Love to Bake! Bake to Love! is the theme of this year’s DB Baking Competition, and it’s got me thinking about the way food brings people together and how we do, in fact, bake to express love. I’ve also realised that, whether I’m cooking for family or entertaining friends, my go-to recipes are the ones that have been with me for as long as I can remember.
So, here’s the backstory: When my mother got married, her new mother-in-law gave her a book of recipes that she’d put together over the years that she knew her son enjoyed. This was a way to welcome my mother into the family and bless the marriage. (My mother jokes that without this book my father would have “failed to launch”.) When I left home, my mother passed my grandmother’s recipe book on to me and it’s something I treasure to this day.
This a simple enough tale, common to many families in one form or another, but also one that strikes me as meaningful. Because of this book, I grew up eating dishes my father had enjoyed as a child. Because of this book, my mother and I cook certain dishes in the exact same way my grandmother did.
We roll out her Pavlova at Christmas and fall back on her trusty chicken soup when someone is sick. I suppose what we have in this book is a family tree of foods, a line that can be traced for decades into the past and the future.
Recipes like these allow us to celebrate our heritage and keep those who are gone from us close. Baking these recipes is a way to honour our family’s roots and traditions; it connects us to our past. I see this in a girlfriend of mine, who is known for her delicious almond cookies. She bakes them exactly as her great-grandma did in China 100 years ago, and that, for her, is what’s important. “Part of knowing the path ahead is to understand where you come from,” she explains. “These traditions from the past are part of who you are as an individual. Family ties stand the test of time and bring us joy. Preserving family recipes is saving and honouring our heritage so future generations can continue to strengthen those ties.”
Indeed, being able to make dumplings just as grandma did (think Crazy Rich Asians) or po’boys just like dad (think Chef ) can bring us happiness in so many ways. For some of us, even the smell of a favourite family dish cooking on the stove can transport us back to the kitchen of our youth. Food can remind us of experiences long forgotten and allow us to relive feelings of comfort, satisfaction or excitement.
Preserving family recipes allows us to access these emotions any time we choose, and it can help turn an ordinary moment into a special one.
Cooking treasured family recipes helps us recall happy times past but, just as importantly, it helps us create new memories and establish new traditions in our own homes. Teaching children how to cook is a rewarding and joyful experience, and a really fun way to strengthen family bonds. Some of the happiest times I’ve spent in the kitchen are when everyone in the family chips in and everyone has a role to play. If the end result is a meal that my grandmother would have been proud of, that’s the icing on the cake.