Family Code

Photo credit: 
Sushant Sinha
Jordhana Rempel's picture
Jordhana Rempel
September 03, 2016
Deciphering an old recipe takes two

Lisa squinted at the yellowed recipe card in her hand. The handwriting was small and cramped, with letters crowding together as they approached the edge. There would have been room for everything if the name of the recipe—Green Onion Perogies—hadn’t been written quite so flourishingly at the top. Lisa sighed at her grandmother’s lack of planning.

She glanced at her more standardised cookbooks. It was tempting to look up a more logical recipe. But Lisa wanted to do this right. She faced the pile of ingredients: potatoes, green onions, a bag of flour, eggs, and salt. It seemed simple enough. Lisa glanced again at the recipe card and sighed. She needed backup.


“Hi, Mum,” Lisa said. She cradled the phone against her shoulder. “Hoping you could give me some help.”

“Of course! What do you need?”

“Well, I’m trying to make Grandma Nancy’s perogies—”

“The green onion ones? I remember how much you loved them as a kid.”

“Yeah, Mum, that’s why I want to make them.” Lisa stifled her impatience. Talking with her mother often felt like walking in circles. “I need your help in deciphering her handwriting. Do you remember how she made them?”

“I think so. I helped her a lot when I was young. Gosh, I haven’t made them in ages. We had a huge bowl at the last family reunion, right? Aunt Greta brought them, though I don’t know why she thought she should.”

“Yes, I remember.” She let her mother rehash the minor feud with her sister-in-law while Lisa pondered the pot of potatoes. A dozen of them had already been boiled, mashed, and mixed with the chopped green onions. The recipe card didn’t mention how many perogies the mixture would make, but Lisa could deal with extra mashed potatoes if she needed to. It was the dough she was concerned about.

She brought her mother back on track. “That’s why I want to make them. You know, keep the tradition in the family.”

“Of course!” her mother said. “How can I help?”

“Grandma Nancy didn’t keep good records, did she?”

Her mother laughed. “No, she kept everything in her head. Bit of an oral traditionalist.”

“There’re no measurements,” Lisa said. “On anything! How does anyone cook like this?”

“Grandma Nancy could make those in her sleep,” her mother said. “I hardly saw her use a recipe book. You have the potatoes and green onion, right?”

“Yes, that’s all ready to go, but how do I make sure the dough works?”

“It’s just flour, water, eggs, and salt. What could go wrong?”

Lisa rolled her eyes, glad that her mother couldn’t see her. “It’s still chemistry. I have to get the amounts right or it’ll fall apart.”

“Well, what does the recipe say?”

“Nothing! It just says ‘flour.’”

Her mum sighed. “Take a handful then. That’s how I remember her doing it.”

Lisa reached into the open flour bag and grabbed a handful. She paused as she thought about her grandmother’s small hands and shook out a quarter of it. “Got it.”

“Now take another,” her mother said.

“Seriously?” Lisa put the phone down to grab another handful and dumped them both into the mixing bowl. As she picked the phone back up, she heard the tail end of her mother’s sentence.

“—always add more if it doesn’t work.”

“Sorry, more what?”

“Water. You did save the potato water for the dough, didn’t you?”

“Um.” She hadn’t. “Yeah, of course.”

The two of them went through the rest of the recipe like that, arguing back and forth over the precise measurement of “a pinch of salt”, how many eggs were used, and how long it needed to be mixed for.

“It should be like pie crust. You’ve made that before.” Her mother’s voice echoed from the speakerphone.

“Only store-bought stuff.” Lisa’s arms were sore from mixing the heavy dough by hand. And she still had to roll it out. “Grandma Nancy must have had arms like a lumberjack.”

Once the dough had been flattened on the counter, she folded it over balls of mashed potato, pinching the edges together in a half-circle with a glass. Soon, she had two dozen puffy little potato packets.

The true test would be if they held together while boiling.

“Here goes nothing,” she said as she tipped them into the bubbling water.

“Good luck!” her mother said.

Lisa half-listened to her mother’s updates on the rest of the family while she poked and prodded the perogies. There were a few casualties, but most of them floated to the top intact.

“It worked!” Lisa said. “They look great.”

“Excellent! I’m so proud of you, sweetheart. Now, do you have the green onion oil to fry them in?”

“What?” She turned the recipe card over, seeing the instructions for making the oil on the back. “Seriously?”


This story is the second among the first volume of the Binge food fiction series. To find out what happens next, wait to read the sequel.