In 2001, my partner and his mother compiled a family cookbook comprised of recipes that were favorites and handed down from one generation to another. To keep the recipes together, instead of scattered in other cookbooks and personal recipe boxes – the book was created.
I was asked to write the introduction to the book. I thought about traditions, special meals and how food plays a role in our celebrations. In the spirit of the holiday season and Thanksgiving, I am posting the introduction that I wrote thirteen years ago.
Also, family members were asked to write a recollection of a certain meal or type of food that brought back special memories. I thought of my grandmother and how she introduced me to chicken livers at an early age. This story is also included.
May the tastes and scents of your favorite foods contribute to your celebration and provide lasting memories - Happy Holidays!
Remember, as a child, waking up on a holiday morning with the smells of your mom’s cooking creeping up the stairs? Your mother had already been up for hours creating the day’s feast. You lay in bed savoring the aroma, and thought of your favorite part of the meal. Your mouth watered at the thought of that special dish being created downstairs with love.
You couldn’t wait to bite into that jellyroll that completed every Passover meal, or pile your plate high with potato latkes during your Chanukah celebration. Whipped cream on top of the Thanksgiving pumpkin pie would be wonderful, and you always needed an extra side dish for that generous portion of the Christmas cranberry relish.
All those special recipes passed down through generations bring back memories. When you think of a favorite food, meal or snack, it usually includes a memory of the time, place and people you enjoyed it with. Family celebrations and impromptu get-togethers always included a special meal. It was a time to share stories and break bread.
As your ancestors packed their belongings to travel to America, they made sure they brought their family recipes and their finest cooking utensils. Their style of eating was part of a tradition and a heritage. While you grew up with bagels and knishes, others had pasta and wedding soup, corned beef and cabbage or rice noodles and shrimp.
Food preparation and combining the right ingredients became something parents could pass down to their children. It was a form of bonding, communication and love. Learning to make the perfect matzo ball or roll the perfect piecrust was something that could be shared by mother and daughter, father and son, and grandparents and grandchildren. As you were handed that tattered recipe card to add to your cooking repertoire it became a symbol of heritage, family and the continuity of generations.
This book was designed to share the love of food and family, and the memories both bring. The pages contain recipes that have been handed down from family, shared between friends or clipped from pages of other cookbooks. They have become part of your family’s menus, and they have brought pleasure to your taste buds. The ingredients combine to tell a story of who you are as a member of your family, and how your individual tastes have contributed to and influenced those around you.
Most people will tell you that eating liver is an acquired taste. It is something you either like or you don’t, rarely is there a middle ground. I grew up thinking chicken livers were a real treat. It wasn’t until I got older that people would look at me in disgust when I said I loved liver. Who knew I was part of a minority?
When I was a child my grandmother lived with my family. She was a very good cook and would often prepare the big Sunday dinner. I remember one of her specialties was Chicken Pot Pie. It was stewed chicken in chicken stock gravy with homemade dough dumplings. Chicken Pot Pie was a real comfort food. It was something for a cold winter’s day that would warm your belly and stick to your ribs and unfortunately your thighs.
When my grandmother would cook the chicken, she would save the liver for my sister and I. We would anticipate when we would get to eat it. She would place it on a small plate and announce it was ready. My sister and I would split it, but sometimes we would fight over it if it didn’t seem to be enough. What a treat, a succulent piece of liver lightly salted and still warm from cooking waiting to be eaten. If you were lucky there would be a small piece of onion stuck to it from the chicken stock.
To me this was a real delicacy and a great Sunday treat. It was something special that we didn’t have everyday. I would gladly have accepted a Christmas stocking full of chicken livers. That’s how much I loved them.
Another part of the chicken liver routine would be for my grandmother to prepare extra dough when making her dumplings. The extra dough was for us to play with. She would call us into the kitchen and give us a big lump of dough. I remember laying it out on the kitchen table and using her rolling pin to flatten it out. I would pretend to be a chef preparing a great dessert. I would also take the dough and shape it into many forms. This was my chance to be creative. The possibilities were endless. Have you ever seen the Taj Mahal in dough?
What a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon, playing with dough with flour up to your elbows and munching on chicken liver. Even now as I enjoy chopped chicken liver or smell a chicken cooking in a pot, I think of those lazy Sunday afternoons when liver and dough was all I needed to make me happy.