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FEATURE — We have a secret family tri-tip recipe. Technically, it’s another family’s secret recipe. My mom “borrowed” it from her contractor thirty years ago. But he never asked for it back. And now that it’s passed down through two generations in our family, it feels like proper progeny.
The recipe sits in the cupboard above my microwave in an ingredient spattered-plastic sleeve in a homemade binder nestled between other dishes of notorious names, although of less scandalous origin, like “viva la chicken” and “Mom’s spaghetti”.
Viva la chicken came from the kitchen of our next-door neighbor, Alice Gerety, three days after I was born and immediately became a family staple. It is also the dish I famously undercooked in the first month of marriage and immediately became a teasing staple in my new family.
Mom’s spaghetti, well, came from my mom.
Back to that tri-tip. My middle turned 13 last weekend and requested the secret family recipe for dinner. He also requested to help make the marinade, which is one part of the two-part secret. The other part being a very precise grilling regimen.
I usually make the marinade and my sister does the grilling.
As my boy and I worked together on the marinade, measuring this and adding that under regular consultation of the plastic-sheeted recipe, my youngest pointed out a big flaw with the whole thing: “Mom, that recipe isn’t so secret if it’s written down.”
To remedy this, he proposed each member of our family, minus my husband who is famous for making superbly delicious turkey sandwiches with capers and nothing else, memorize the recipe.
Then, we should eat it.
The recipe. Not the tri-tip. But I’m sure he also meant to eat the tri-tip.
And he was absolutely serious.
One of my favorite books as a child was about similarly passionate secret recipe keepers. In the story of Cranberry Thanksgiving, Maggie and her grandmother are the stewards of a very secret and very coveted cranberry bread recipe.
The recipe is so coveted, Maggie’s grandmother keeps it hidden behind a loose brick in the fireplace. Only she and Maggie know its location.
The recipe is safe until one Thanksgiving when a thief makes off with it across the dark, New England bog. The kicker to the crime? The thief is one of the two men invited to join the women for their holiday dinner.
You see, Maggie and her grandmother, along with baking their secret cranberry bread, also have the annual tradition of each inviting a guest who would otherwise have nowhere else to go for Thanksgiving.
The year of the theft, Grandma’s guest is the smartly dressed Mr. Horace, a newcomer to town with charming manners who smells of lavender. Maggie’s guest is Mr. Whiskers, an unkempt, grisly local sea captain who smells of fish.
Grandma is annoyed by Maggie’s choice. She is sure Mr. Whiskers is up to no good and only begrudgingly can think of sharing with him her special cranberry bread.
Until, (spoiler alert) she discovers the thief is not Mr. Whiskers. It is instead the seemingly upright Mr. Horace.
Mr. Whiskers not only isn’t the thief, he’s actually the savior, chasing Mr. Horace through the bog and recovering the secret family recipe. As a reward, he gets an ample helping of Grandma’s special bread. And a permanent invitation to their family’s Thanksgiving dinner.
As readers, we get a reward at the end of the book, too: Grandma’s (now-not-so) secret cranberry bread recipe.
If only such magnanimity existed in my home. But I fear if my youngest were in charge of cranberry Thanksgiving, he’d miss the lesson and give the boot to both Misters Horace and Whiskers. And he’d never share the recipe.
Because a family recipe is a family recipe after all. Even if it’s technically your grandmother’s contractor’s family recipe and you are the thief.
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