So, without further ado ...
My new release, Summer at Mustang Ridge, is set at a family-run dude ranch where the cowboys are hunky, the cowgirls spunky, and the kitchen specializes in traditional ranch biscuits made from a sourdough starter named Herman. Which got me thinking about family traditions and food.
One of the pass-it-down traditions in my family is the Joy of Cooking. I learned to cook using my mother’s falling-apart copy, which had been a gift from her mother, and I received my own one Christmas. I might have been disappointed that it wasn’t a model horse (though I’ll deny it if you ask in front of my mom), but these days my copy lives in my kitchen marked up with red and blue pen and puffy from the many loose papers and note cards stuck between the pages.
Though I just celebrated the big four-oh, I’m a relative newlywed, having married into a big, interconnected sprawl of a family that was best described when my then-boyfriend said, “Don’t be nervous about meeting them. They’ll love you because they love me, and I love you.” Which has absolutely proven true. And they not only welcomed me wholeheartedly, there has been a refrain of “Granny George would have loved you!”
Granny George, it turns out, was a shotgun-toting, English-teaching force of nature who went through several husbands and adored the written word, books and authors. I’m sorry I didn’t get to meet her, but I have a feeling she’d be proud of the legacy she left behind. Which, since we’re talking about tradition, includes Granny George’s Green Chili.
For our second date (thank you, Match.com), my now-husband made me fresh salsa. And as he roasted the peppers, he told me about the family’s green chili, and how each member might make it a little differently, but it all went back to Mama George (Granny’s mother) learning the recipe in New Mexico back in the ‘thirties. The following summer, at our wedding, I got family points not only for taking his unpronounceable last name, but also asking for the green chili recipe.
Except there wasn’t one.
His brother (I got a brother-in-law, how cool is that?), who is a far better cook than I, did this sort of interpretive dance of “you take a piece of meat about this big” (makes football-size gestures) “simmer it with whatever spices look good …” His father (also an excellent cook, especially if open flames are involved) did something similar. Unfortunately, I cook like a scientist—I need a protocol, darn it!
So I emailed my mother-in-law, who teaches abroad. I think she was in Germany at the time. She responded with “I don’t think we’ve ever written this down …” But, bless her, she sent me meat suggestions, approximate poundages, and some alternatives in case I couldn’t find everything. (She was used to making do with whatever she could get, whether it be Africa, rural China, or wherever.)
Since then, I’ve put a whole lot of miles on my pretty red crockpot and made Granny George’s Green Chili my own. I’ve also eaten several other versions at the big, boisterous family get-togethers that seem to spring up at regular intervals just because. And I love knowing that, like the Joy of Cooking and some version of the name George, I’ve got green chili to pass along to the next generation when the time comes.
So tell me, what’s your most famous (or infamous) family tradition? I’d love to hear about it!