Friday, September 3, 2010

Family recipes... what a treasure.

A few years ago a new genre appeared on the book scene... Food Memoirs. I enjoyed reading them and my husband bought me several over the past few years. One that I particularly enjoyed is Talking with My Mouth Full by Bonny Wolf.

In the introduction to the book, Bonny describes her collection of recipes, begun when she was a young bride. At first, she collected them in a blue, loose-leaf, three-ring notebook - neatly typed or glued onto lined paper and carefully organized into categories. Over time, the recipes overflowed the binder and the categories into a gift bag. This is what she did:

"One day, I took a deep breath and decided to go through the bag, prepared to eliminate and organize. In the course of this exercise, I found the story of my life."

She recalled  great-aunts, cousins, old family friends and others she hadn't thought of in years. She traced her life through the places she had lived (Minneapolis, Baltimore, New Jersey, Texas and Washington D.C.), and relived life events through the recipes she had accumulated.

When I first read these passages, I felt like I could have written them myself. Except for the details of course, (I lived in California, Florida, Virginia, New Mexico, Idaho and Hawaii), and my collection began in an orange portfolio, which then expanded to a blue loose leaf notebook and into several shoe boxes.

I started going through my collection of recipes when my daughter, our own AmberLou, was getting married 6 years ago. I had asked her what she wanted for a wedding gift, and she answered that she'd like a cookbook of my recipes. I had a delightful time, going through my notebooks and shoe boxes, organizing our favorite recipes, typing them up for her, and adding a note here and there about where I'd gotten the recipe, or what occasions she might remember it from. I printed them out on 4x6 index cards and compiled them in a small photo album. I was mindful at the time that my other daughters might want something similar someday, so I was careful to save everything to a CD, only to lose the CD in a move. When I gave it to her at her bridal shower, my recipe for brownies made her burst into tears.

Some years ago, after my grandmother died, I was given some of her things. My favorite is an old spiral notebook that she wrote and pasted some recipes into.

I especially love that she not only wrote the recipes, but she gave her impression of most of them (She declared "Grandma Grout's Cookies" Not Very Good!!!) and even included the price of some of the ingredients! For her 1977 Christmas Fruitcake (she wrote "Delicious, but Expensive!!"), she made these notations on the recipe:
  • Glace fruit $1.00 
  • Walnuts - had in freezer from last year 40 cents a lb 
  • Dates - $1.29/lb
There are some other scribbles in the margins that are difficult to make out... prices of sugar, flour and butter I think, but she calculated that the fruitcake was $1 a pound that year!

I'm sure I was offered a piece of that "delicious but expensive" cake itself and choked a small piece of it down to be polite (I'm sure my mother would have seen to that!). I've never liked fruitcake, but I almost want to make a batch of this recipe to be closer to my grandmother.

In the introduction to her book, Bonny Wolf writes:

"We cook and eat for comfort and companionship.We cook and eat to mark the seasons and celebrate important events. we cook and eat to connect with family and friends and with ancestors we never knew. And through this baking and breaking bread together, we come to know who we are and where we came from."

I'm thrilled to have these recipes from my grandmother, for myself and to pass on to my own children and grandchildren so that we will always know where we came from.



  1. Thank you for this beautiful post! I have treasured recipes from my grandmother that I look forward to passing on to my own children. I will remember to make my own little notes on them :)

  2. This made me cry. I loved my grandmother and her cooking. I ended up with an old recipe box of hers that was my great-grandma's before that. I love looking through there and thinking of all the great stories that went with all the recipes. I think I might have to check out this recipe memoirs thing. Thanks for the touching story. I look forward to doing the same with my daughter some day.

  3. This is a wonderful post!! I just wrote a blog post a few days ago about my grandmother's recipe box, and how much it means to me. Funny how those recipes can connect us with those we loved so much.
    Count me as your newest follower!! I'd love for you to check my blog out and follow back if you would like!

    Aimee @ Justkiddingaroundatlanta

  4. So sweet, love my mom's old cookbook she gave me with all her notes inside...

  5. what a treasure! I would have loved notes from my g'ma along with her recipes. Thanks for linking up to Topsy Turvy Tuesday's!

  6. Aunt Lorie, Which grandmother did that notebook belong to?

  7. Sorry Lisa... I just noticed your comment. The cookbook was Grandma Wilma's (GGpa Lyle's wife in Oregon)... You probably don't remember her. She died in 1988.


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