Memoir with Recipes

Although few things bond people like food and sharing recipes, I didn’t intend to include recipes in my mini-memoir, Adventures of a Chilehead, for several reasons:

1) Some of the stories are set in restaurants and I couldn’t include recipes for those.
2) Recipes for things like frijoles, chile con carne and enchiladas are easily found on the web.
3) When I cook, I use recipes as mere suggestions and cook by the seat of my pants based mostly on what’s in the kitchen at any given time. How do you write recipes for that?
4) Some ingredients, like chile powder, are unreliable in strength.

The finished book bears the subtitle “A Mini-Memoir with Recipes.” Obviously I changed my mind, primarily because most people who read early versions of the manuscript told me they wanted recipes. Since I value their input, I accepted their inspiration and set about writing creative recipes for food the way I make it. The way I make it varies from one time to the next so in addition to the standard list of ingredients and preparation steps, I had to include variations.

That resulted in long, involved instructions that explain a process rather than serving as a formula, but once I got started, thinking through all the factors involved turned out to be fun. In fact, it gave me a reason to make those dishes a time or two to be sure I had not missed anything, so we had lots of yummy dinners.

I explained things like where to buy good chile powder (perhaps online). Chile quality and potency is fickle, so I had to explain how to test the heat level of a new batch, and how to adjust recipes to individual tolerance levels. The recipe for homemade corn tortillas is over three pages long and gives guidelines for when it’s not worth making them as well as what brand of masa you’ll do well to avoid, and how to use grocery bags to simplify rolling or pressing them flat.

Most memoirs that include recipes put a single recipe at the end of each chapter. For example, Ruth Reichl’s Tender at the Bone and Judith Newton’s Tasting Home follow this pattern. Since some of my stories take place in restaurants or feature hot pepper sauce, and some stories spin off three or four recipes, it didn’t make sense to put them with the chapters. Besides, the length of the recipes would interrupt the flow of the stories.

Once I got rolling with the first few, I was having so much fun that I added many more favorites. Over half the recipes in the final list are not mentioned in the memoir section.

I’ve received a pile of emails from happy readers who have tried recipes with good success, and my family is delighted to have those recipes they grew up with documented for all time.

You don’t have to write an entire memoir, mini or full-length, to write about recipes. Next time you share a recipe, take the time to tell the history of the recipe, including some favorite memories, to go with it. Sharing its story builds the sort of bond I write about in the last chapter of Chilehead when I tell of feeling a link with centuries of women who have prepared chile for their families.

Write now: select one of your favorite recipes, perhaps one that has been handed down in your family, and write a story about how you came to have the recipe and memorable occasions when it has been served by you or others.


KathyPooler said...

Sharon, Every time I see your book, my mouth waters! I can almost taste all those spicy delicacies. This reminds me of a recipe book I gave my daughter for her bridal shower. Each recipe held a story of either the person who shared it or a place we had lived. I wrote the vignette beside each recipe. Food certainly has an amazing ability to connect people and trigger memories.

Sharon said...

Kathy, that is one cookbook that will never go to the used book sale! I know your daughter will treasure it always and pass it on someday.

The beauty is that with CreateSpace, we can make customized cookbooks with copies for everyone we care about, and order more later. Who cares if the public buys them? That's not what it's about. But if other do, icing on the cake.

Shirley Hershey Showalter said...

Sharon, you've just given me a good idea. Like you, I included recipes but not at the ends of chapters. Instead, I have a separate memoir section. Only one reviewer focused on the recipes, though some mention them. I think I'll try putting a single recipe into my Magical Memoir Moments each week in April and May. They seem like a useful way to give people a gift, perhaps an idea for a treat, and also do what you suggest in your prompt -- help others to pass along heirloom recipes. Great idea. Thanks!!

I love Kathy's idea below, also. Memoir has so many useful purposes, and food memoirs involve all the senses!

Sharon said...

Shirley, yes I do remember those recipes from your book. Maybe the reason so few commented is because your book is not basically about food and mine is. Great idea to share recipes via your Magical Memoir Moments. Perfect! Everyone should subscribe so they'll be sure to get the recipes.

Sherrey Meyer said...

Sharon, I've been attempting to find ways to focus on the goodness in my mom's character, despite her abusive nature with us kids. Mom loved cooking, and you've just created one avenue for me to share her goodness, the goodness of her Southern cooking, especially by including a recipe here and there. Thanks for sharing your experience and wisdom with us.

Sharon said...

Sounds like a splendidly healing project Sherrey, and a good reason to make those recipes to refresh your sense of them and her.