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Family Cookbooks Store Traditions

Heritage cookbooks contain more than just great recipes.

The other day I was reminiscing with my sister, Susie, about a special dessert Grandmother Genevieve used to make that we were crazy about. It's called "Five-Three." Talking about that yummy dessert brought back such memories! We were transported to her kitchen, with its red table and chairs and the little red stool that was just our size. I have that stool in my kitchen now.

We could feel the freedom of sailing through the air in the tree swing my grandfather had rigged for us in the backyard. The scents of her faraway and long-ago kitchen seemed to reach our noses, and the creak of the dining room floor as we ran through it on the way to the kitchen to get our Five-Three sounded in our ears. And it made us want to replicate that recipe she had used all those years ago. The good news was, we actually had the recipe!

In 1980, my sister created a cookbook full of our family recipes. She called it, "Family Magic" and had sections for our father's parents and aunts and uncles, another section for our mother's and the same for her husband's family and other in-laws. She collected four generations of time-proven and well-honored recipes, and perhaps more important, the traditions that went along with those recipes. And yes, Five-Three is in that cookbook, along with Pink Divinity, Plum Pudding, Peanut Butter Fudge, Raisin Bars, and various other delectable sweet treats from grandparents, aunts, and great-aunts.

Our recipe book is a family-history document in and of itself. Flipping through the pages provides a showcase of our family's diverse culture and heritage. Goyer Goulash, Kase Spatzen, and Sauerkraut Salad reflect our German and Dutch Heritage. Barbeque Sauce, Cole Slaw, and Cornbread integrated my sister's husband's Southern background. Black Bean Soup and Sweet and Sour Chicken incorporated favorites gleaned from family travel and diverse sets of friends and family. And of course our dad's homemade plum cordial, "Pappa's Recipe," brings back instant memories of climbing the big plum tree in front of our house when I was just a little girl.

The best part is that not only do we remember these foods so often tied to family festivities; we all have copies of these recipes at our fingertips. My copy is well-stained, as testament to the many times I've pulled it out to stir up some family concoction. I have helped my mother use our family cookbook to make recipes her mother made for us, long before the current grandchildren were born. So many recipes in this book would have been lost if my sister hadn't taken the time to gather them, because they weren't written anywhere. They were indelibly etched in the minds of the family cooks, so many of whom are unfortunately no longer with us. They live on in our memories, photos, and stories, but they are never more real to us than when we catch the aroma and taste that luscious, moist plum pudding fresh out of the hot oven, or dish up a scoop of Five-Three on a hot summer day.

Create your own family heritage cookbook:
•  Write it down. You might need to sit down with family cooks and help them write out the recipes that are currently unwritten. Even if they have written recipes, consider watching them cook and taking notes. I know my grandmother never made a recipe straight as written, and neither do I. You don't want to miss those special touches!
•  Gather recipes from family cooks of ALL ages. Include the recipes the children like to make, even if it's Ants on a Log (celery, peanut butter and raisins). Kids will get a big kick out of seeing their recipes now and in the years down the road.
•  Home in on favorites. When you have too many recipes to choose from, try to focus on the dishes and baked goods that are tied to family traditions and holidays. Those may be the fare your family will want to replicate the most in the future.
•  ID each cook. Consider taking photos of the family members who contribute each recipe. Try to include a photo of your family chefs creating their favorite concoctions. Also, a photo of the result is helpful to future generations.
•  Go high tech. You can create an electronic copy of your family cookbook, or a print copy. Better yet, do both, so that if messy cooks make reading the print impossible, they can simply reprint! You can also save your family cookbook online, so that even distant relatives can access family recipes easily. You may even find long-lost relatives!
•  Background stories are another ingredient. Include anecdotes about the family members contributing recipes. This will 'spice up' the cookbook.
•  To create a family cookbook is to be a family historian. You might try to finish it in time for your next reunion. It will make a great take-home for relatives.
•  Pass it on. Stress the intergenerational exchange in your anthology of family cuisine. Encourage older cooks to teach the younger generations their secrets, and vice versa.
•  Keep it current. Add to your recipe collection as your family grows. Now the beauty of the myriad family compositions is that your perspective and life experiences can grow with each new family member, and so can your family cookbook!

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