Recipe for Remembering

Family recipes and favorite foods can be helpful sparks for sharing memories and cooking up family history.

Ever have a friend drop by your house unannounced and drool over the smell of your simple chicken soup? Have you ever craved a gooey peanut butter sandwich after a bike ride with your kids? When foods remind us of the past—especially fond memories from childhood—we find comfort and more than a little inspiration for revisiting those times.

When I am interviewing a client for a life story book, often it’s their food memories—recollections of sitting around a family table, sneaking tastes of Nonna’s sauce straight from the pot, or learning to grill from Dad—that call forth meaningful stories.

How about you?

Preserving Your Food Memories

I encourage you to record handwritten recipes from your own kitchen (your kids’ favorite meals, holiday traditions) along with recipes from your family archive (the birthday cake passed down from your mother-in-law, the Old-World dishes that bring a taste of your heritage home).

Then take it a step further by jotting down the memories associated with those recipes. Ask the kids and other relatives to do so, as well (everyone has their favorites, no doubt, and it’s fun when memories overlap!).

Trust me, you are creating a meaningful—and delicious—legacy! Stash the cards in a recipe box, or use them as the raw material for a family cookbook.

A few ideas to get you started:

  • Grab a piece of note paper and jot down a list of recipes that hold meaning for your family. Don’t think just about holiday meals or complicated dishes—even that three-ingredient dish that you fall back on during busy weeknights should be included. My grandmother used mayo instead of butter to cook up the best grilled cheese ever, and you can be sure I’m passing that simple but critical tidbit on!

  • If the recipe was handed down by a relative, indicate with whom it originated, and any tweaks subsequent cooks have made along the way.

  • Consider asking family members to fill in cards and contribute them to your collection. It’s always wonderful to have notes in loved ones’ own handwriting, and reading the memories they attach to the recipes will be a tasty bonus.

Be specific.

Mention the cast-iron pan with the always-loose handle that Bubbe cooked his eggs in. The apron Aunt Ida wore only on Thanksgiving. How cherry Jell-o brings you back to your childhood, and the aroma of anise transports you to Brooklyn at Easter.

Details, details—the scents and colors and textures...the truth of the story lies in the details.