What Is in a Recipe?

“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?

About NJ

I love to write! I realized in 9th grade that I really enjoyed writing. Every two weeks we had assigned topics that we were to use to write an essay. I liked writing the essays. I'm a mom and a grandma. None of my family live nearby, but they visit when they are able to come. I've been a pastor's wife and a grade school teacher. Now I'm retired and enjoying visiting others, and indulging myself in my hobbies, --writing and art activities. I'm very thankful for the blessings in life.
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9 Responses to What Is in a Recipe?

  1. Sally says:

    I don’t! My grandmother (Big Mama) made the very best teacakes; the recipe wasn’t secret, but NO ONE EVER WROTE IT DOWN!! I miss them, and have not been able to replicate. 🙂

    It’s nice to see you, Nancy, have missed you. 🙂

  2. NJ says:

    Sally, I’ve been in a busy phase of life. I’m okay but not spending as much time at the computer.

    I enjoyed your response, but I wonder, what are tea cakes? Are they anything like muffins? Are they more like cake? It’s too bad no one ever wrote the recipe. But it does give you a good memory. NJ

  3. Lorraine says:

    My mother had a secret family recipe for her meatballs. But I am like you, and I like it when people like my food and ask for the recipe. I consider that the highest form of compliment. So I’ve given out her “secret” recipe to whoever asks me for it!

  4. NJ says:

    I’m interested, Lorraine, –what is your mom’s secret ingredient?

  5. Lorraine says:

    Soft bread crumb and Romano cheese.

  6. NJ says:

    Thanks for the reply. Sounds like a good addition.

  7. Danger Mouse says:

    Ah ha! As a member of the British police force, we have to be able to keep secrets. Consequently we never use recipes! The food tastes awful, but you’ll never get our secrets!

  8. NJ says:

    Some secrets are better kept secret! I remember being given home made rootbeer. I don’t know if there was a secret ingredient but I didn’t have any desire to have the recipe. NJ

  9. Elizabeth says:

    My grandmother had a secret recipe for bran muffins. She told my Aunt Jeanette that she’d write it down for her. That written recipe doesn’t hold a candle to my grandmother’s bran muffins. I loved those muffins as a child and sorely wish I could duplicate them now. Whatever ingredient she left out, it’s central to the recipe turning out well. I can’t tell you how many batches of muffins I’ve thrown out over the years trying one ingredient or the other.

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