When my grandmother died a few years ago, friends and family gathered at her home in Clinton, Louisiana to reminisce over food and drinks. The number one question on everyone’s’ mind was, "Where the heck is the Lane Cake?" "Referring to Mama Lula's signature cake, made with a luscious butter cake, roasted pecans, bourbon soaked raisins and that ever famous seven minute frosting. Luckily, the recipe survived because my mother grabbed a little pile of papers and keepsakes that stored Mama Lula’s culinary masterpieces. My mom, sister and I often thought about putting those little treasures into a family cookbook to be passed down from mother to daughter, grands and great-grands.

Recently, I had the honor of watching a Master at work. A former student and dear friend invited me over to her home to make Rotis. Sujata is from southern India and she is one of the most gifted vegetarian cooks in all North Carolina. Recently during an impromptu Roti lesson we got to chatting about writing a Family Cookbook and she shared with me that she would love to do that since recently losing her mother; the woman who fostered her culinary skills. She said she often reminds her fourteen year old daughter that she needs to learn to make the traditional homemade foods that are so dear to the family, but like most fourteen year olds she has little interest in cooking and keeping family traditions alive. You know the old adage “mom’ll do it!”

Roti or Phulka is traditional bread in Pakistan and India, normally eaten with curries or cooked vegetables, it can be called a carrier for curries or cooked vegetables. It is made most often from (Indian) wheat flour, cooked on a flat or slightly concave iron griddle called a tawa. It is similar to a tortilla in appearance. Like breads around the world, roti is a staple accompaniment to other foods, maybe spread with ghee (clarified butter).

Since learning to make Roti, a favorite of my daughter, who now at twenty eight, wants to learn to cook and bake everything she can; (no longer home with mom) I have come to appreciate even more not only my own food traditions but those of the people who cross my path. I just started writing my family cookbook and will document the recipes so near and dear to my family, you know (Danish pastry, Paczki, buttermilk bread, gumbo, jambalaya and that all time favorite Lane cake) until I can no only peck across this keyboard. And just think I have a new recipe to add to the mix…Roti. Do you preserve the culinary heirloom recipes that were made famous by the great cooks in your family or have they disappeared like snow in a furnace?

The roti in the photo is traditionally served with dal.

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Comment by LILA on March 24, 2009 at 7:58am
When we cleaned out my grandmother's house, we found a letter on Congressional stationery that read, "Dear Lottie, We love your pies..." It was from our state Senator and his wife. She cooked at a small hotel, a hospital, a restaurant & we had pie almost every Sunday. I guess after you make crust 1,000 times, you get the knack. All of the little tips people give over the years & some may not even know why you do or don't do things. Also good to add to family cookbooks.
Comment by Denay Davis on March 10, 2009 at 7:07am
Hi Adonis,

Writing down your recipes is imperative. How often have you heard, Ms. Carrie, or Mr. Walton our neighbor, had the best this....or that....and although these foods were delicious and we even take photos, no one knows how to replicate them. Family traditions are as important if not more important that cultural traditions. It is my opinion with all the processed foods available today, women working in record numbers and no one interested in really getting back to the basics, it becomes the responsibility of those who hold the key to culinary greatness to share with the world or at least their family and friends. I know that's a bit overboard, but "if it ain't written, it ain't said!
Comment by Marquette on March 9, 2009 at 11:35pm
I've been thinking about actually writing down my recipes to leave behind one day. Most of my recipes are in my head. My sisters often ask for a recipe and I just don't work from written recipes, most of the time. I'm starting to write down my recipes as I cook so that I can share them. I literally set my desserts on a pedestal and take pics. I am thinking about doing a full color calendar with photos and recipes as Christmas gifts for my siblings this year.
Comment by Denay Davis on March 7, 2009 at 10:04pm
Hi Lila,

I am glad you enjoyed the post. My greatgrand mother lived to be 102 and was a wonderful baker. She passed down many wonderful recipes and my grandmother and mother passed down the stories that were associated with this wonderful food. I hope folks will remember that food is about people, relationships, love and a deep appreciation for all those who paved the way from years past...food defines who we are...past, present and future.
Comment by LILA on March 7, 2009 at 3:58pm
What a great post. Many of my family favorites are in a "cookbook" that begins with my first recipe card for "tootie frutie ice cubes" written when I was age 9. It is a list of every type of fruit juice in my world at that time, with instructions to pour it into an ice cube tray & freeze it.

It's nice to include pictures of the people attached to those recipes, too, along with things like people taking turn churning the ice cream freezer. And stories. Always stories. Some of the recipes in my book are not in English, but that I've always meant to have translated; I'm sure some dishes were on my childhood table.

It's such a shame when recipes and the memories that go with them are lost. What a great reminder that recipes and cooking aren't just about food, they are about relationships.

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