Wednesday, March 6, 2013


Roast beef cooked under high heat
Roast beef cooked under high heat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
There's a story I heard as a kid.  I always assumed it was one of those things that's part of the public domain and cultural canon, but if you know the original source, please let me know.  Below, I'm telling my own version of it.

Great-Grandma Rose had an amazing recipe for roast beef. It was delicious, and everyone in the family, even the in-laws loved it, except for Aunt Alice, who was a vegetarian, and Cousin Bill, who was allergic to beef.  Technically, they loved it, too, they just couldn't eat it.

Great-Grandma Rose didn't cook the roast herself anymore; she hadn't for decades. She taught her daughters the recipe and they kept to it perfectly, only ever adjusting a touch of moisture for altitude or for electric verses gas ovens.  Grandma Jenny and Great-Aunt Beatrice and Great-Aunt Billie all inherited Great-Grandma Rose's skill in the kitchen, so when they were old enough, Great-Grandma Rose retired to watch football and drink beer and play poker with the menfolk like she'd always wanted to.

And Grandma Jenny and Great-Aunt Beatrice and Great-Aunt Billie taught their own daughters, and when Uncle Joe wanted to learn, too, they let him, because why not?

And eventually Grandma and the Great-Aunts retired, and the next generation taught their own children, male and female, whoever wanted to learn, because the important thing was that Great-Grandma Rose's Christmas Roast be made.

So last year, Cousin Tyler and Cousin Alexis finally got to take over the roast. As they put everything together, Alexis asked Tyler, "Why do we put a brick in the over with the roast?"

You see, this was part of what Great-Grandma Rose always did back when she hosted Christmas Dinner. She always placed a brick in the oven next to the roast. So the Grandmas did, so the Moms (and Uncle Joe) did, and so Tyler and Alexis would.

"I don't know," Tyler said.  "I always figured it affected the moisture or something, but in September I made it and I forgot the brick, and it was exactly the same."

At this point, Great-Grandma Rose had wandered into the kitchen to get a fresh beer, and she heard her great-grandchildren talking and started to laugh.

"The oven I had when your great-grandfather was alive had lopsided racks!" she explained, delighted. "The brick evened things out.  It was the only way to make the roast cook evenly!" She peeked into the oven, and there was the brick.  In fact: "Is this the same old brick I used to use? My god, this thing is a family heirloom!" And with another laugh, she returned to her poker game, where she was cleaning out Uncle Joe's "roommate."

Tyler and Alexis looked at each other, and they had to laugh, too. After all, their family valued tradition, but they sure knew how to adapt.

This year, Cousin Jeff integrated the brick into a wonderful centerpiece, and Cousin Rosa wrote down the whole story to share with the great-great-grandkids who would come along soon enough.

The moral of the story: Tradition is important, but so is understanding it.

What does this have to do with anything?  I don't actually know -- although if you want to interpret it as "look outside the box when it comes to finding your niche," we can go with that.  It just felt like a story that needed to be retold.
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