When I hear the phrase “secret ingredient,” I automatically think “Ahh, poison.” Otherwise, why in the name of Julia Child would it be a secret? For years I heard references to “the secret ingredient” in real Italian spaghetti sauce. I heard it mentioned in literature, on radio shows, in movies, in hushed conversations in back rooms, and you know what it was? Cloves, ground cloves. Or sometimes maple syrup. Occasionally just really thinly sliced garlic. That’s it. Those were the closely guarded relics passed on from specially selected generational maven to maven.
Seriously. I’ve snorted more newsworthy kitchen spices at slumber parties.So let us please drop the big facade. Unless you are an actual witch/wizard or you are actually planning someone’s demise via edibles/potables, stop with the melodrama and just tell me how you made that pretty darn good casserole I had at your dad’s place last week. Your casserole/sauce/cocktail/dressing will, in no real and physical way, taste less delicious just because I’m making it too.
Perhaps these lingering urges toward secrecy are all just left over from eras past where there were weekly coffeecake competitions before each key party and the winner got to bed the male with the most hair left on his head. But we live in a new world. A world where every recipe ever is somewhere on the internet. If someone asks for your recipe, it means they like what you’ve done, it means they would like to connect with you and pay a bit of friendly homage to your good taste. It means their wifi is on the blink and they have a potluck to go to. Don’t be coy. Recipes are not swimming holes that can be ruined by the wrong five jerks with their case of Zima.
Good family recipes are like white privilege. I’m not going to pretend the perks don’t make my life better, but I will at least admit I gained them through no personal merit. And I will share them whenever I can. So, in the spirit of disclosure and the airing and sharing of family secrets, here is my grandmother’s recipe for “Knockout Drops.” They are like brass knuckles full of love and death for your mouth. They make you dizzy and high. They cure AND sing the blues. They smite enemies. My mom isn’t so sure they should be shared beyond our circle of aunts, uncles, cousins, cousins-in-law, ex-husband’s sisters, great-grandchildren etc. I disagree. Also, I think they are actually from some long out of print edition of The Joy of Cooking. The secret ingredient is a pound of sugar. Shhhhhhhhh.