Top secret? Never!

“Is the recipe top secret?” asked a Facebook friend when I posted a photo of Mary Emmerling’s Chocolate Chip Melt Pie from her American Country Cooking (1987, Clarkson N. Potter). Pish-tush, secret in my kitchen?! Never have I ever. We want good cooking to spread like a pandemic.

Without sharing in the kitchen — person to person, person to cookbook, person to YouTube — how does a tyro cook learn anything?

My grandmother Mabel stuck my hand in whole wheat bread dough so I would feel the elastic texture that signals enough kneading. Last summer I watched my friend Jamie sauté some lovely, fresh trout fillets.

Chocolate chip pie in front; behind — Mary Emmerling’s cherry cobbler with almond extract added.

When I was still making from-scratch piecrust, a friend wanted to stand with her hand on mine as I stirred and to feel the icy water as I dribbled it in. Sometimes I like to see how something should look just as the cook takes it from the oven (cheesecake’s a great example — it should wiggle just the right amount to finish cooking OUT of the oven). Newbie bakers need to feel how a cake layer stops “pushing back” when it’s fully baked.

In addition to techniques, of course, I always look for recipes. At a potluck, I will sample, then pass among the tables, asking who cooked such ‘n’ such and does she/he share recipes. That, for example, is how I got the recipe for pineapple baked with Ritz crackers and where I learned about kimchi mac ‘n’ cheese and how I found out about Snickers “salad.”

When churches replaced potlucks with catered meals, everything changed. Caterers do keep secrets. Home cooks are proud of what they brought, as well as the history of the dish.

Of course, you can be considerate. When Peggy W., for instance, gave me her white wine cake recipe, I said I’d never bring it to a church meal because that’s where Peggy’s and my lives intersected. Or ask: Are you taking your wine cake to the first Lenten supper? If not, is it OK if I do and label it as your recipe? Never hesitate to give credit. To use an art dealer’s term, you add to the dish’s provenance, which is a fancy way of saying backstory.

So that’s my take on sharing recipes. If I’ve added or altered something (I will never put 2 teaspoons of cayenne in anything, I promise, will always cut it down) which doesn’t happen a lot, I’ll tell you that too. You can ask for recipes that aren’t included in posts in the comments section.

But I will share Emmerling’s chocolate pie recipe which is not only fabulous but easy:

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Have a pre-made 9-inch piecrust ready to go. I use Pillsbury and unroll in my own pie plate.

Mix together 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips, 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans, 2 large eggs (already beaten), 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1 stick unsalted butter (melted), 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1 generous pinch salt. When these are combined, add 1/2 cup all-purpose flour and stir only until evenly mixed.

Pour filling into crust. Bake in center of oven for 30 minutes or until pastry is lightly browned and filling bubbles. Serve warm or at room temperature, with or without a scoop of good vanilla ice cream. With ice cream, definitely 8 servings. Without ice cream, 6 large servings.

Until the end of her life my mother typed recipes and put them in her letters, most of the recipes from friends and family.

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