Going through the stack of recipes from my mother-in-law’s collection, it’s striking how similar the very old ones look on both the Czech and American sides. The typewritten Czech recipes are precise, stamped on crisp but thin paper, with footnotes–much the same way my great-grandmother’s risotto recipe is.

This pile contains Králík na cibuli (Rabbit with Onions), Sachrův dort (Sacher Torte), and Kokosové řezy (Coconut Slices), but the heart of the loose collection lies in baked goods. That’s no surprise, considering that that side of the family ran a bakery (which was confiscated by the Communists after World War II) in a town in the eastern half of the country.

Once I asked my husband, “So all your mom’s recipes for cakes and cookies likely came from recipes used in the bakery, and from her parents?”

“Probably,” he shrugged, and went back to his book.

J.’s father also took my request to go through the recipes with a look of bemusement, at first. When I sat down at the kitchen table to go through the ones on file cards for a few hours, one night, he wandered past into the family room and sat down to watch a rerun of a French detective series on tv, coming in now and again to make tea or pour a glass of red wine. Eventually, he sat down across from me and rested his chin in one hand.

Maybe in other families, men talk eagerly about recipes, but so far, J. and his dad hadn’t said much. I kept quiet, pausing now and then to photograph one of the cards. J’s dad began to organize them as I set down the ones I’d read.

Eventually I asked whether he recognized any favorites, or remembered favorites from his childhood.

“Chicken schnitzel,” J.’s dad replied instantly. “Baked first, then breaded and fried. And my grandmother used to make rhubarb…blueberry cake…black currant cake…” He looked down at the card and smiled. “My grandfather was a game hunter, so we used to have baked rabbit in cream, and pheasant.

Smažený rybí filet s bramborovou kaší, Mila made very well,” he said. (That’s fried fish with mashed potatoes.) “We used to have that a lot.”

There was a pause, while I started writing some of this in a notebook. In the apartment downstairs, the patriarch of the Roma family that’s lived there for as long as my husband’s family has been in the building started singing along with the radio. The man has a great voice, but J.’s dad hears it every night, and rolled his eyes. “Ježíš Maria.

I asked about the bakery on J.’s mother’s side of the family.

“Oh, yes, they were supplying the town, essentially, before the Communists took it over. Oh–” J.’s dad stopped and held up a card. “Kotlety zapečené se sýrem. Mila used to make that often. It’s delicious.”

That’s Chicken Breasts Baked with Cheese, and J.’s aunt makes it without fail–as though it’s a talisman–every time she visits Prague, or whenever we go to Austria to see her. It takes pride of food place (second, maybe, to Christmas dinner) in my husband’s family as lasagna does in mine.

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