I am a huge fan of Malcolm Gladwell. I first read one of his books, “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants,” in the book club I belonged to at the time and I was hooked. He has a way of taking two disparate concepts and finding the link between them to illustrate a point or an underlying commonality. While I’ve only read two of Gladwell’s books—the other being “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking”—I’ve listened to nearly every episode of his podcast, “Revisionist History.”
This past season of the podcast, which dropped in May, Gladwell devoted two episodes to the topic of memory and how time and traumatic events alter our memories, creating lapses in key details of an event or embellishments to it. I recently recounted the story of my cat Ashley’s death to comfort a friend whose cat was diagnosed with a terminal illness. It had been 20 years since I lost Ashley and the only facts I got right in telling the story were my feelings of devastation at the time and that my husband and I injected Ashley with fluid to keep him healthy. As for the illness that killed him, I couldn’t remember the exact nature of his illness except that it was kidney disease. When I shared about Ashely’s death, I incorrectly remembered it as having him put down by the vet, probably in sympathy with my friend. However, a short while later, I recalled burying Ashley in the yard and then it hit me—my husband found him dead when he got home because I had been too scared to check on him. I still can’t confirm whether I was pregnant with Keller at the time of Ashley’s death or had him shortly thereafter.
So, what does faulty memory have to do with cooking and food? I’ve been on a quest to recreate my mom’s short rib recipe. In my July 9 post, “Gardeners and Herbs,” I talked about how my mom was able to list all the ingredients to her barbecue short ribs recipe after being roused from her afternoon nap. She did not, however, remember any of the amounts. She’s the type of home cook that would eyeball the amounts of the ingredients and keep moving on.
Then again, I had asked my mom to make empanadas for my son’s high school graduation party two years ago. When I picked her up to spend the day with me making empanadas, she inquired as to why I was picking her up a few days before the party. I reminded her that I wanted her help in making empanadas. She replied, “I don’t know how to make empanadas.”
To this day, I am not sure whether she was kidding me, or she really believed that she did not know how to make empanadas, despite having observed her and my father making empanadas throughout my entire life. I even had photographic evidence to the contrary taken when she and my father taught me and my son Keller how to make empanadas.
As for me, I am only on version 2.0 of her barbecue short rib recipe but I am beginning to wonder if I am remembering the taste right. With my first attempt, I forgot to include the liquid smoke and used the wrong flavor of Kraft® Barbecue Sauce, a sign of casual forgetfulness. Upon tasting this version, I also realized that I used too much cumin. Version 2.0 was prepared in my old kitchen for my ex as a gesture of good will. Upon entering the house, Bruce (my ex) commented “Well you must be doing something right cause the house smells like your parents’.”
While I did not forget any of the ingredients this time and made sure to get Kraft® Honey BBQ Sauce, the taste was not as sweet as I remembered, or maybe I am remembering the taste incorrectly. It has been 30 years since I last had my mom’s ribs. It is possible that Kraft changed its recipe for the sauce during that time. But I do think my next step is having my mother replicate the recipe as I observe her and record her efforts in other to protect the memory of a delicious family favorite.
Mama’s Barbecue Short Rib Recipe Ver. 2.0
4 lbs. short ribs, bone-in
¼ cup of soy sauce
Juice of 2 lemons (2 oz.)
½ tablespoon, cumin powder
1 ½ tablespoon, garlic powder
1 ½ tablespoon, dried sage
1 teaspoon, ground pepper
½ teaspoon, salt
1 ½ teaspoon liquid smoke
Kraft® Honey BBQ Sauce
- Place the ribs in a glass casserole.
- Pour soy sauce and lemon juice over the rubs.
- Combine cumin, garlic powder, sage, ground pepper and salt in small bowl. Rub the ribs with the mixture.
- Sprinkle with liquid smoke.
- Cover the casserole and refrigerate overnight.
- When ready to roast, remove the casserole from the fridge and let it rest at room temperature.
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Transfer the ribs into a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil, meat side up.
- Roast the ribs for one hour.
- Remove the ribs from the oven after an hour and transfer the ribs to a broiling pan, bone side up.
- Set the oven to broil on high or 500°F and the rack 4 to 6 inches from the broiler.
- Pour the barbecue sauce into a small bowl.
- Cover the bone-side of the ribs in sauce and place them in the oven for two minutes.
- Remove the ribs from the oven and flip them so the fleshy part is up. Apply more sauce. Broil for two more minutes.
- Remove the ribs from the oven and flip them again—bone side up—and apply more sauce. Broil for another two minutes.
- Remove from the oven again and flip the ribs. Apply one last coat of barbecue sauce and broil for two more minutes.
- Serve immediately.