In our family, Shabbat is always a potluck. Three generations bustle about very different kitchens, recreating recipes passed down l'dor v'dor, from generation to generation. And while I consider myself a fairly accomplished cook, I find myself regularly calling mom: "How come my brisket is so dry?" "Why is my kugel so temperamental?" "Why doesn't my tsimmes taste like yours?" And as much as I like asking the questions, she loves answering them.
As our family gets older and the thought of losing them looms large, it's a rewarding pleasure to spend time recording sweet moments, including favorite family recipes.
Instead of scrapbooking, think of it as cookbooking. Include recorded impromptu conversations in the kitchen, family photos and stories.
Pamela Hensley Vincent's "Jewish-Sicilian Cookbook" (Overlook Press, 2004) pays tribute to her family, preserving memories through recipes and family photos.
"When you sit down to write about people you love, it just flows out of you," Hensley Vincent said. "I visited haunts both magical and sorrowful, and as I went along, I recognized the cookbook was a scrapbook locked away all these years."
As Hensley Vincent began gathering and trying to recreate her family's recipes, she realized that when she cooked their dishes it was as if they were in the kitchen helping her.
"My father, Jack, could cook anything," she said. "When he came home from work he couldn't wait to get in the kitchen. When you grow up around that, you can't help but love cooking."
One vivid family memory straight out of my mother's own recipe box happened one year, just before Thanksgiving, when my parents had been perusing their favorite farmer's market and impulsively bought a giant bag of pecans. "I didn't know what to do with all those nuts," she said.
She opened the Herald-Examiner and there she found a recipe for pecan pie from her favorite columnist. My mom said, "I figured I listened to Dear Abby about other things, why not this?"
Jack's Roast Chicken With Giblet Stuffing
Adapted from "The Jewish-Sicilian Cookbook."
1 4- to 5-pound chicken
Coarse salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for rubbing on bird
Paprika to taste
1 celery stalk, with leaves, coarsely chopped
1 to 2 cremini mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1 medium-sized onion, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 14-ounce can of chicken broth
2 cups Pepperidge Farm Seasoned Bread Crumb Stuffing Mix
Preheat oven to 450 F. Remove chicken livers and giblets; thoroughly clean inside of cavity under cold, running water. Pat inside and outside dry with a paper towel. Place bird on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Lightly sprinkle cavity with salt and pepper. Rub outside with olive oil and paprika. Place bird in refrigerator until ready to stuff.
In a saucepan, heat olive oil. Lightly brown giblets and liver for one to two minutes. Remove from saucepan and set aside. In same saucepan sauté celery, mushrooms, onions and garlic. When they start to soften and clarify, return giblets to pan, but reserve the liver. Pour chicken broth over vegetables and giblets; bring to a simmer. Cover saucepan and simmer for 30 minutes. Add liver to pan for last two minutes. Remove liver and giblets from pan and allow them to cool. Chop coarsely.
Put 2 cups of stuffing mix into a bowl. Add chopped liver, giblets, vegetables; toss together. Remove chicken from refrigerator and place stuffing loosely inside. Secure with two pins and string on each end. Place in oven. Immediately reduce heat to 350 F. Cook 20 minutes per pound. When finished, remove from oven. Let chicken cool for five minutes before carving.
Serves four to six.
Dear Abby's Pecan Pie
This recipe appeared in Dear Abby's advice column every year at Thanksgiving. The original recipe called for 1 cup each of corn syrup and sugar. My mother, Celia Levitt, adapted the recipe to make it less sweet, thinking it would be a bit healthier. Sometimes she used far less sugar than this.
3/4 cup light corn syrup
3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1/3 cup butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 9-inch unbaked pie crust
1 heaping cup pecan halves
Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, combine corn syrup, sugar, eggs, butter, salt and vanilla; mix well. Pour filling into unbaked pie crust and sprinkle pecan halves over top. Bake 45-50 minutes or until center is set (toothpick inserted in center will come out clean when pie is done). If pie or crust appears to be getting too brown on top, cover with foil for the remaining baking time. Remove from oven and cool.
Serves eight to 10.