Family legend has it that when my Great Aunt was starting to age and had already begun to decline, her granddaughters asked her about her chicken soup recipe, hoping to gain a piece of the recipe, or at least the wisdom of some good tips for making it special.
“Nana…tell us how you make your chicken soup.”
She looked that them, with an expression of wonder at how they could ask such a question and exclaimed, “You make it!”
Sometimes, we don’t get the answers we’re looking for, but some questions we just have to ask. And, little by little, if we listen enough and watch enough, we can piece together the knowledge we need. And sometimes we have to ask.
When I asked my mother recently for her tzimmes recipe (Hi, Mom!), she sent me two recipes and told me she usually combines them. I then asked her how she combined them, and she said she made one of them and added a few ingredients from the other. I then called her and asked a question to clarify that, and she went into greater detail and then told me about how she also adds turnips and parsnips, like her mother had done. I then asked her about the matza balls she puts in and she said, “Oh, yeah! I forgot about those. Put those in, too.” Piece by piece, with the right questions, I think I have a complete recipe. So that I can make it and enjoy its flavors, and pass the experience of enjoying it on to others.
So much of Passover preparation is about the food. What we can and can’t eat. How to make this dish just perfectly. That one favorite recipe that we just have to include. And how to make a version of most of the foods that can be eaten by those with allergies, or who don’t eat meat, or who are intolerant to a variety of foods…so that everyone can have a satisfying meal.
When I look back at memories of my extended family, so many of them take place in the kitchen. Even when we aren’t cooking, the kitchen is a center of life. And from every crumb (and I’ve always said Passover is a crumby holiday) and every spill and every taste and every extra serving, we gain a lifetime of memories–and learn from generations of wisdom. Even as we add our own wisdom on.
Taste and memory are so connected. There are foods that I eat that whisk me away to another place, another time. And flavors that I have yet to be able to taste again. Throughout our lives, we gain so many recipes! Some written down, others in the warehouse of our memory. And as we share our meals with others (such an essential part of the Passover tradition), we enjoy the opportunity to teach–so that our guests may learn new tastes. And maybe even ask for the recipe.
“May all who are hungry come eat!” Indeed.