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Are You A Recipe Sharer Or A Secret Keeper? On Bread And Butter


We’ve discussed before writing down recipes as a form of familial oral history. We keep close those things that tie us to those before and those things we want to share with those after. We have stories and memories around certain foods.


We hold them close in an almost airy reverence as we prepare or share those dishes that are as much a part of us as any other part of our history. At what point does sharing recipes add or subtract to that history? What makes a recipe unique to a person or family? Several of my favorite go-to dishes originated with friends and neighbors, roommates and people I grew up with. Does this simply add to the history of the dish? Do you add a note on where you got the recipe and the relationship you shared? Do you name it after the person? Or do you simply file and it becomes adopted as your own?

I have often been amazed at those who freely share recipes. My husband is one of them. I’m a little more stingy. I give recipes out begrudgingly, out of a sense of obligation, almost. I pass it on because I feel it’s socially acceptable to do, but I give great pause before I let go. The one exception is close friends. I share openly and frequently without any pause. What is the difference? I’m sure that would be an insightful hour with my therapist, should I want to fully explore.

My favorite brownie recipe came from a girl named Jane. She was an acquaintance of a friend of a friend. Or something along those lines. We lived near one another, anyway, and one day we were at a potluck gathering of some sort. She brought her brownies. They were, quite frankly, divine. Everyone immediately wanted the recipe and, as I think back on it now, she seemed a little reluctant, but still wrote it out: “Jane’s Irresistible Brownies.” Was the ‘Jane’ on there or am I just misremembering? I think it might have been. Over the years, her original moved and morphed into several books and recipe filing systems. It now resides in a book of extended family favorites with the simple title “Irresistible Brownies,” the Jane having either never been there or dropped along the way. They get made, infrequently, anymore, but are still beloved and sought after any time I take them to a gathering myself. But the recipe. I keep it close, rarely sharing.  Part of me doesn’t want to betray the memory of the originator, although, at this point, it occurs to me that maybe she wasn’t the originator at all and it was simply a recipe she had gotten along the way from a friend of a friend of an acquaintance, but part of me also wants to keep the dark, rich, brownie goodness to myself.

I’ve seen media that plays recipe keeping as some sort of state secret, covert operation hive between warring housewives. But is that always right? Is my need to closely guard my brownie recipe steeped in stereotype and decades-old tradition? Or is it more along the lines of not wanting to give away what isn’t technically mine and my deep reverence for copyright? Or is that just a cover for my deeply buried desire to come out on top of some mythical brownie grudge match that never quite happens? 

I taught my husband how to bake bread. He now makes all of the bread in our house, taking to it like I never quite did. He spends hours in the kitchen, trying different recipes and techniques.  He perfects one and then continues to tweak it better. Over the years, his bread has evolved and surpassed anything I’ve ever turned out. Honestly, it’s been so long, now, that I’m not sure I could turn a loaf at all. And while time and distance has been such that I eagerly await for his latest creation to come out of the oven and cool, ever so slightly, before indulging, I remember the sting of being surpassed. It’s hard to admit when someone takes something of yours and not only replicates it but improves upon it. Well, it’s tough up until you sink your teeth into that glorious slice of carbs or buttery square of brownie, anyway. Maybe I should share Jane’s brownies. I know I have people around me that could keep me in supply while I eschew the work.