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Savoring the Foods and Family Traditions of Summers Past

Readers tell of dishes that remind them where they came from.

To make that frittata, her mother and grandmother held peppers directly over the gas flame of the stovetop until the flesh softened and the peel charred, then kept them in a paper bag until they were cool enough to slip out of their skins.

Ms. DePasquale Perez, who is working on a graphic novel about her childhood, paid attention. She says she still makes a red pepper frittata using the same technique.

Jean Gogolin, who is 76 and lives in Westfield, N.J., has sweet memories of Pennsylvania Dutch cracker pudding — a sweet, boiled egg custard thickened with crushed saltine crackers and coconut. She says she hasn’t made the dish in years because its popularity among younger family members has faded.

But Albert Moten Jr. still gets together with his family in New Orleans, where he lives, to replicate the summer cookouts he grew up with, boiling turkey necks and crayfish with corn on the cob, and frying fish.

Mr. Moten, who is 45, says his family may cook at home, or head to the park with a couple of butane tanks and some five-gallon pots. They may be celebrating a milestone birthday or nothing grander than a clear summer day stretching out in front of them.

At these weekend cookouts, there is one constant: catfish.

“It’s almost like a T-bone steak for the poor man,” he said. Mr. Moten’s family soaks the raw fish in milk, then dusts it in a mixture of Cajun spices and flour, or, occasionally, cornmeal, before frying it golden-brown and crisp in a kettle of hot oil. Mr. Moten says the fish needs to rest for just a few minutes before it’s ready to be served, ideally with mac and cheese, potato salad and mashed potatoes.

The smorgastarta is a giant Swedish sandwich filled with a variety of ingredients, from egg salad to smoked fish. It’s a project, built in advance and chilled, ready to slice and feed a crowd, like a savory cake iced with mayonnaise or cream cheese instead of frosting. Sarah Gannholm, 48, tasted one for the first time at a family funeral in Gotland, an island in the Baltic Sea.

Though she found the dish a little absurd at first, it went from being a curiosity to a part of her culinary repertoire. Ms. Gannholm’s grandmother came from Norway, and her husband’s family is Swedish. “I’m not one of those people creeped out by mayonnaise,” she said.

When Oregon shrimp are available in Seattle, where Ms. Gannholm lives with her husband and three children, she may make a smorgastarta that sandwiches homemade bread with a shrimp salad. But she says a more modern filling of fresh cheese mixed with roasted peppers would not be out of place. Her “frosting” varies, but last week she lightened cream cheese with buttermilk, and flavored it with just a little grated garlic.

It’s traditional to serve a slice of smorgastarta on its own, with nothing else on the plate, but Ms. Gannholm can’t resist making a small green salad to go on the side. “Even though my husband is against it,” she said.

In hot weather, James Chae, 32, used to look forward to ordering piping hot samgyetang, the ginseng-rich chicken stew, at Korean restaurants. And Laura Gottwald, 70, who lives in New York, drank her grandmother’s chicken consommé with tender boiled egg yolks and parsley.

Sarah Dadouch’s thoughts turned to makdous, a Middle Eastern dish of salt-cured eggplant stuffed with a mixture of peppers and walnuts, packed in jars of olive oil.

When she and her family still lived in Damascus, Syria, and spent summers outside the city in Zabadani, Ms. Dadouch would help her mother make big batches of makdous, lining up hundreds of tiny salted, stuffed eggplants under weights in order to squeeze out the excess liquid.

This was before war raged across the country. Ms. Dadouch, who left Syria for the United States in 2010, is now 24 and a student at the Columbia University School of Journalism. She moved to New York a few weeks ago and isn’t sure if she can find good makdous in the city, the kind that is soft and sour all the way through.

Eggplant season will carry on well past Labor Day, deep into September, and maybe there is still time to find a taste. Though Ms. Dadouch said that since leaving home, she has found plenty of new foods to love as well, like shrimp and grits, seafood paella and tacos, they aren’t always enough.

“You bury your yearning for Syrian dishes deep in your heart,” she said, “but it creeps to the surface every night.”

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