I love family recipes. They are different from national/regional and traditional recipes because they are unique to each family.
Normally this might make you think of a stereotypical Italian family where everyone says, “Ah, but I miss the way my Mama used to make this dish”, and it is passed down from generation to generation; but I have brushed with this myself when I tried to make Kartofelgulasch (Austrian potato goulash) for my partner. He’s Austrian (surprise!) and Austrians have a very strong (and tasty) culinary identity and history.
It’s become something of an obsession of mine to try and recreate my partner’s family dishes – not just to surprise him, but also out of curiosity, and we get to eat the whole lot regardless (yum!). I tried to make it as per the traditional recipe – lots of onions, equal amounts of potatoes, the whole pot of paprika, dry-cured sausages, beef stock and goulash spices – but when I presented it eagerly and expectantly to my partner, he said:
“This is tasty, but this isn’t Kartofelgulasch from my childhood”.
And I was utterly stumped. I checked the recipe again and used a different sausage, convinced that maybe this would be the cause.
“This is also tasty, but this still isn’t the Kartofelgulasch from my childhood.”
After making this a couple of times and being met with the same response, I had to start asking:
“What else was it meant to have?”
“I’m not sure to be honest, all I know is that this currently is not the Kartofelgulasch from my childhood.”
Gaaaaahhh that makes it almost impossible to know how to make it!
So after experimenting a bit more, I came to realise that his family added sour cream to this goulash: normally you’d expect to find it as a side for beef goulash, but not so much for potato goulash.
But aside from that, I’ve not been able to identify anything else, except the possibility that England does not import the correct sausage.
I guess I know what I’ll be asking his elder sister Sigrid when I next see her:
“What’s the family recipe for Kartofelgulasch? Here’s what I’ve been doing but it’s still not what he had as a child – HILFE! (help!)”
But this little culinary adventure got me thinking a little. When I ask around the people I know, very few of them know their own family recipes, and the usual response was,
“Oh I don’t know, but Grandma would know if I asked her.”
But what if you never ask her, or if it’s never written down or stored somewhere for the next generation and the next? It makes me feel a bit sad to think that, that’s where the lineage ends for that family’s recipe.
There is another way though, whether we do have any or not: we can make our own family recipes to pass down to our children and hopefully onwards through the next generations.
It’s a piece of yourself you can pass on to capture the times – what’s available, what your tastes are, create memories from creating them and also from eating with everyone.
I’m going to ask my Japanese Mum and English Grandma about whether they have any recipes to pass onto me soon; but first, I created a little recipe for cupcakes that I hope I can pass on:
Yup, the ultimate of chocolate cakes turned into cupcake-y goodness!
I’ll tell you more about my Sachertorte cupcake recipe, along with the history of the great Sachertorte, in my next post.