“This was a woman’s pride, to have a recipe worth stealing. To this end my mother hid her scrapbook,” Gail Anderson Dargatz wrote in The Cure for Death by Lightning.
This statement intrigued me because I was not used to the idea of having a secret recipe that someone else would envy and try to duplicate. I think it’s flattering to be asked for one of my recipes and I share them freely.
I started to talk to people about the idea of secret recipes and asked questions such as, “Do you have a secret recipe? Did your mom have one? Can you tell me a story about a secret recipe?”
One woman, Jackie, told me that her sister-in-law’s family made special nut rolls and were very willing to give out the recipe but the nut rolls never tasted quite the same as those the family made. Finally she found out that there was a secret ingredient, a liquor, and the family didn’t want others to know that they had used it in their baking, so they never included it in the recipe.
Jack told me that his mom made nice big molasses cookies. He would ask her for the recipe and she would always say, “I don’t know. I just make them.” He tried many ways to make those cookies but he was never able to get the cookies to be like the ones his mom made.
Mildred had a similar memory. “Mom made the best meatloaf and meat patties,” she told me. “But she would never tell us how she did it. ‘I just use a pinch of this and a pinch of that,’ she’d say.
No secret recipes for her, Amelia says. She has shared her special recipes with her family and one of her grandchildren put them into a family booklet so that her whole family could enjoy them.
Virginia has a friend who won’t share recipes. She always says, “I don’t give out my recipes!” Her friend likes the idea of having something that she can do that someone else can’t do. “It gives me a ‘let down’ feeling when my friend refuses to share her good recipes,” Virginia says.
It can be vexing to ask for a recipe only to be told that it’s a secret. Or it can bring back fond memories of favorite family foods that can no longer be shared because the recipe was stored only in the maker’s memory.
Do you have a secret recipe?