Cooking Memoir

Classic family breakfast

This image of a recent breakfast tells a story I’m the only one who hears.

Hashed brown potatoes, commercially prepared ketchup, two organic scrambled eggs, home made hot sauce, and a Gold Rush apple grown at a local orchard. Each part of this breakfast has its origins in the heart of my kitchen garden.

I watched my maternal grandmother make hashed browns many times and the way I do it is how she did. My earliest memories are from time in her small kitchen when she lived in a duplex where Mom, Dad and I occupied the other half. Cooking, growing, acquiring and preparing food ingredients would become a major part of my life, one that should be part of any memoir. Spending time with Grandmother during meal preparation has been influential and became part of who I am.

At the same time, Mother’s kitchen transitioned from meals cooked from many raw ingredients to ones that leveraged help from food processors. In the late 1950s and early 1960s we shopped at a corner grocery store. That gave way to a supermarket that sold many lines of products. Notable among these were bread baked at Wonder Bakery in town, and a Mexican food section where we could buy branded tortillas, sauces, spices and canned ingredients to make tacos and tostadas. Tomato ketchup was one kind of help.

Development of a recipe for tomato ketchup is attributed to Philadelphia scientist James Mease in 1812. The condiment became ubiquitous, including in our house. I have a few old cookbooks with recipes for tomato ketchup yet the idea of making our own wouldn’t stand the heat of August summer. Over the years, ingredients and process of commercial ketchup changed. Despite the use of high fructose corn syrup, we continue to use Heinz brand tomato ketchup on hashed browns. That’s what is in this photograph.

Scrambled eggs reflects many hours of watching cooking programs on television and YouTube. I sourced eggs from many places, although in recent years I buy organic eggs at the wholesale club or get them from local growers. Scrambling an egg is both easy and complicated. Very few times is the result inedible. Reaching culinary perfection has been beyond my reach with any consistency. Eggs are tolerant of erratic cooks. I continue to work to be better at it.

I recently wrote about hot sauce, something I learned to make from my platoon sergeant when we were stationed in West Germany. Over the years my recipe changed to include different kinds of hot peppers, tomatillos and occasional spices. What I used in this photo is similar to what I made in the 1970s when I discovered the condiment.

Finally, apple culture. Like many I came up on mostly Red Delicious apples. That’s one of the four varieties of trees in our current back yard. It was working at a u-pick orchard for seven years that taught me about apple culture. Even though I declined to return this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, I bought eight varieties for their different characteristics. That this breakfast was made in October is reflected by the presence of a Gold Rush apple which is among the last to ripen in Iowa.

How should I write about cooking in a memoir? Today that is an open question. Key cooking events will appear on any timeline I write as an outline for the book. It is unclear how information about cooking might be presented in the final product, whether in its own section or with stories dotting a beginning to end, chronological narrative.

It will be a part of my autobiography. Writing this post made me hungry.