family. Those other practical details will come.