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.
By Mary Emma Allen
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
Recalling the family get-togethers and favorite foods for
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
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
favorite recipes were tidbits of information about the occasions when
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
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
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
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
regions and cultures will pique someone's interest.
But as I browse through Auntie's notebook and the pieces of
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
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
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,
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
Occasions may arise whereby you can teach a workshop on
a family heritage cookbook.
A booklet on this project could be popular with family groups
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
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
(To make it thicken more quickly, some people mix some flour
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 email@example.com. She lives in Plymouth, New Hampshire,
(c)copyright 1999 Mary Emma Allen
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