If you haven't visited The Treat Girl's blog, you must--she gives the best recipes with tips and hints for making them turn out perfect. Today her post reminded me of my most hard-won recipes. You see, my mother-in-law is Mr. D's favorite cook in the whole wide world. He loves her lasagna, potato salad, egg bake and loose meat (yes, they're from Iowa) sandwiches. There's no competing with his adoration, I had to learn how to play the game.
Happily, there's no direct competition between my MIL and I, she lives in Iowa, we're in Wisconsin, we see each other a few times a year, but if she lived closer, she and Mr. D would be like Marie and Raymond Barone--he's her favorite and she dotes on him. Distance keeps us fond of each other, I enjoy her company and appreciate that she lives too far away to meddle in our lives. We have a unique relationship as she lives within 5 minutes of 2 of her other kids and 40 minutes from the other--we're a vacation, a treat compared to the family she sees every week of her life.
For years Mr. D would eat his mom's cooking and say to me, "You need to learn how to make this!" And I'd ask for the recipe and she'd "forget" to give it. I don't particularly enjoy cooking, so I didn't push the issue, figuring I could mold Mr. D's taste buds to appreciate my efforts with what I liked to make.
In turn, I shared my recipes liberally with my MIL, and I know she enjoys making them and passing them along, but she simply refused to share her standards with me. Mr. D and I first thought she was being selfish, wanting to be the Only One making his favorite foods. He'd ask me if I got the recipe from her, I'd tell him no, she wouldn't share because we got busy or interrupted, he'd get on the phone and demand the recipe and she'd promise to send it along or provide an excuse. "I don't have it written down" she'd say. Or, "I just put in a pinch of this and some of that" as though potato salad were a magical spell. Once she came to visit and made potato salad for us while I stood by watching in the kitchen. She didn't use any measuring tools so I couldn't get a decent read on how much of anything she added.
We concluded her refusal to pass along recipes was subliminal so no one else could make them.
I said as much to her once, suggesting "it would be such a shame for our sons not to enjoy their Grandma's famous cooking in years to come. If you'd teach me, we could keep your legacy alive long after you're gone. We need to write these recipes down!" Still, it took years for her to hand over any semblance of a hint of how to make her lasagna or potato salad.
But she did. She handed over (begrudgingly, though she'd never admit it) her recipe for lasagna. I made it--following her instructions to the letter, even though I suspected 4 tablespoons of salt seemed excessive. We ate it and swallowed quarts of water for days afterward. I noted on the recipe "HALF the salt" and made it again. Still too salty. I scratched out my note and wrote "1 TBS SALT" and it came out just right. Did she give me the wrong recipe on purpose? I don't think so, but it still seemed suspicious. Though she does like her food salty... she's the only person I know who salts pizza before eating it...
Two years later we managed to pry her potato salad recipe out of her clenched fingertips. I made it at home again following the recipe to the letter and guess what? TOO DRY. I wrote in the margin, "DOUBLE the dressing" and tried to make it again. You can imagine it turned out just right after modifications.
Now we know we can eventually get Mr. D's old family favorites out of my MIL's Super Secret Files with persistence and persuasion. We'll get a version sabotaged so that she still remains the Only One who can make Mr. D happy--to her mind, that is. It's no surprise to make her recipe only to fail--I know I have to look for the trap and finesse my way around it--and write down what I fixed so that someday MY daughters-in-law can get the right recipe from my clenched fingertips. And I'll tell them about my MIL and how proud she was of making these things to please her son--and I'll laugh as I tell them how we extracted the recipes from her with finesse that could rival CIA interrogators.
Spill it, reader. Does your family have secret recipes? Or do you share fair and square?