It all started when a son asked for my deviled egg recipe. Like many families, ours has several secret recipes, but stuffed eggs isn’t one of them.
I learned how to make them from my mother and she learned from hers. The “secret” ingredient is French’s mustard, but it isn’t really a secret. It’s just nobody ever mentioned the brand because for many years French’s was the only one available.
I tried for years to replicate her eggs, using whatever kind of mustard I had on hand. It wasn’t until I sat down and watched her make them that the secret was revealed.
My granny Dot had a truly secret recipe for a super delicious cake-like confection called peanut bars. It went to the grave with her. A number of years later her recipe box turned up, and lo-and-behold, there was the peanut bar recipe.
After tasting peanut bars, friends often ask for the secret recipe. I’m happy to share, but once they see the multitude of steps involved, they say, “Really? Nobody cooks like that any more.” So her secret is safe.
The idea a certain recipe can only be made well by one person is well founded. For years my brother and I tried to duplicate Mom’s potato salad. We were sure there was a secret ingredient she wasn’t telling us about. Mom insisted her recipe was nothing special. Different cooks have different styles, and the truth is nobody made her signature potato salad as well as she did. One time I stood right beside her and copied every move. Hers still came out tasting better.
My friend Emily is holding on to a family secret fudge recipe. Whenever anyone asks for it she gets evasive, often promising to send it at some unspecified later date. Cooks can be funny that way.
My aunt’s secret addition to a lot of recipes is a splash of bourbon. Living in a small town, she doesn’t want anyone to think she’s a drinker, so she omits that item when she passes on a recipe. Nobody guesses why her beef stew tastes so good.
Secret family recipes are unique. They evoke memories and family pride, which gives even an otherwise ordinary recipe special worth. Sometimes cooks are willing to share a recipe with close friends, relatives, and maybe even a co-worker, as long as they promise to “keep the secret.” It’s a special kind of culinary bond.
I’m still trying to pry my neighbor’s secret recipe for honey bunny casserole out of her. She says she’ll trade me for my granny’s dinner roll recipe. But if I do that, the family will never speak to me again.