This is a dish my mother made fairly often. I’ve been listening to Lynn Rossetto Kapser’s The Splendid Table lately and I find her advice to be pretty sound and her conversations with guests are always interesting. She has some advice on her website regarding “How to Spot a Good Recipe”
One bright red flag is the extremely short recipe. It looks so easy and it can betray you in a nanosecond. That brevity often comes from cutting out the specific information you need to know to end up with something worth eating.
Here’s the rest of the list:
- Does the recipe tell you what you can prepare ahead?
- Does it tell you how to store the food and for how long?
- Are the ingredients specific — not “1 pound beef,” but “1 pound well-marbled beef chuck”?
- Do the instructions tell you …
·What kind of pot and utensils to use?
·The level of heat and/or the timing needed for each step?
·What the food should look like, sound like, and/or smell like?
·How to know if it’s done?
·How to serve?
Turns out, most of the family recipes I have don’t meet these criteria, but I suppose this is the beauty of foodways as they’re passed down in families. So much gets lost in translation once we try to fit a recipe onto a 3×5 card. I rarely write into a recipe that I sautee most of my vegetables in a cast iron skillet on glass top stove in coconut oil, but I have no doubt these things shape the quality of the food that comes from my kitchen. My failure to make the Danish Grandmother’s poppy seed cake serves as a good example of the inadequacy of brief recipes without the subtle details that might allow us to genuinely recreate a family dish.
I had an argument with a friend a while back about whether one needs a detailed recipe to make bread. This friend insisted that I needed to get a scale and use one of Julia Childs’ complicated bread recipes in order to do it right. I took that as a challenge to learn to bake bread without all the scales or recipes or even measuring cups. At this point, I can actually make a damn good loaf of sourdough without any of those things. However, I discovered that trying to share my methods with someone else poses a problem. In order to allow someone to recreate my bread, I’d have to provide the same complicated level of detail in a recipe that I have such a revulsion for.
I prefer mixing and shaping ingredients in the same way that I mix and shape paint: intuitively, spontaneously, without too much regard for tradition, and a preference for novel results. The recipe for this grits casserole is pretty spare. So here is my attempt at recreating this recipe and you should