With fall around the corner, are you enjoying the last of your garden produce? I’ve certainly enjoyed when friends shared their extra tomatoes and cucumbers. While our ancestors couldn’t pop into the local grocery and get fresh produce, they became very proficient at growing large gardens to feed their growing families. In recent years, families spent time determining what seeds to order while pouring over Gurney’s catalog. Do you remember doing that?
If your ancestor came directly from the “old country” chances are that they brought their favorite recipes. Did they bring seeds from the old country? Would they grow here? What happened when they moved to the prairies? Were the same foods available? If not, how did they adapt? How do we learn more?
Thankfully for those of us who appreciate a traditional family meal—regardless of our heritage—food recipes seem to have been passed down through the generations. Through the decades, the style and methods may have been tweaked but most of us have favorite dishes that have been passed down from our ancestors.
If you have a family member who is proficient in traditional cooking or baking, spend time learning how to make that krumkake or Grandma’s fried chicken or streusel. It may be your task to capture clues and to translate what adding a little of this or that. Future generations will thank you.
Family Recipes. If you have family recipes, put them in a book and share them with your cousins and relatives. There are companies who will print recipe books for a reasonable price. There are also software programs that make formatting this information easier. Perhaps do an e-book. It will still require effort on your part…transcribing it all.
Another option is to share the familiar handwriting of your grandmother by scanning her actual notes and recipes. If their handwriting is challenging, provide a transcription and tips to help the twenty-first century cook. Many of my great-grandmother’s cookie recipes have ingredients, measurements but no baking time or temperature. Back then they assumed you knew how to make cookies or bake a cake so just the ingredients were included. Collar your family into being resident food testers as you figure out some of those details before you publish.
Church and local cookbooks. With the age of the internet, we can find almost any recipe with a quick search. However, I find that church and local cookbooks are still some of my favorites. Did your relative contribute to such a book? Or is there a local cookbook from your area? Foods that are common with the Russians from Germany in central and western North Dakota are not necessarily as familiar to those in the eastern part of North Dakota where many Scandinavians settled. Even a basic like potato salad has many regional and ethnic variations. You may only find recipes that you remember from local sources. Some of these books also include historical tidbits and stories.
Internet Resources. If you don’t have a written account of a favorite dish, you might find a similar recipe online. For example, my grandfather liked “sweetbread”. Ugh! It was a favorite and common food from his Luxembourg background. I’m pretty sure no one in the current generation will even taste it but you can find recipes for sweetbread online. While preparing this week’s blog, I found this interesting site, The Olden Times which includes vintage recipes from newspapers from as early as the 1700s. Perhaps old copies of your local newspaper include recipes of your ancestor’s time.
Gathering together for a meal is still an important tradition today. With our melting pot of ethnicities, the ease of travel and access to the food, our own food traditions are evolving…perhaps pizza or curry or Scandinavian fare is now family favorites. Take time to include information about food favorites from the past in your family history. It will add spice to your story and help your reader relate to those generations.
“It’s such a simple meal. It’s getting together as a family, sharing oneness, our customs and heritage.”
With a lifelong passion for genealogy and history, the author enjoys the opportunity to share genealogy tidbits, inspiring others to research and write their family story.