Thursday, July 15, 2010

Letter to the Extended Family

My family, on my mother's side, consists of all the descendants of my great grandmother. Shortly after she passed away my mother and aunt put together a family cookbook. While the primary goal was to preserve my great grandmother's recipes, they also accepted submissions from other family members. Many of the recipes from that cookbook have become staples and my parties and social functions. This book, and other projects like it, are a big part of what holds my (very) extended family together. So now the time has come to try to put together a second edition, and I've decided to head up the project. This is the letter that I sent out to my family to explain the project, which I hope to also use as the introduction to the second edition.

Names have been removed. For the most part they've simply been replaced with the relative's relationship descriptor.

To the Members of the Family _________,

The scions of our branch of the family met at the beach house last summer for a weekend. While there we discussed the need to create a second edition of our beloved family cookbook. "Why?" you may be wondering. "What is wrong with the cookbook we have?" Nothing is wrong with it! Well, except for the typos, outdated graphics and the occasional recipe that is simply wrong (as an example, my great Aunt's pickled mushrooms do not use pepper). But overall there is nothing wrong with it! It is certainly a better record of family culinary history than most extended families have. My personal copy has been a constant kitchen companion for as long as I've had a kitchen to use it in. Recipes from that book have fed friends and parties and have always met with raving success.

And yet, it is still woefully incomplete. Many of the recipes I grew up most directly associating with family trips and holidays weren't included in the original cookbook. Where is our Great Aunt's delicious carrot soufflé? Or our cousin's totally amazing challah? Or my Aunt's "famous" cheese tarts? These are the family recipes I long for and cherish and I would like to see them all in one place rather than scattered on recipe cards or still lacking from my recipe collection.

Of course, there would be more to a second addition than simply adding recipes that I personally feel are lacking from the first. I'm not sure when the original book was published, but I think I'm safe in saying that it was over 20 years ago. In those 20 years children have grown up, gotten married and had children of their own. They have developed and discovered their own recipes as well as married into families with their own culinary traditions. They have lived in foreign lands, and settled in distant states. And they have no doubt acquired prized dishes, college culinary experiments, and the occasional in law oddity that all deserve to be represented. When I look through my family cookbook I see very little representing my own small family, or the families of the cousins I grew up with. As our extended family extends ever farther, I feel that we need the binding element that this book provides more than ever.

When talking about community building, so much of it always comes back to food. When we talk about having friends in our neighborhood we mention about how we'll be able to "borrow a cup of sugar" from them. When planning weddings and bar mitzvahs so much of the party planning is focussed on what will be served. We understand that when we are melancholy there are certain "comfort foods" we can turn to. And almost every major Jewish holiday revolves around a festive meal (except when they specifically have us NOT eating). What we eat, and who we eat it with, are a large part of what help us create a sense of commonality. At this point, our family has spread so far and grown so large that it's unlikely we're ever going to get everyone together at one big passover seder, but just because we aren't sitting down at the same table doesn't mean that we can't be sitting down to the same foods.

And that's the goal. To create a cookbook that represents the family in it's current incarnation and allows us to all have something in common, no matter how far apart we might be or how long it's been since we last saw each other. So send us your new recipes developed or discovered as you've grown up and moved out on your own. Send us your variations on recipes from the original cookbook. Send us the staples from your in-laws' family or that crazy innovation by your spouse. And send us your old classics that some how escaped publication and all the minor corrections that have been lingering unfixed for over 20 years.

I can't wait to see them all!

1 comment:

  1. Hello!
    I haven't had time to read through your blog yet. I clicked through from offbeat mama from your post there! I was so surprised to see it and then I read you were from the South and I was ecstatic. You are officially the closest Poly person that I have found and I would love to be able to chat with you sometime. My blog is slow, but feel free to check it out. It's sometimes a bit vague as my boyfriend's soon to be ex wife is very weary about the situation. Anyway, nice to meet you and hope to hear from you soon!