Whether it’s your mother’s pot roast, your father’s green bean casserole or your grandmother’s tamales, food, family and memory are utterly enmeshed. “We all have one particular food so wedded to our sensibilities that it has the power to resurrect the past”, writes Lynne Christy Anderson in her book Breaking Bread: Recipes and Stories from Immigrant Kitchens.
For those who moved to the US from abroad, a family recipe can be much more than a meal. It can bring back memories from across the world, offer a taste of home, and be a chance to share culinary traditions with friends and family in America.
To write Breaking Bread, Anderson visited with immigrants from all over the world, who invited her into their kitchens to cook and share stories of food and family. To celebrate Mother’s Day, Anderson has collected some of these stories from and about mothers.
“I think I learned things from my mother when I was a kid that, at the time, I didn’t even realize I was absorbing, like this desire to have certain foods….It’s like a continuum….Because now I’m cooking what my mother cooked, like the doce de leite and the katxupa.”—Ines Brito, fifty-five, is originally from Cape Verde.
“When I cook with my son, we like to make believe that we’re on TV. So he’s chef Matthias and I say, “Okay, Matthias, do this,” and he whispers, “Mommy, we’re on the cooking show.” It’s this little game that we play. I remember my dad doing that with me when we cooked. When we used to have people over, he and I would do the decorating. We’d roll up the prosciutto on the grissini, the long bread sticks, and arrange them on a plate with melon.”—Fausta Scarano Finkemeyer, thirty-eight, is originally from Italy.
“My mother is definitely the guide for my cooking. She’s a very good cook, and she’s always been artistic with the way she presents things. So I’ve never gone out and bought a recipe book; it was always my mother who was the source…. In our culture, recipes are passed down.”—Yasie Sadadat, thirty-one, is originally from Iran.
“You know, when I was growing up, whatever my mother made, it was always the best thing of the day. I grew up eating her food, so it was always the ultimate; there was never anything better. And I think when you go home and you eat your mother’s meal, that’s when you can say, the day is over and I can go to bed, because now I’ve been fed. Sometimes I think, without that, it’s like nothing.”—Dakpa Zady has been in the United States for over twenty years. He is originally from Cote d’Ivoire.
“And my kids, they cook with me, too. My daughter, Jessica, she loves to eat. I always tell her she’s a little girl with a big stomach. I make anything she and her brother want. If they want meatballs, I make meatballs….I always take them to the park so they can help pick the grape leaves. They know I’m going to save them for the winter instead of having to pay four or five dollars for the ones in the store.” —Dmitra Khoury, fifty, is originally from Lebanon.