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Recipe wars

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RecipeEvery Christmas my family goes crazy for my sister’s strawberry pie. Her mother-in-law, a native Louisianan, created the recipe, which literally has won awards and is a closely kept secret. My sister rated as its baker only after being married several years and because she lives in Dallas, far from her in-laws, and her husband needed that pie to make Christmas Christmas for him.

Over the years, I hadn’t given much thought to the pie, except to scrape my plate clean of every crumb I got. But two years ago, as I sat at my sister’s bar watching her make it, the recipe taunting my line of sight, I asked if she would share. It was an offhand question – I didn’t want to steal my sister’s thing, but gosh that recipe would be nice to have on hand if I had company in the summer.

My sister’s reaction was adamant: “Of course not. I promised never to share that recipe, and I won’t.” I pushed the issue (maybe just to see what would happen) and made my case: I live in Houston; I don’t know any of her mother-in-law’s people; I would never give it out. My sister and I don’t fight, but this one got close. Point taken. Conversation closed.

Fast-forward a year. I sat at the same counter again, and a friend, new to our Christmas traditions, asked about the pie, which my sister was serving. No way was I going to say one word, but no matter, because my sister jumped right in: “Nobody understands why I don’t give that recipe out. I made a promise; it’s her secret, I’m not going to do it no matter how mad people get.” Was I mad? Well, not before that moment, when I wanted to say, “I don’t want the *@!* recipe!” but instead checked my phone texts.

Really, I don’t want the pie recipe. We all want my sister to make it, and it’s special because it’s hers. But the whole exchange – two years of it – got me thinking. I’m a decent cook. People come to dinner and ask for thirds. They call for recipes. And not once have I withheld (okay once, but that person really didn’t deserve that recipe at that moment so I was forced into sort of a passive-aggressive situation, but that’s another story).

What do other people think about recipe sharing, or not?

One seasoned cook who’s published a couple of cookbooks vents about people who won’t share, “It really bugs me. I mean, really, if we’re friends, we’re going to share way more personal things than secret recipes. And what am I going to do? Claim it’s mine? If I do, who cares? Do you really identify yourself by your secret recipe?

“And if you tell me no the wrong way, well then, dammit, I’m sure I can find the equivalent if I Google hard enough!”

Another, who spoke “just because it’s anonymous” says, “Food is for sharing. It’s a compliment for someone to appreciate what you’ve made and want to make it for their family and friends. I have friends who don’t like sharing, and I don’t get it. I wonder if those friends don’t use cookbooks. Those chefs shared. Are so-and-so’s brownies more special than Brennan’s bread pudding?”

But there’s always another side to the debate. One friend says she gets a jar of “magical” homemade queso, another secret recipe, as an annual holiday present from a neighbor. “We hate to see the bottom of the jar!” she says. But she’s not bitter being denied the recipe. She says the secrecy makes the queso that much more special.

Another well-regarded cook had this to say: “I share every recipe except one. A neighbor when I was growing up shared her prized recipe for noodle kugel with my mom, but didn’t want it shared farther. She passed away long ago, so when we make it we think of her. It has a unique presentation, so I’m often asked for the recipe but won’t give it out. Since it isn’t an everyday recipe, I don’t think people are annoyed that I won’t share.

“I’d think it was odd for someone to refuse to share any recipe or leave out an ingredient to make someone else’s version less delicious, but a single recipe with a personal reason isn’t a big deal.”

Yes, friendship and family before pie. I love my sister in a gargantuan way.

Whether or not she’s a recipe hoarder.

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