Aunt Betty has a stack of grandma’s recipes. She’s been hanging on to them since her mom down-sized and moved out of the house, I think. The thing is, none of them seem to be the recipes for the things that grandma made the most. Those were the recipes she carried around in her head, I’m guessing, and some of them were never recorded. So when I asked Aunt Betty for grandma’s bread recipe she sent me one that was close – it had the same ingredients that grandma used to use, she’d written – but it wasn’t the exact recipe. I pulled it out Saturday morning and made that whole wheat bread. By the time the smell of baking bread was coming from the oven, I was half done frying the bajiya that we were taking to the community garden potluck.
“Why are you making bajiya for the potluck?” one son asked.
“They said bring a food that represents your ethnic background,” I explained.
“That’s not my ethnic background,” he said. Neither of our boys are fond of bajiya, fritters of ground black-eyed peas spiced with turmeric and coriander.
“Yes, it is. You’re half Somali,” I reminded him.
“Well, it’s not your ethnic background,” he said.
“It’s the one I married into.”
Grandma Wolters did pass along some of her cooking skills, though. Perhaps the first thing she taught me was how to make homemade frosting. She’s the one who taught me how to make gravy too. There was never a recipe we referred to for either one – it was a little of this and a little of that until you got the right consistency and the right quantity. Taste and adjust as needed till it’s just the way you like it. That’s actually how I make most of the foods I grew up eating. But I’m an adventurous eater and crave variety more than anything. So I collect recipes too.
When I first asked my husband how to make bajiya he wasn’t even certain what the main ingredient is, but I found a recipe for it online. Now I make it sometimes for company and sometimes just for us. “It reminds me of my childhood,” my husband has said.
I sometimes wonder what foods my sons will remember from their growing up years. And what foods they’ll know how to make from memory… In case they ever change their mind about bajiya, the recipe will be right there in my recipe box.