Everything tasted better when my grandma was around.
Growing up, we didn't get to see my dad's side of the family all that often, but I noticed at some point that all the food we ate in Grandma Kinsman's presence was exponentially more delicious. Later on, I came to realize that it wasn't due to some special grandmotherly mojo, but rather that she used real butter rather than margarine, and my family shopped accordingly when she was in town.
No matter the ingredients, I was predisposed to enjoy her cooking. I loved her and she loved me, her weird, short-haired, misfit granddaughter, even if the rest of the world wasn't inclined to. Seldom did I feel that love so strongly as when her yearly shipment of holiday cookies arrived.
This was a massive undertaking. Aided by my Aunt Myrna, my grandmother would craft hundreds, or sometimes thousands of unfailingly scrumptious sugar-dusted, nut-crusted, frosting-slathered, jam dotted cookies, each nestled into a small sleeve of wax paper. Unwrapping them (after we'd all squabbled and honed in on each family member's favorites) was a small, but momentous event - a visit, a hug, a memory to treasure.
And memories are all I have. Both Grandma and Aunt Myrna have passed on, and for a million small, silly, selfish and short-sighted reasons, I never made the time to get into the kitchen with them and learn at their experienced hands. Even if I had the recipes (which I do not, and other than Swedish Gems, I don't even know names with which to research), I'd be lacking the infinitesimal details: the precise piping of the jam into a sugar-dusted fold, the point at which to press the walnut half so it stays lodged in the bottom of the cookie, the consistency of the chocolate frosting so it enrobes but doesn't drip or crack.
Excellent baking is equal parts science, experience and love and I unwittingly cheated myself out of several of those key ingredients. Please, if you still have the chance, ensure a lifetime of sweet holiday memories for yourself and your family and get into the kitchen with your older loved ones NOW.
If you've got a slightly bigger budget, consider a print-on-demand publishing service like Lulu or Cafepress or a recipe-specific site like Tastebook and loved ones to order a copy, or surprise them with a holiday gift that will last a lifetime.
Is grandma camera-shy? See if she'll go for just a voice recording, and maybe some shots of her hands and the steps of the dish. You can get creative in the editing process later; what counts right now is that you're spending some time together.
While your future renditions of the dish may or may not taste exactly like your loved one's, I guarantee you this: you will never, ever eat it alone.
Family recipes are so much more than scraps of paper; they're a pact to keep the past alive and share it with generations to come. Scan or photograph a handwritten, heirloom family recipe (the more stained and well-loved-looking, the better), along with a story about the person who brought it into your life and a memory of enjoying it with relatives or friends. Share it in the comments below, or on your own blog (and post the link).
We'll showcase our favorites on Eatocracy, and you'll bask in the warm, happy glow of the knowledge that you made your Grandma (or great uncle, or second cousin in your mother's side) a superstar and preserved their kitchen legacy.