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Dave Recommends "MasterCook"

Cook’s Sensibilities and More

My friend Dani posted a comment on the site in which she mentioned that she can’t make beans like her mother used to.  I have always had a similar problem making latkes (potato pancakes) using my Mother’s recipe.

Now, your first reaction is likely, “Oh, she left something out of the recipe.  People sometimes do that to keep their recipe a secret.”  While it may be true that sometimes people neglect to mention, or even deliberately exclude, some ingredient, in the case of my Mom’s latkes I have stood at her side and noted the ingredients as she put them in.  I have cooked latkes at her side and ended up with her latkes.  OK, honestly,  Mom didn’t actually ever cook latkes, as far as I can remember.  She made the batter and Dad did the “standing over the hot stove” part, while Mom made the rest of the meal.  I have stood by their sides and cooked latkes.

When I make them myself, following her recipe, they turn out different.  The latkes of my childhood were thinner and more chewy, mine are lighter, softer and more like regular pancakes.

So, what makes the difference?  It’s hard to say, but here are a few possibilities:

  • I may be using different potatoes or different sized eggs than she did.  We both use whatever is on hand.
  • Mom grated the potatoes by hand.  OK, actually Dad grated them and Mom made the batter.  Come to think of it, he hand-grated the onions also.  I just whiz them all together in my blender.  I probably add a lot more air that way, too.
  • Mom would let the grated potatoes sit for a while and drain off the water that would rise to the top.  That’s hard to do when you whiz everything together.
  • Dad used a cast-iron frying pan.  I use Teflon.
  • I may be cooking at them at a different temperature.  Pan temperature is more subjective than, say, an oven setting.
  • Dad put LOTS of vegetable oil in the pan and basically shallow-fried the latkes.  I can’t bring myself to use that much oil, so I just coat the bottom of the pan with some olive oil and pan-fry them.
  • Dad fussed!  He would cook the latkes until they held together enough to flip, and then he would turn them.  A minute later, he would flip them back, and again, and again.  The latkes got turned so many times, they came out of the pan dizzy!  I cook them until they are well browned on one side and then flip them once.

All of these differences I describe as the "cook's sensibilities" -- how, as individuals, we bring our knowledge and biases into the kitchen.

Chances are that using the blender is the big factor, but all of the other differences likely affect the result, also.

The point is that technology changes; we go from cast-iron to Teflon, from graters to blenders.  Knowledge changes; we go from using lots of oil to just a bit because we believe it is healthier.  Techniques change; from draining the water and mixing the ingredients in a bowl to whizzing stuff together.  And as a result, the final product changes too, sometimes to the good, or to the healthier, but the food you grew up on is the food you love.  That’s why it is so frustrating to not get the same results.

Mom and Dad, you still made the best darned latkes ever!!!

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