My husband is Salvadorian and for him, comfort food means something completely different to me, who grew up with German food. His family were refugees in the mid 80's when they came to Australia at a time when the Government paid for refugees to enter the country. His parents managed to nurture and maintain their cultural food heritage throughout their 25 years here in Australia, and relish the opportunity to pass on their food traditions to their grandchildren. My mother in law endures a painful knee that really just doesn't want to work properly any more, to prepare a traditional Salvadorian meal for our family every week, despite our repeated offers and requests to help. Passing on that heritage is vital to her, and defines who she is. This is her love language, no negotiation, and we can't dare to take that away from her.

So when I asked her what her comfort food was, back home in El Salvador, she told me about Tamales. Tamales are small bundles of corn paste stuffed with all sorts of ingredients, and then wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. Its a street food that can be found on any street corner, any time of year. There are special ones for Christmas, and every family has their own version that they make, depending on your own family food story. When the housewives are sick of cooking, they go out to get tamales. A treat for any time of day. The dough is soft and silky, and can be filled with sweet or salty ingredients, or even both. 

This is a comfort food staple for a Salvadorian family, and the look on my husband's face when he was eating Grandma's Tamales told me that it was his favorite comfort food as well. So I just had to learn how to do it, directly from the source. 

Other grandmas may be the same, but when Grandma shares her recipes, she will usually leave out ingredients or steps by accident. So when you ask for the recipe from someone, particularly a grandma, its likely there will be someone missing, and not due to diminishing brain cells, but because a recipe is more than a list of steps and ingredients. Its a summary of skills, feelings, sensing, knowing and experience. That's not easy to distill into a few lines. So I have learned just to watch her and write down the ingredients and method as I go. This is how I did it: 

  1. Watched the entire process: I asked Grandma if I could watch her the next time she made it, from start to finish. That way, nothing would be left out, left to chance or forgotten.
  2. Wrote down all the ingredients: I had to be precise about noting down all the ingredients she was using. In this case, she didn't even know how many cups of water to use until she measured it with me herself. So I had my pen and notebook with me the entire time.
  3. Took photos of the process and methods: I recorded the process via photos and video, so I would be sure to capture textures, techniques and process that are difficult to describe. sometimes you just have to see what something shoudl look like rather than guess based on a vague description.
  4. Ask questions: I asked questions about the ingredients and the process. I had to make sure I had all the details including ingredients, measurements, timing, temperature, technique and methods.
  5. Practice: its so important to practice as soon as you can. If possible, enlist the help of your tutor to watch you when you do it, so that she or he can guide you and help you to refine your technique and method. It can take hours and hours of practice to master some techniques so be patient with yourself and keep persisting.

Jen Curio @consciouscravings also offers some additional useful tips on the topic of recording family heritage recipes that are very helpful Here

The work and persistence are all essential in adding to your own food story, your food heritage and how you define yourself through those favorite recipes. The labor will never be wasted or forgotten, the joy evident on a face filled with comfort when they bite into that first mouthful.