Recipes for Identity
by Lynntia Kir-Stimon Sutton
It's dark, cold and staying inside to bake holiday cookies with my daughter is a good activity choice for this dreary day. We make Rosemary Shortbread Cookies, a wonderful recipe that a special girlfriend has shared with me. The scents are intense, soul filling and connect me irrevocably to this friend relationship that has lasted for so many years. I am struck by what a significant act this is for me… the experience of baking with grandmother, mother, daughter, friend.
Our recipes can certainly reflect our diverse cultures, but it’s clear to me that as women we are also able to hold strength, and even personal power, in our unique individual recipes. Our identity recipes take on different meaning when viewed from the perspective of ownership.
With repetition and time, our recipes can become deeply intimate layers of our identity as women, and notably a part of ourselves that we don’t have to share with others unless we decide to. Not dismissing the importance of father/child bonding through cooking, or other gender needs for identity strength and support here- those are for writing explorations on another day. Today’s news, highly focused on the sexual harassment of women, is currently in mind.
I have a vivid memory of one cooking experience with my Czech grandmother. On the kind of easy New Jersey day that feels like it just slowly unfolds, we took a meandering trip to the local grocery store. After a walk and a nap, we made her fruit-dumpling recipe. She lovingly shared this recipe from memory alone, and as we ate the warm treats, I quickly scribbled her recipe down on paper. In doing so I captured the memory of the delicious day, and also a small part of her identity that I wanted to add to a piece of my own.
Images of women in many situations emerge for me, and with this comes greater realization about the importance of women’s power through cooking. For women who have been abused. For women who fear for what can be taken from them. For women who don't possess anything of their own. Even a simple recipe, or an intangible recipe held only in memory, can represent a bit of power and secure ownership in an otherwise insecure situation. This is something that won't ever belong to and can’t be taken away from us without our willingness; not by spouse, former spouse, employer, government, friend or foe. In our food recipes there is potency.
The final batch of cookies my daughter and I make are my Italian mother's anisette knot cookies. My child has waited patiently for these, her holiday favorite. I am so grateful to have this moment of connection with her that I've left it for last, to savor the experience. This bonding is often what many women treasure with their children and what much of holiday joy can be about. This connection sadly doesn’t happen nearly enough for me, so I am soaking up every moment.
As I breathe in the strong anise scent, the aroma of my childhood, I know this as my recipe, my identity. Not my daughter's yet, even as she eyes the paper that the original handwritten recipe is on, she tells me "it feels good to see that writing, Mom."
Power of ownership with this recipe comes carrying the history of many generations, from my childhood experience and personal familiarity knowing the feel of the dough; the right stickiness, the right frosting consistency, the right thickness for rolling. This is something I will share with my daughter that will be all hers to own someday too. For now, like many women, I relish knowing this history, this identity, is still mine. And I hold it dearly, as I will gift it dearly, through our connected times.
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