Family Recipes Equal Family Heritage
Heirloom recipes, often family recipes, hold history on cards or scraps of paper.
It seems the best recipes are always those that have been passed down from generation to generation.
courtesy Julia Bosman
Recipes, recipes, recipes! They’re everywhere – in daily newspapers, on cereal boxes or postcards from realtors; and, of course, in the many magazines placed to grab our attention at supermarkets. Why, there are even a few in this one. But the best recipes, the ones that tell their own stories and define our pasts, are those heirloom recipes, handwritten or oral, that have been passed down from our ancestors, relatives or friends.
So what do those family recipes tell us? Some, like the Slumgullion my mother used to make when I was a child living on a 120-acre farm, speak about our beginnings. The dictionary calls Slumgullion a watery meat stew; but I remember the dish as a filling meal for four or more, prepared when time was in short supply. Today, when I prepare Slumgullion, I picture my mother standing near the cookstove, browning the meat in a cast-iron skillet, or, 20 minutes later, our family sitting down together for supper at an oilcloth-covered table. This memory suggests time together and healthful fresh food.
Sometimes, old recipes speak about special occasions and sacrifice. Whenever my dad picked the dessert, he would ask for Pompadour Pudding. It tasted great, combining vanilla and chocolate flavors, and had a fancy look. Most of the required ingredients were commonplace in farm kitchens: sugar, flour, salt, eggs, milk and vanilla. My mother – a busy farm wife, who cooked for the family and hired hands, fed chickens, weeded a large vegetable garden, cared for children and kept up the house – often blanched when “The Pudding” was mentioned because it took quite a bit of fussing. There was the pudding; and then there was the fluff, curled up on the top like the popular hairstyle. But, sometimes, Mother did find the time to make my dad’s favorite dessert for a special occasion.
Sometimes, the recipes remind us of rituals or procedures now called unhealthy. Many years ago, my father, dressed in his well-patched bib overalls, fried the fresh, floured pieces of spring chicken in lard. I can still taste that crispy version, topped off with milk gravy made in the leftover drippings and spread over homegrown boiled potatoes with the skins on. You could count on my dad always eating the back and gizzard; my sister and I splitting a breast while she ate the liver and I ate the heart; and Mother always choosing the wings. These days, fried anything (and especially in lard) is considered a health hazard – as are organ meats. Whether it’s mere nostalgia or the fact of the matter, I remember that fried chicken as the best I have ever eaten.
Sometimes, the old recipes conjure memories of friends who taught us to eat in a new way. Farmers and their children often ate quickly so that they could get back to the fields or chores. Little time was spent with hors d’oeuvres, wine, or snappy pre-lunch or supper small talk. But when we moved from the country to the city, our neighbors and friends, the Hoppers, taught me and my husband that a few minutes with cheese, crackers and cocktails was time well spent. And Jean gave me a wonderful quiche recipe that could be made ahead, popped into the oven and removed moist and delicious at just the right moment. I had never heard of quiche until Jean served it at her home. My husband and I broadened our childhood dining experiences through friends.
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