Last weekend I hunted high and low for a favorite international cookbook. It was my mother’s and her mother’s before that. It’s one of those cookbooks that when I need it, no other cookbook will do. Maybe you know what it looks like. The leather-bound, light blue cover has tattered corners. Now dutifully yellowed, some of the pages are falling out. There are newspaper clippings tucked in here and there, along with my mother’s handwritten notes. The often hastily scribbled notes remind me of her warm hands that spent countless hours serving up nourishment and comfort. I finally found it. It was right where I tucked it. On my nightstand.

We need to keep handing down recipes from generation to generation. Recipes are cultural place holders serving as autobiographical accounts of days gone by. Ever since 3,600 years ago, when a scribe scratched out a recipe for poultry, we have recorded recipes and have allowed them to evolve and be shared. Each baker tweaks it and calls it their own. The other night someone asked me if I minded sharing my berry pie recipe. “Of course not,” I replied. “Recipes are meant to be shared.” They serve as cultural travel logs between communities and generations.  And yes, sometimes even as nightstand reading material.

Over recent decades, a peculiar thing happened. We began to keep recipes a secret. We stopped sharing our tweaks. No one seems to be sure of when this started, but thankfully, that trend is turning.

We’re slowly coming out of keeping recipes secret. Chefs pride themselves on how often their dishes are photographed and recreated. With the digital age, recipes can be instantly shared and compared. Thanks to inspiring Pinterest boards and Instagram, “what’s for dinner?” is answered in a matter of minutes. Although the digital age has its downside. Perfectly groomed photos can further intimidate the already hesitant home baker, filling our heads with fantasy and fear.

As for my grandmother’s cookbook, using it is never about the cookbook. It’s always about finding within its pages, the feeling of being connected with my mother and grandmother.

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