This I Believe

Claudia - Chicago, Illinois
Entered on November 22, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50

The other day, needing to use a pumpkin from the farmer’s market, I called a friend who’s always made puree for her Thanksgiving pies. Instructions – and an update on my friend’s life – in hand, I scooped, sliced, scraped, oiled, baked and blended.

Puree done, I flipped through my fall recipe collection. There is one for my friend Sarah’s clam chowder, and one for Tim’s chili, both sent by email. There are also my mom’s cranberry ice and Aunt Mary’s hot dish, both handwritten on index cards in a script which I believe is known as the “Palmer Method.”

Now, I don’t believe in the Palmer Method. I do, however, believe in recipes – handwritten or typed, shared at a party or by phone, or even collected and published.

I believe that recipes reflect the good in humanity. Good is our global human desire to take care of loved ones by feeding them well in good times or by feeding them as well as possible in tougher ones.

Good is our innate curiosity and experimental bent. It causes us to substitute celery for fennel root in a beloved terrine recipe just to see what will happen to the flavors, or to replace the oil for a carrot cake with applesauce because, hey, it works with other cakes, right? (Note to self: idea one, good. Idea two, well, the cat that died from curiosity had probably also been trying to digest that cake.)

Good is our desire to share our kitchen creativity and hard-won knowledge. We do this by contributing to church cookbooks, a web site, or by including a preferred stew recipe with the Dutch oven purchased for a favorite niece’s bridal shower. I believe it’s good to have a reputation for making the community’s best arroz con pollo but better to show the community your secrets.

Good also is our respect for what recipes represent. We ask Aunt Thelma to show us how to make her black eyed peas so she knows how important she is to the family’s New Year’s breakfast, so our New Year will always have a lucky start, and so she can be there with us to celebrate that day in future years, in spirit if not body.

I flipped through my recipes that day with the goal of finding the pumpkin square one. A former colleague had brought them to an office potluck, and I’d requested the directions. My family was coming over for lunch, and I knew the dessert’s subtle notes of clove and gentle sweetness would be a perfect end to the meal.

As I made the squares, I thought about my colleague and wondered how she was doing. I remembered that shared luncheon and the good memories from it. I thanked the heavens for the food I was making and the kitchen I was making it in. And I noted that life can come out quite wonderfully sometimes, if you just ask, share, experiment sometimes, and, oh, always follow the directions.