The Family Art of Cooking

At my father’s mother’s home in Florida, where I used to come visit during summers as a child, we love to eat and talk about food and family recipes—cooking is most certainly an art in our family.

The conversation began with my grandmother describing a dish her mother used to make during lent because they were catholic and would not eat meat. She only just recently found the name and a recipe for Shakshuka. (This one is from one of my favorite recipe blogs.) I can’t wait to try this out at home. There’s something so special about hearing the family stories woven with family recipes…similar to one of my favorite books/movies “Como Agua para Chocolate,” or “Like Water for Chocolate.”

Then, my grandmother pulled out this metal sacred-feeling box with all of my great-grandmothers hand-written recipe notecards. My great-grandmother arrived in the United States (to New Orleans) from Nicaragua in 1914 at the age of 14 with her mother and 5 brothers and sisters. It’s really neat to see in the recipes the mix of cultures and flavors into the American “melting pot” that everyone is always talking about. For example, the Tamale Pie (Mexican?), Jambalaya (Cajun), Ratatouille (Italian), Beignets (French/Cajun), Jewish Apple Bread, and what she labeled as “All American Potato Scallop.” My Nicaraguan immigrant great-grandmother ended up marrying into an old french-rooted New Orleans family – can’t you just imagine the way that kitchen must have smelled?

I was so moved and in awe to look through the cards, in my great-grandmother’s handwriting, recognizing dishes my grandma and dad cooked as I was growing up, like: tamale pie, sangria, beignets, scalloped potatoes, chicken cacciatore, ratatouille, jambalaya, and shrimp gumbo.

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I have memories of being 7 or 8 and making soup with my dad in the kitchen, learning about the spices, and consistencies of sauces, and tenderness of vegetables. Looking through these recipe cards, I can imagine my dad in his mother’s and grandmother’s kitchen learning the same lessons.

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Family traditions and the art of cooking, eating, and loving….

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