Marion Cunningham’s death is a sad occasion, one that’s fostered many loving tributes from distinguished food writers like Kim Severson and Michael Bauer. Many of these tributes make mention of her recipes, in particular her raised waffles (which I’ve made before, see picture above) and her baking powder biscuits (which I haven’t but plan to make right away). Similarly, at Nora Ephron’s memorial service, ushers passed out copies of her favorite recipes (for tzimmes, for brisket, for egg salad) as a way to remember her.
These recipes aren’t like letters found in a shoebox or dusty pictures hanging on a wall. Most artifacts from someone’s life are inanimate, frozen-in-time. Letters and pictures don’t ask anything of you; recipes do. To follow a recipe, you have to go food shopping. You have to get out your cooking equipment. You have to pre-heat the oven. You have to prep your ingredients. Most importantly, you have to conjure forth—patiently, carefully, thoughtfully—a specific taste that replicates, in some way, the taste captured by the recipe author when they wrote down those words.