Thursday, January 28, 2010

Family Food History and Recipe Project



Like most people, I have a lot of family recipes scattered throughout my home in recipe books and files. I’ve also got my Mom’s own recipe box, which I “helped” her to organise when I was a little girl. It’s funny, she never changed the green plastic file box she had her recipes in. I made her one of those labels for it using a Dymo embosser, painstakingly punching out “Barbara’s Recipe Box” with my tongue firmly clenched between my front teeth. When I brought the box home after she died, I had to carefully extract the recipes which due to their sheer number had become quite literally stuck in the box. I moved them to a bigger file box (above left), but aside from referring to ones I knew were there, I have not really touched it since her death. I got thinking about it the other day and realised I was probably emotionally ready to go back through Mom’s files and find some of the dishes I have forgotten about - and also the ones that are lost in a fog of delicious memory - the ones I can just about taste, but really can’t name.



I also inherited my Dad’s recipe collection, a large number of clippings and notes encased in a copy of ‘The Microwave Guide and Cookbook’ and secured with an elastic band. Both my parents were very good cooks, and my Dad did a lot more than just barbecue, although that was definitely one of his specialities. Wholeheartedly embracing the trend towards microwave cooking in the late 1970’s, our first microwave oven even had a spit for cooking meat in it, and my Dad had an incredible knack for making it taste like it had been slow roasting for hours.

And then there is my stuff. More notebooks than I’d care to count and more than one bookshelf full of cookbooks are just the beginning. I love to cook, and in the past few years have become really adept at developing my own recipes, but I still read cookbooks like they were novels and love to make other people’s recipes too.


These are just a few of my notebooks. The two on the right I have had since I was in my late teens, and the blue book on the top left is one made by my husband and his sister when they were little, containing lots of recipes from his side of the family. In addition, most of my notes for recipes I have developed myself are on my MacBook. So if I seem a little daunted, it’s probably partially because of the sheer volume of the task I am taking on, but mainly because of how important I believe this task is. Nowhere is our family history evidenced more thoroughly than in our attitudes towards and experience of food, and our traditions round it.

It’s a task I have wanted to undertake for a while now and I’m going to blog about it from time to time over the next few months. As I find some of my old family favourites I will share them with you, along with anecdotes about the people who developed them. I’ll also test and experiment with some of the recipes I don’t remember in the hopes of reviving some old favourites.



There’s a lot of newspaper clippings both in my Mom’s recipe box and in Dad’s makeshift recipe file. I’m really intrigued by these and look forward to testing some of the recipes. This one is from the Hamilton Spectator dated Friday June 22, 1956. I was not born yet; in fact it was before my parents got married. The recipe is for Sweet-Sour Spareribs, but the whole thing is a real piece of the past, with a snippet of an article ‘Report Three Polio Cases During Week‘ just visible at the bottom. I can just read the words “Weekly telegraphic reports from the provinces showed only one paralytic case...” It was such a terrifying disease then. The recipe sounds good though, and I will definitely be giving it a try. It’s more basic than the ones we see in the amazing Chinese cookbooks available today, but it sounds yummy (and pretty easy too).

I’m going to put this post on my food blog Recipes from the 21st Century Housewife’s Kitchen as well, and you’ll be able to follow my family food history project over there too if you like. I hope it will encourage you to delve into your own family food history. It can be a great conversation starter between generations and you could even involve your kids. After all, most everyone likes to talk about food and to eat!

I’ll be back tomorrow, attending the Friday blog parties as usual, but for now I’m off to spend a couple hours on this new project. Please drop me an email or comment if you decide to research your own family food history; I’d love to hear about your progress!

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