My grandmother’s “Parker House” rolls were both a family treasure and the source of a running joke. Everybody looked forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, in part, because Grandma would make enough rolls for everyone to both stuff themselves silly and take some home. The running joke was when the daughters-in-law — and in later years, the grandsons’ wives — would ask for the recipe… Grandma would hand them some incredibly convoluted set of directions, or leave off some critical ingredient, or proportion the ingredients to serve a 4-H camp (which she did some summers), or nobble the recipe in some other way.
So some years back — before The Boy was born, in fact — Mrs. Fetched and I went up to Michigan to visit my family, and she met Grandma. Now while her family is mostly a bunch of straight-laced types, although they’re loosening up in their later years, my Grandma was drinking beer and cracking dirty jokes. If dictionaries had video, a clip of Mrs. Fetched meeting Grandma would have been next to the definition of “culture shock.” So something very predictable happened: Grandma made her Parker House rolls, Mrs. Fetched tasted them and quickly asked for the recipe, and Grandma handed her six pages. Mrs. Fetched didn’t even bother trying to make heads or tails of it, and just put it away when we got home.
Years went by, and along the line I learned how to make bread. More years went by, until last week Mrs. Fetched was trying to figure out how to get the house ready for Christmas dinner (and get some made) without straining herself. She came to me and said, “I still have that six-page recipe from your grandmother for her rolls. Do you want to try making them?”
“Sure,” I said — I’d wanted to take a stab at reverse-engineering the recipe sooner or later anyway. I thought maybe I could combine my bread-making knowledge and my tech writing skills to distill the actual recipe from the filler. As it turned out, that wasn’t necessary: Mrs. Fetched pulled out the recipe, started looking through it, and found an index card with the real recipe on it! All those years, and “makes 12–16” was right there. Between the do this-es and do that-s on Saturday, I managed to clear the decks and make the rolls, doubling the recipe since we had a bunch of people coming in.
And… it was the Real Thing. The only difference was that the recipe says to cut the rolled out dough in a grid; I remember her using a round cutter, so I’ll have to get one.
We also got 10 lbs of snow crab, two large-ish shrimp trays, I made the rolls and boiled the seafood while the dough was rising, and some other stuff got brought in. The shrimp disappeared quickly, there’s still about 1/3 of the crab left (some of the best frozen crab I’ve had, the shells weren’t soft at all)… and five rolls out of 36. One of the ladies sat at the table and ate five of them, one by one. Yup, it’s The Recipe, all right. I think these rolls might be even more popular on this planet than the challah bread.
Sometimes, it’s good to not throw anything away.