Sometimes I get letters from my readers that fill me with sadness.
Many tell me, for example, how they miss their grandmother's cooking. They say that even though they had always helped make the tamales, they never thought to write down the recipe before she passed away. Or it might be their mother's pan del cielo or their aunt’s tomato preserves that they miss. It's the kind of feeling you have when you lose your wallet with your one and only picture of your recently-deceased grandmother. Many of the dishes that they long to taste again (and in some cases, have spent months trying to recreate) are traditional Mexican or Rio Grande Valley border food. They ask me for help finding a recipe.
Some of the time, I haven’t heard of the dish, or know it by another name, and I need to do a lot of research. Sometimes, I later discover that they are dishes that I grew up eating—and I did write down. (I've recently started to put my archive together and I have notebooks with recipes that I learned when I was thirteen.)
If you still have your grandmother, film her making a dish (or many) and write down her recipes and stories. Ask lots of questions. That’s so that you will learn all you can about your background but also, more importantly, so that she will have the pleasure of telling her story. Make copies for your siblings so they, too, can pass it on to their children.
As a gift for my mother's 75th birthday, I asked friends, relatives, young and old to write down their favorite memory of her. These gave me incredible insight into who this indomitable woman was. A friend volunteered to make a video of our entire family history. My mother must have watched it a hundred times before she passed away at 88.
Some people have taken care to write down family recipes and send them to me to test, hoping that I will feature them on my website. Interestingly, all of the recipes I have gotten are very traditional fare and it makes me very happy to know that people are still keeping their food traditions. Jackie Diaz, of Hawthorne, CA, sent me her recipe for pozole, below. It makes a huge amount, but pozole occasions like the celebration for the Virgen de Guadalupe and Las Posadas are coming up. You'll go through it in a flash.