The Taste of Tradition

  • Steven W.

    Rank #190 of 1949

    Votes: 127

    About my essay:

     What is it about a Grandmother’s cooking that inevitably surpasses the culinary skills of the Grand Masters every time?  

 

The first love affair that I ever caressed, fumbled and lusted my way through   involved twelve briny clams and a smoky ration of chorizo. The final piece-de-resistance of this culinary ménage a trois was a portion of crusty bread which I tore and tore again, dunking it in the pool of love that shellfish and sausage make.  This was not served at some East Village tapas bar or in a timeless Portuguese dive but rather, in a temple of Formica and vinyl tile:  the suburban kitchen of a grandmother’s house.

 

What is it about a Grandmother’s cooking that inevitably surpasses the culinary skills of the Grand Masters every time?   Why do onions sweating in grandmother’s kitchen smell thrice as sweet as those in Boulud’s or Burrel’s pan?  Why is childhood, with all its attendant joy and comfort present in each bite?  Why can’t Nanna’s cooking ever be truly replicated?

 

My Grandmother, a Holocaust survivor from Europe was famous for her Brisket—with flavors and textures so lush that you did not just taste them—you were enveloped by them.  When the first morsel of tender braised beef touched your tongue it was as if all that was right within the universe, was now nestled deep in your soul. 

 

When Grandmother developed Alzheimers, it became a family-priority to memorialize all of her recipes, but to be sure, her Brisket.  One afternoon in a hot kitchen she taught my Aunt the secrets.  She taught which cut of meat to buy (always the “second cut”), she taught the method (braising, no less than two hours but no more than three) and lastly, she trusted her with the decidedly secret ingredient (Onion Soup Mix….ugh, WHAT?!??) She told her little else, as there was little else to tell.  We were all shocked! This recipe was, well, pedestrian

 

Grandma has long since stopped cooking the brisket.  Now it is my aunt who sweats the onions and braises the beef.  For the first few years, the Brisket did not taste bad, per se but it did not taste like Grandma’s either.

 

Now, as the years pass, the Brisket tastes better and better--the onions, sweeter and sweeter.  My Aunt has not done anything differently but each year still, the Brisket improves.  How can this be? The truth is: while the brisket was always good, it was never dazzling.  The tastes and the smells (Oh, the smells!) that made Grandma’s brisket so luscious---so delicious, are merely the incredibly rich taste of tradition--of family. 

 

These tastes of tradition and the correspondingly beautiful smells of Brisket, or Carnitas or Corned Beef and Cabbage in homes around the world represent all that is beautiful about food. It represents love, family, feelings of togetherness and above all a sense of camaraderie amongst generations.  I await the day when my daughter eventually serves Grandma’s brisket to her kids—even if they initially think that it is does not taste quite the same as my Aunt’s.   It will.

 

comments

Lindsey W.:

My mouth is watering right now!

July 27, 2010 Report Abuse
Marc W.:

I would love to see Grandma at the stove again.

July 27, 2010 Report Abuse
Jeremy P.:

Having recently lost one of my grandmothers, I whole-heartedly agree with you about the power and role of food in the relationship.  Many of my fondest memories involve her cooking, and I remain saddened by the fact that I may never taste her recipes ever again. Her clam chowder with a hunk of her warm fresh-baked bread on the side.  Her Christmas stuffing with just the right amount of apples, crumbled sausage and pecans, among other ingredients.  Great essay Steve.  

July 28, 2010 Report Abuse
Marc G.:

Perfection Steve!

July 29, 2010 Report Abuse
Marc G.:

Perfection Steve!

July 29, 2010 Report Abuse
Carol W.:

Steven,

I think a lot of jewish women know that recipe, but somehow the way you describe sounds delectable!  I feel very proud of you.  You don't know me, but hopefully we will meet again soon.

Your Godmother,

Carol

July 30, 2010 Report Abuse
Trisha H.:
Great essay Steven!! I wrote "My Italian Grandmother" - we both think of our nannas when we answer Tony's question! Great legacy they have left us! I especially loved what you wrote: " Why is childhood, with all its attendant joy and comfort present in each bite?  Why can’t Nanna’s cooking ever be truly replicated?" Good Job! September 1, 2010 Report Abuse
Lainee B.:

essay is amazing!!you are the best!

September 27, 2010 Report Abuse
Fermin N.:

good job, check mine out

http://bourdainmediumraw.com/essays/view/1648

September 27, 2010 Report Abuse
Fermin N.:

good job, check mine out

http://bourdainmediumraw.com/essays/view/1648

September 27, 2010 Report Abuse