“In my South, the most treasured things passed down from generation to generation are the family recipes.” – Robert St. John
Quite a few years ago a well-known national magazine called for submissions to their Heritage Recipe contest. The recipe had to be a true and tried one that had been passed down in the family. Immediately I thought of my Baba’s recipe for baked cornmeal or nachinka, as we call it.
For those of you not familiar with this dish, it is a mixture of primarily cornmeal, milk, eggs and cream which is baked. No calorie watching allowed here!
Although everyone in my grandparent’s district made it, my Baba’s version was exceptional – light and fluffy with a beautiful golden-brown crust. Baba was always expected to bring the dish to church functions, weddings or any other large gatherings. This meant preparing the nachinka in a large roaster which, as any cook knows, poses some logistic challenges. But Baba had mastered the task and had the process down to a fine art.
The recipe, which included some secret ingredients and techniques, was passed down to my mom and my aunts. Mom followed in Baba’s footsteps by making this dish for many church and community events. (I am proud to say that I now do the same.) When I told them I was entering this recipe into a contest, they gave me a patronizing smile which really meant, “That’s nice, dear. But I don’t think you should get your hopes up.”
But I didn’t let their doubts get me down and proceeded to submit the recipe along with a short write-up.
Months passed, life was busy and I forgot about the contest. Then one morning as I was getting ready for work the phone rang. It was the editor of Canadian Living. My heart started to thump! She was pleased to tell me that I was a winner.
I barely squeaked out a response. “I am? Which category?”
“Oh, your recipe was so good that it is the grand prize winner for best overall recipe.” I was ecstatic! When I got off the phone, I stood at the top of the stairs and shouted to my startled children, “I won! I won!”
After phoning my husband, my mom and a few relatives to tell them the good news, we hurried off to school. My excitement and enthusiasm were still bubbling over when I started my first class of the day. When one of my students asked why I was so happy, I couldn’t contain myself. I loudly announced, “I…just…won…the grand prize…in a national heritage recipe contest!”
Then I took a short run and slid on my knees between the rows of desks with my arms stretched upward in a victory pose. There was a stunned silence in the room. I am sure that some of my students were thinking, “Who are you and what have you done with Mrs. Krawetz?”
But then someone broke the silence with a whoop and everyone broke out into a cheer. It was the best applause I had ever received from my students and I responded with a bow.
My recipe, photograph and write-up appeared in the October 1993 edition of Canadian Living. I also won a great array of kitchen appliances, but the best part was giving a copy of that magazine to all my aunts and relatives. I didn’t say anything but I’m sure my smug smile said it all: “Told you so!”