Is it bad form to mess with someone's family recipe?

My mother-in-law was generally a horrible cook but made an incredible milk chocolate pound cake that was justifiably famous in DH's family (hey, even a blind pig gets an acorn once in a while...) She pretty much hated my guts and never forgave me for stealing her baby boy (who was 32 when we got married, by the way) but for some unknown reason, I was the only person with whom she ever shared the cake recipe. I make it mostly the same way she did but I don't add nuts, which makes my husband, well, nuts. He actually won't eat the cake when I make it because I deviate from how his crazy mother made it.

Another example - my SIL's mom was a cigarette smoking career woman who cooked as little as she possibly could but could fry chicken that would make your heart sing. She taught me to fry chicken her way but in the intervening years, my chicken frying technique has evolved a bit. My SIL was here yesterday and when I told her how I planned to fry chicken for dinner, she was horrified that I wasn't doing it EXACTLY the way her mother did.

So am I a heretic for not sticking directly to the written in stone family recipes? Is the problem that I'm messing with someone else's food memories? Maybe because I don't have too many family recipes on my side (growing up Irish American in the DC suburbs ensured that the only food tradition we had was celebrating the day they invented Velveeta) I don't understand the importance of making things just like Mom did.

What do you all think?


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