The Main Ingredients

“I want to bake something,” my 14-year-old said on a recent rainy evening. As the baker in the family, for years Elizabeth has found comfort and purpose in the methodical mixing and measuring, following her own philosophy of “when bored, I bake,” which the rest of us don’t mind a bit. As the recipients of her creations, we have tasted them all and watched her experiment with ingredients, leading to typically delicious results with the occasional mishap. I had high hopes for the former that night.

After checking the cabinet and fridge for the basics, I expected her to reach for the boxed brownie mix or bag of chocolate chips. Instead, she pulled out the over-stuffed, three-ring binder of recipes I had collected over the years and leaned against the counter. Gently, she flipped through each section. Though it was too late in the day for “appetizers and soups,” she paused there anyway, glancing at the recipe for stuffed mushrooms, each line written in my mother’s perfect Catholic schoolgirl script. Next came “poultry” with the myriad of dishes and casseroles, including my colleague’s chicken stew, scribbled on the back of a vocab quiz and dated ten years ago. The clam chowder recipe my husband’s uncle made every July 4th stuck out of the “seafood” section, and a photocopy of my great grandmother’s notes for her original Irish Soda Bread lay tucked into a pouch under “desserts and breads.” Elizabeth eventually stopped on a page with a collage of cookie recipes, some with yellowed tape and remnants of flour in their creases. Running her hands over the clippings, she said, “I want to inherit this someday.”

As she gathered the ingredients for oatmeal raisin bars, I busied myself with the mail, pausing to watch her sift the flour, grate some nutmeg, and crack the eggs, wondering about her comment of inheriting that binder. Yes, the recipes were special, many of them decades old, but was there something more?

The history in those handwritten pages and magazine cut-outs goes beyond just recipes for special meals and scrumptious treats, something I hadn’t really thought about until my daughter spoke those words. They are the ingredients, provided by those who came before her, that have combined to create who she is today, just as the flour, nutmeg, and eggs she was combining would create tomorrow’s dessert. Elizabeth will inherit not only the recipes, I thought, but the sentiment behind them.

As Catholics, we have our own recipe – not one for oatmeal raisin bars but for an even sweeter pleasure, a virtuous life with the ingredients God has given us: the commandments, the beatitudes, His grace, His sacrifice. As humans, however, we do stray from those main ingredients, leading to our own mishaps. When followed, though, it serves to guide us, as the yellowed clippings do for Elizabeth’s baking. And His recipe is one we can all inherit – long after those oatmeal raisin bars have disappeared.

By Emily Clark