Over the past few years I've noticed that recipes that are carefully treasured and even more carefully passed down family recipes are, well to put it bluntly, not.
Grandma's something something bean recipe, for example, is identical to the family recipe for beans of a close friend. I know this because I served our family recipe beans to the friend who then told his mother how good they were who then said that she had given me the recipe. Except that I have it typed out in a cookbook created for me by my mother about twenty five years ago, quite some time before I ever met this friend.
To take another example, mum's incredible buttermilk pancake recipe, the pancakes upon which we fed as children on Saturday mornings, upon closer inspection, is identical to the one on the side of the buttermilk container.
It doesn't make the recipes any worse or any less treasured but it did make me start thinking about the provenance of the family recipe books. Here's my theory.
It is the thirties, forties, and fifties. It might even be the sixties. I, as a new wife, am cooking for my family. I have some experience because my mother taught me the basics but I want to try something different. There on the side of the buttermilk container is a recipe for buttermilk pancakes. I try it. The family loves it. I carefully copy it into my recipe book or onto a 3 x 5 card for my file so that I can easily find it again. My children and their children grow up eating "grandma's pancakes". Presto, changeo, a family recipe is born.
Until one of the great grand-children happens to glance at the side of a carton of buttermilk, just when the dairy company has circled back to putting recipes on their cartons instead of pictures of missing children, and there is great grandmother's buttermilk pancake recipe. Oh the disappointment.
On the other hand, the pancakes are just as good as they always were, and if anyone asks where the recipe came from, you can still honestly say "These are the ones my great grandmother always made and they are my absolute favorite. Would you like another?"