Food is the ingredient that ties family memories together. When you think about family occasions from the past – holidays, birthdays, Sunday dinners, anniversaries, special events, and reunions – the memories you often want to preserve are connected to food.
With StoryScans talking images, preserving family recipes is even easier. Simply scan in the recipe and then record a story about each recipe.
Close your eyes for a moment and you can suddenly smell the way melted butter and sage wafting through the house hypnotizes you for an entire Thanksgiving afternoon until it’s presented at the table. Look at the old cast iron pot and you’ll remember when Aunt Grace taught you how to brown a roast and then gave you her favorite pot. The history of the annual week-long fishing trip is a string of well-told stories that always end with Dad’s fish fry and Mom’s three-bean salads. The family garden your grandfather tended so gingerly became a Monet of colors in mid summer and the process of picking everything at its ripest was a study in patience and timing. The stories told over the best ways to cook that harvest are part of your family’s folklore. You knew exactly when to pick the corn, how to wrap a fig tree or the best ways to preserve five pounds of basil leaves. The cookbooks you collected on vacations are functional home decor that remind you of journeys traveled.
Our favorite dishes have become every reason we race to be together around the family table. They remind us of happy times when we enjoyed each other’s company over home-cooked meals and conversation, the moments when our most important priority was each other. Even trying a fun new recipe together or scene setting a table for a book club event becomes a culinary presentation in memory.
“Food is just food. It looks pretty in the store, but that look of the raw chicken in the butcher case or in the plastic doesn’t give you the sensory memory you have from childhood,”said Jeannette Van Houten of Union Beach, New Jersey. “Food links you back to the moment in the kitchen when your grandmother, mother or grandfather let you sneak a taste. It is the moments of love that we often take for granted.”
“Our recipes are love. They are compassion. They are feeding the soul and creating the moments that are supposed to be lasting, helping the next generation understand tradition and linking them back to why we eat. We don’t eat just to stay alive physically. Food helps us bond.”
Preserving family recipes for the next generations in your family will take some work. Perhaps it could be your holiday project that turns into a 2015 resolution. This week, begin the first step of the process by sorting through your hand-written notes, recipe cards, magazine cutouts and the cookbooks you always use. Make a list of the family recipes that are distinctly part of the culture of your family history, whether you created the original recipe or not. Scan your printed recipes, so you can update them with your own variations and cook times. Keep notes on the stories associated with those recipes. Add in reminders of the family heirlooms, such as favorite plates and bowls that are connected to those stories. Some recipes evoke more memories than others. Consult with extended family members on whether they’d like to produce a family cookbook.
Every family has a story about food. Even the bad cooks in the family remain part of the family stories. Preserving cherished recipes is distinctly tied to preserving family history, even if it is only a collection you created in this lifetime.
“Behind every recipe you love is a story you want to share,” said Chip Lowell, co-publisher of the Family Cookbook Project of West Simsbury, Ct. “It is everything in most families. Even in my own case, my mom was not a cook, so that bit of fun surrounding how we had fish sticks many nights growing up is a story we love to share.”
With the StoryScans talking images software, you are now able to combine voice and image for one high definition (HD) file to be shared with friends and family. It is very simple and already is helping to keep our family stories intact through voice and emotional cues.
Preserving Family Recipes – the History of Food
When preserving family recipes you’ll find that many are tied back to generations ago when our ancestors immigrated with traditions from their native countries and incorporated them into the new life they were building here in America. While everything was changing, some habits stayed the same.
As Mary Ellen Jenkins of Tampa Florida explained, her family’s recipes traveled in the hearts and minds of her grandparents, Anna Sansone Giannotto and Michael Giannotto, when they immigrated from Pietrapertosa, Italy to Brooklyn, New York in 1902. Nothing was written down. Although 4,300 miles separated them from their homeland, the “constants” in their lives, as they called it, were found on the kitchen table.
“The Giannotto’s Family Recipes were simple by today’s standards of what’s being shown on the cooking shows. The simple ingredients, good olive oil and garlic would turn an ordinary vegetable into something delectable. Constant was the mindset in mother’s kitchen,” Jenkins said. “If her mother cooked something one way, then no amount of experimentation was necessary. What we were eating today on any given night, three or four generations ago had the same amount and type of ingredients. I see that as comfort food.”
About a year before she moved out of the family home, Jenkins began coming to the dinner table with a pen and index cards. While eating she’d write exactly how the dishes were prepared. Over the next 365 days she figured she captured the best original recipes from Italy. Now 45 years later, the family is still using those index cards.
“The recipes would be lost to future generations if not written down. They were the reason for our physical growth and the reason for the 5 p.m. family gathering around the kitchen table. Every bite was proof of mother’s love.
VanHouten describes her family’s recipe collection as fluid as broth.
“Recipes are changing, because we need them to be not only our comfort, but a little piece of who we are in each generation. That doesn’t mean, however, you don’t put love, sweat and tears into the recipe. Short cuts are for computers and driving, but not for cooking.”
Even when her family isn’t all together at the holidays, Jenkins said, the recipes and stories bring them together at tables in California, North Carolina, New Jersey, Idaho and New York, spanning three current generations.
“Our large family may not be all together, but many of us are following the same original recipes that were served on Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter years ago,” she said.
Carol (Stranathan) Lendle of Wisconsin was lucky enough to inherit the recipe card boxes of her mother, grandmother and two aunts. While her mother and grandmothers were good cooks and baked a lot, it was her great Aunt Mae whose recipes people longed for. In family folklore it was often said that when Aunt Mae shared her recipes she often left out a secret ingredient, because no one could quite duplicate her delectable dishes. Wanting to share the family recipes with her siblings, Lendle began passing around the recipe card boxes, but quickly realized it wasn’t a feasible way to preserve all the family favorites.
“I decided to do a family cookbook, sorting through the boxes to find our favorites and combine them with photos and bits of family history, including a prayer we used to say. I also tried to include recipes from as many family members that I could,” Lendle said . “It is a very functional cookbook. It’s an easy way for my siblings and I to find a recipe if we can’t find it in our recipe book.
“Now, these recipes definitely extend family traditions for us. My mother always made yeast Krantz at Easter and Christmas. My husband’s mother always made caramel pecan rolls. We tend to alternate making both of those recipes at holidays, so we have incorporated both traditions into our immediate family.”
Deciding your collection
By nature of their duplication, these recipes extend our family traditions. We make a habit – a pilgrimage really – in hauling out well-worn family favorites for special occasions, dedicating the time needed to gathering ingredients and getting everything cooked, according to family recipe law.
What you decide to preserve is based solely on your family’s traditions. You don’t have to research recipes that tuck neatly into every category of a basic cookbook. What food do you talk about cooking? What are the dishes people request? What’s in your collection?
Let’s get cooking on this one!
As you scan and organize your old recipe cards and cut outs, create subfolders on your computer in categories such as meat, poultry, cheese, fish, deserts, breads, drinks, smoothies, etc. If you have to rewrite a recipe, you can save them in the same subfolders. Create another folder for cookbook content that includes family history, photos. Create a working index of your files.
Keep your Flip-Pal Sketch Kit handy. You can write notes and reminders to yourself while you’re scanning and compiling recipes.
by Mary V. Danielsen of Documented Legacy