I have countless recipes that I learned from the women of my family. Though today I mostly use websites and online documents to store my recipes, for years I cooked out of my mother’s recipe boxes, where recipe cards were squished in like sardines, and the recipes came in a variety of difficult-to-decipher scrawls. There was my mother’s handwriting, a loopy, tight cursive, and my grandmother’s a disciplined clear print, plus my aunt’s rounded letters, and some cards written by my Aunt Byrna, or a first cousin once removed. The cards were splattered with stains, and decorated with little pictures of ovens, strawberries, geese, or pies.
Flipping through those recipe cards brings back a tidal wave of memories. Each recipe is strongly associated with the woman whose handwriting is on the card. And there are even more recipes that I know by heart now, taught to me by one of these women. On days when I feel the loss of my mother, my grandmothers, or my aunt, I reach for my mixing bowls to make a recipe that they taught me. For the time that I spend in the kitchen, mixing, sauteeing, baking or kneading, I am keeping their memories alive, nourishing myself and my family with the legacy of food and love these women entrusted me with.
With my mother, it can be hard to choose which recipe to make to conjure up the best memories. But when I’m really yearning for the comfort I found in her kitchen I consistently end up making spanikopita, a dish she was known for making, and one of the first recipes I learned by heart. Crucially, my mom adapted a recipe from a cookbook so that it took significantly less effort than was originally prescribed, and these days I can whip up this wholesome dish in under 30 minutes (not counting baking time). If you find phyllo dough intimidating, or spanikopita sounds too labor intensive for you, this is your solution.