I track things. In various ways, through planners, notebooks and journals I track anything and everything in my life and the life of my family. I have notebooks filled with dates and book lists, TV shows to keep track of and weight over time. Appointments and travel and my innermost thoughts are all represented in my stack of notebooks.
I read up on the history of commonplace books and the importance of keeping one and writing things
down, treating our brain as a processing center instead of a long term storage facility. In fact, if it concerns tracking, writing, journaling, I probably have, at the very least, heard of it if not tried it out right.
When my sister in law married last fall, I bought a beautiful red, bound book dedicated to recipes. It was sectioned, but not formally, so you could log your favorite stew recipe on the page next to your college roommate’s famous double brownie recipe. The side of the page had tick boxes and sections to delineate course types and cooking times, whether it was diet specific and your own personal rating system. This seemed the perfect mix between traditional blank recipe book and a little more modern, just right for a continual track of favorite foods. With it in hand, I found a dozen or so family favorites and copied them down, making sure there was plenty of room in the book for their own favorites to be collected over time as the years grow. I made sure to pick up two of the same notebooks at the same time; one for me and one for my son in the future. And then I picked up one of my various notebooks and started making plans. What did I want archived in mine? In my son’s? How, exactly, did I want to go about the process of tracking and archiving a life of food in these books?
My mom has a book, well, more an O-ring clip with long, skinny, colorful card stock than book, that has been in her kitchen for as long as I remember. It’s filled with recipes from some family and a lot of church and community members. Names familiar and some I have to ask about, details fuzzy from a life removed. The recipes are made with ingredients no longer found on shelves (every time I have to ask my mom what oleo is, again, and she reminds me, again, it’s a substitute for lard. A common margarine.) as well as ingredients that are timeless. One recipe is for my grandmother’s Enchilada Pie, a sort of Mexican twist on a lasagna. I have hazy memories of eating it growing up, but making it as an adult I found it not to my taste. I wondered if I had done it wrong, as the instructions are a little spotty. Should I have fried the tortillas first? Adjusted the seasoning? Or was it simply that my memories were off and palates have changed?
I’m grateful for the few recipes I have written down from my childhood, but they really are, well, few. And fewer, still, the things written in my grandmothers and mother’s handwritings. I have memories and know the stories, but I do wonder how you track recipes when they are mostly the stuff of lore and not always written down? As we head for a visit to my parents’ house, this question is on my mind. I’m toying with different ideas ranging from a time consuming activity of going through my mother’s recipe box and simply photocopying anything I may want or need or trying to fill in the gaps with my own memories and hoping my mother remembers what I’m talking about to videotaping my mother as she recreates some of my favorites. I’m hoping this might allow repeated viewings so I can finally replicate my mother’s biscuits and get a solid recipe down for posterity sake. But, given that I’ve tried and failed more than a dozen times in the decades I’ve been trying, I’m not sure the video will provide any help.
I’m not certain any of these methods will happen, or work, or what I’m even in search of with this project. I know I want to fill my son’s book with recipes that will travel life with him, but is that the place for the spudnuts I know and love and link me to the spinning stool in my paternal grandmother’s kitchen but he has never tasted? Or will he appreciate, more, writing in my adjusted just to our taste beef stroganoff recipe that he asks for, repeatedly? I know the answer, clearly. But as I age and my tracking and journaling intensifies, I want to leave it all for him, every piece. Maybe that’s the real reason I bought two of those beautiful red books. One for the history and one simply for his future. His story. I hope he learns to appreciate both.