Food. We all need it to live. Whether we survive on fast food or dine out at luxurious restaurants where the maitre d’ knows your name, cook all our own meals from scratch or from pre-packaged boxes, grow most of the ingredients we eat or prefer rare imports, improvise our own recipes or follow the instructions religiously, food is the fuel we need to survive. But it is also the glue that binds us together as families and friends and shapes our ethnic, regional, and national identities. Our foodways, the customs and traditions surrounding why and how we make certain foods, are part of what make us who we are as individuals. The recipes might be passed down from one generation to another or shared between friends but it is really the stories behind the recipes that allow the dishes to feed our souls as well as our bodies.
Linda Murray Berzok understands how deeply meaningful recipes can be when the stories they represent are uncovered. She inherited her mother’s recipe collection. Her mother wrote copious notes on her recipes, suggesting changes for the next time she prepared it based on its most recent incarnation. She noted her menus of meals prepared for special occasions and critiqued restaurant meals. Her mother’s recipe collection was essentially a diary, documenting her connections with family and friends through stories, one meal at a time. A food historian, Linda parlayed the inspiration of her mother’s recipe collection into a book of such stories. Storied Dishes: What Our Family Recipes Tell Us About Who We Are and Where We’ve Been, edited by Linda, brings together essays from a variety of contributors, each providing the story behind one particular recipe. Linda provides no theorization. Each story and recipe is allowed to stand on its own, shaped in its sharing by the proclivities and interests of the individual contributor, though broadly categorized thematically as “ Our Foremothers,” “Lost Times and Places,” “Restoring Balance,” “Life Lessons,” “Bonding Together,” and “Coming into Our Own.”
Though it is certainly a cookbook , it is the stories that provide the bulk and heart of the book. I found dishes that I definitely want to prepare, some because of how the food relates to my own tastes and family background but others largely because I loved the story behind the recipe so much. Reading this book, your own stories of learning to cook, learning and passing on grandmother’s recipes, and traditional family meals will start bubbling up inside you. I urge you to write them down or shape them to tell and pass them on – with recipe! And use this book to inspire you. You won’t regret it. This is food that feeds the soul.
And if you need further inspiration, check these out:
Storyteller Dolores Hydock‘s marvelous tale of food and family “It’s Not the Food, It’s the Fellowship,” a recorded version of which can be found on her CD In-laws and Outlaws.
Kitchen Table Stories: A Story Circle Network Anthology of Stories and Recipes edited by M. Jane Ross, which not only includes stories and recipes but writing prompts sprinkled throughout.