Grandma Rose’s “S” cookies. Grandma McCarthy’s raisin cake. Aunt Evelyn’s cream frosting. Looking through my recipe boxes prompts memories of loved ones and happy events. We celebrate each other and all that happens with food.

My father made the best Reuben sandwiches and hot buttered rums on New Year’s Day. Mom’s pineapple refrigerator dessert topped off summer barbecues. And Christmas – oh my gosh – what would Christmas be without everyone’s fabulous foods and endless desserts?

No matter how tight the budget, my family’s been blessed to have plenty to prepare and serve hearty, tasty meals. We express ourselves through our cooking and baking. We serve one another and show our love by investing our time, talent, and money to create dishes that nourish and please.

Some cultures are more particular about the food on the table than others. To not eat my Italian grandmother or great aunts’ dishes signaled to them that we did not appreciate not only the food but also them. It didn’t matter if we were hungry or not. We ate or insulted our relatives. And how could we not enjoy all of their homemade delicacies?

After Hurricane Katrina I heard a speaker from Louisiana talk about the disaster and its effects on her personally. She said that one of her greatest losses was the family recipes. Her family gathered that following Thanksgiving and struggled to prepare their favorite holiday dishes. They no longer had exact recipes that were handed down through generations. There was no way for them to replace that piece of family history.

It can be difficult to duplicate recipes because, some like me, don’t follow them closely. Most often we add a little of this and that depending on what’s on hand and how many we’re serving. But we must try at some point to determine exact ingredients of our favorites so our descendants can continue to enjoy them. These recipes aren’t simply lists of ingredients. They’re part of who we are, part of our legacy. The extensive cook book industry, thousands of food blogs, and cooking classes across the country are evidence of this.

The saying, “you are what you eat” became popular a number of years ago. But it’s more than that. We also are what we cook.

So who are you?

(Recipe Card: John Doyle’s Garlic Soup in his handwriting)

©2012, Mary K. Doyle

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