Writing Your Family Food Heritage

Writing Your Family Food Heritage

By Mary Emma Allen

Have you ever thought of saving your family heritage by collecting your favorite recipes? The recipes and food ideas of your ancestors, and of your generation, can provide a wealth of memories and information about life in a particular era.

This can be a simple recipe collection project. Or you can become more literary by writing stories of family festivities, family food traditions, and how growing and preparing foods have changed over the years. Recalling the family get-togethers and favorite foods for special occasions, and even those from everyday meals, can be a great source of enjoyment. If you decide to write them down and possibly assemble them into a family cookbook, you'll be preserving food memories for future generations.

Favorite Family Recipes

I realized the fascination one's culinary heritage could provide when I read about a midwestern grandmother who recorded recipes and reminiscences for her children and grandchildren. Interspersed among the favorite recipes were tidbits of information about the occasions when the foods were served. I also enjoy reading, in my grandfather's autobiography, the chapters he wrote about the food traditions in the 1880s through 1900. I was delighted recently when my aunt's old cooking notebooks came into my possession. Here Auntie had copied favorite recipes over the years...those from her mother and grandmother, from friends, and from magazines and cookbooks. She made notes in the margins regarding the recipes or the person who gave it to her.

Mother Shares Recipes

Throughout the years, my mother shared with my daughter, Beth, and me recipes and food ideas she gleaned from her mother. "No one hitched up the horses to the bobsled or wagon and took off for the store at a moment's notice," Mother once told us. "It was an eight-mile round trip from our farm. We only went once a week to trade, not to shop. We took eggs and butter and got the few extras we needed to add to our home-grown supplies."

Our Recipes Are Too Commonplace

Too often we think the recipes we serve our families or were favorites in our childhood are commonplace and that only those of other regions and cultures will pique someone's interest. But as I browse through Auntie's notebook and the pieces of paper Mother collected in her recipe box, I'm besieged with memories and want to record them for my daughter, grandchildren, and future generations.

Compile a Cookbook

Beth and I are compiling cookbooks consisting of recipes from my husband's and my families. We've sorted through recipes that have been handed down to us, than have asked relatives to contribute their favorites or most memorable. In these days of computers with desk top publishing programs, it's much easier to put together a family cookbook.

Begin by collecting favorite recipes and asking relatives for theirs. Include a bit of family history about the recipes and occasions when they were served, if possible. You can make this a simple project by typing the recipes and stories, making copies, and assembling them in a loose-leaf notebook, or you can take your typewritten (or computer produced) pages to a copy center or printer and have them compile a small booklet.

Family Members & Friends Interested Relatives and even close friends usually are interested in a copy of a family heritage cookbook. These recipe booklets also make nice Christmas gifts and souvenirs for guests.

If you compile the project professionally, you may decide to sell some cookbooks. (However, if you sell the cookbooks to the general public, make sure the recipes given you by family members haven't been copied, word by word, from other recipe books, and thus are copyrighted by the original creator, author, or publisher.) Sometimes family groups use these cookbooks as a fund raiser whereby family members give donations toward the family reunion fund, newsletter, etc.


In addition, you may decide to write articles about recipes and cooking that you offer for publication. I write cooking columns for newspapers and online publications and find these food traditions popular there. Occasions may arise whereby you can teach a workshop on compiling a family heritage cookbook. A booklet on this project could be popular with family groups who would purchase it as a guide to compiling their own cookbook and preserving their family food heritage.

Recipe From Childhood

Here's a recipe from my childhood which Mother learned to make from her mother. She served it often for supper (as the evening meal was called on our farm when I was growing up).

CREAMED POTATOES - Dice cooked potatoes into a frying pan or skillet, called a "spider" by my grandmother. Then add some cream or whole milk, but do not cover the potatoes. If you use milk, add a few pieces of butter (homemade at my grandparents' farm). Simmer, stirring often, but do not boil, until liquid is thick. Add salt and pepper to taste. (To make it thicken more quickly, some people mix some flour with the milk or sprinkle it over the top, then stir in.)

About the Author

Mary Emma Allen is a cooking columnist, journalist, children's writer, and book author. Her most recent book is about Alzheimer's, "When We Become the Parent to Our Parents." Check out her "Country Kitchen" page on her web site, http://homepage.fcgnetworks.net/jetent/mea or email her at me.allen@juno.com. She lives in Plymouth, New Hampshire, USA

(c)copyright 1999 Mary Emma Allen

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