One of my oldest friends recently gave me the recipe for her grandmother’s SPANISH enchiladas. She warned me they were not like “typical” enchiladas. I was stunned when I reviewed the recipe. No meat. Lots of olives and lard. No rolling. I can’t wait to make them.
In exchange, I offered her one of my family recipes: the one I painstakingly transcribed while watching my great-aunt’s son and his wife cook fondue for the third time in their home in Biel, Switzerland. Just down the street from the house where my maternal grandfather was born and raised.
I’ve had the fondue recipe for so long that it’s hard to remember there was a time when I didn’t have this connection to my Swiss roots. Growing up we ate the way my dad’s parents ate—bland, nondescript 1970s food. My Swiss grandparents grew figs and blackberries in their rambling yard and frequented U-pick farms. My American grandparents had clipped hedges and ate vegetables from a can.
I finished law school in 1989 and rewarded myself with a classic student European vacation. For three months I subsisted on baguettes, random pieces of fruit, and cheeses of every hue: Applewood, Stilton, Fontina, and Comté. For a girl raised on Kraft, it was a revelation: Camembert, Raclette, Chevre, Reblochon. My relatives served fondue for dinner and when I confessed I’d never eaten it, they assumed they’d misunderstood my garbled German. How could anyone of Swiss descent go 25 years without fondue? It was unthinkable.
Desperate measures were required. Fondue is the Swiss equivalent of the American barbeque with recipes handed down from father to son. Although female, they made an exception for me because I was an attorney—and clearly had been deprived of decent food. As my cousin’s husband explained it, any country that invented the hamburger could not be trusted to cook with cheese.
I returned home with the recipe tucked safely in my bulging carry-on. Mom unveiled my discovery on Christmas Eve. The previous week I’d converted deciliters to cups and combed the Bay Area for aged Gruyere and creamy Vacherin. Mom made lasagna “as a backup,” and the guys loaded their plates while eyeing the fondue. My brother complained the cheese stunk.
I ignored them and savored my first bite. Mom stabbed a chunk of bread with the skinny fork and swirled it in the cheese. “Ohhh,” she said, her eyes closed. “It’s delicious.”
One by one my family dipped. “Lots of garlic,” Dad grumbled as he grabbed more bread. Mom devoured the crusty cheese at the bottom of the pot.
Twenty years later, my family still serves fondue on Christmas Eve. After the second year, Mom skipped the lasagna. No one complained. I can’t remember the last time I ate a frozen vegetable, let alone one from a can. I walk with my daughter through the farmer’s market and Katie points to vegetables. “Kale,” I say. “Swiss chard.” I watch her eat a pomegranate, its seeds staining her lips red, and wonder how I came to adopt a child who will devour such foods. Then I remember the tattered fondue recipe and realize it started with a shot of kirsch and a pot of bubbling cheese.
Until next time,