Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

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Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

Secret recipes and the secret of recipes

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Item number one: My old friend Jay came to visit a few days ago, brought the most delicious chocolate chip cookies, and sent me the recipe. It’s from Neiman Marcus, but it’s a real recipe for really wonderful cookies.

(If you’ve never heard the story--which is total urban myth--it involves a woman eating at the restaurant in Neiman Marcus, loving the chocolate chip cookies so much she asks for the recipe, only to be billed $250 or some such outrageous sum for it. Story is a complete fabrication.)

Item number two: In today’s New York Times Michelle Slatalla has a piece on neighbors trying to outdo each other with secret recipes for stuffed cabbage.

The confluence of those two items got me thinking about the whole idea of the secret recipe. Not a pretty picture. For two reasons.

Take one: Food is a basic need and also love made concrete. It’s nurturing, caring, the one indispensable thing we can offer someone else in true generosity. So the whole idea of withholding a recipe is so stunningly miserly when you think about it that it’s really not so far removed from bread lines and continents of starving children. The smallness of begrudging someone food--maybe especially delicious food--has implications of a world view that goes way beyond our little recipe files.

Take two: Just who is it who is usually seen as hoarding those secret recipes--or maybe giving out the recipe but with one vital ingredient missing? Women. Women whose place was so firmly rooted next to the stove that the secret recipe can be a stand-in for the miniscule power they had, the perceived value of what they had to offer in the world. Tiny scraps of yellowed paper. Tiny aspirations, truncated possibilities.

So, thank you to my friend Jay and to Neiman Marcus for the cookie recipe. Thank you, Marcie, for carrot pudding,; Caryl Kahn for peach pie; Fran for bread pudding and another Fran for Tuscan bread soup; my late neighbor Dan for country stew; my aunt Sara, gone for decades, whose noodle pudding recipe lives on and has now evolved to include one new ingredient suggested by my granddaughter. My recipe file is filled not only with foods, but with people, with their history, and with my ties to them. My thanks to you all: your generosity continues to sustain me.

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The occasional recipe...the famous Caryl Kahn peach pie

Friday, June 12, 2009

That’s how it’s known in my family, even though Caryl Kahn is a name from our deep past, a neighbor in our suburban New York town way back when. Does she still make this? Who knows. But she was the source of the recipe and I can’t pass it along without attribution.

But about the pie. Well, it’s hardly a traditional pie. I’ve never seen another recipe like it. You can’t cut it into neat slices and it only has a top crust and even that’s not a “real” pie crust. It’s pretty much just fruit with some batter spooned over it. But it’s delish and dare I say easy as pie.

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Scald, skin, and slice peaches.
Stop--full disclosure--I NEVER EVER do those first two. I just slice them and ignore the skin. Feel free to peel, though, if you’re offended by skin. How many peaches? I just use enough to fill the pie plate evenly and then pile more on top. If the peaches are getting too ripe and I need to use them fast, I may pile on quite a few more. This is a recipe I take liberties with.

3. Sprinkle peaches with mix of 1/3 cup sugar and a little cinnamon.

4. Make batter:
Cream together
1 tbsp. butter
2/3 c. sugar
1 egg, beaten
1/2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
pinch salt
and combine until smooth.

5. Spoon batter over peaches.

6. Bake 25-30 min. until lightly browned on top and baked through.

This is terrific on its own, at breakfast, lunch, dinner, or any time in between. Great with vanilla ice cream, too, or a dab of creme fraiche.

Although this is, after all, a famous peach pie, it is possible--even good--to try other fruit. In Maine I use blueberries and it works perfectly. Although I have never made this with apricots or apples or plums or nectarines, those sounds like perfectly good possibilities, too. I hope one of you will try and let me know.

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