For the past six months (since GFHC's intro) I've been drinking up information about genealogy. A free trial at ancestry turned into a subscription to the world deluxe--all because I found some stuff about an ancestor. Then I found blogs. Genealogical podcasts, however have quickly become my favorite source, aside from our open threads which started it all. One such podcast in particular has educated me so much about genealogy--the Genealogy Guys Podcast (available in iTunes--over 200 episodes). In 200 episodes they have covered a lot of ground and explored many types of interesting and unique sources.
In one episode a listener had emailed to offer to send digital copies of a 100-plus-year-old cookbook from New York that she had found in Canada (for fun, here's a link to the cookbook she found, it's public domain, published in 1800s, and at google books). It dawned on me then how many of our women relatives may be hard to find in traditional and official records, they exist in the community-created cookbooks. These records not only can place a relative in time and location, but they also can give us a taste of our families' and their neighbors' traditional foods. We can taste how they celebrated at a summer picnic, or fed a hungry family a week-night dinner, or splurged at a holiday party simply by following a recipe.
As the podcast covered, one can use cookbooks and recipes as a source of genealogical information. Old cookbooks are something that one should strive to preserve and pass down when a family member passes, particularly those church or community cookbooks. Additionally, consider what you can do to collect and preserve your family's food traditions. After hearing that podcast episode it was clear to me what my first genealogical writing project was going to be--a cookbook.
So, what do my family's recipes have to tell me?--that was the question that I came away with after hearing that podcast. What are our family recipes, and what are their stories? Why are they important to us? One side of the family comes to mind when I think of food. And on that side, two women stand out to me as the great cooks in the family--I'll call them "the twins." They are the people you want in charge of a potluck. They are the ultimate kitchen duo. The twins are still living, so I don't want to share too much about them, but this post honors them and the amazing meals I have had in their kitchens.
Over the years the twins have amassed an impressive collection of recipes from friends, newspapers, home ec classes, 4-H classes, and experimentation. At one point about 15 year ago they collaborated (as twins would) to type them all into a recipe database and shared it with all of their female relatives. This database, in essence tells a story of their lives in recipes. Every recipe lists a source--these sources tell me the people and media that populated the twins lives. They also provide a cultural context allowing one to see what food was available, popular, or traditional in different places and times.
I use the database often. I cannot have Thanksgiving without the noodles, called Grandmother's noodles in the database. The very name of the recipe is an error, however. The recipe which has been used at every family gathering for all of my forty years actually came from one of the twins' ex-mother-in-law. That story is not told in the database. Neither are the very exacting procedures one of the twins undertakes to make the rolls that people across one midwest capital eagerly await on Christmas morning when her husband makes his "roll runs" to the family and friends worthy of the delicious doughy treats she stays up till early morning rolling out (after singing at the late candlelight service at her church). Another missing item in the database is the way to "put up" corn, and this was an important summer ritual for the twins' family. As a child I helped shuck and silk the bushels of corn that we'd go out to the country to prepare. For lunch on those days we had fresh-out-of-the-field corn-on-the-cob, and nothing else. It was my idea of heaven. Did you know you should add a little sugar when you boil your corn on the cob? That's not in the database either, but it makes a world of difference.
To answer some of my questions, I plan to take the twins' recipe boxes and use them as prompts in a recorded interview to learn some of their secrets. Another idea, I ran across in my genealogical wanderings, was to make video recordings of one's family doing the things that they love to do. That seems perfectly applicable here. So, I am planning a video of the twins "putting up corn" and preparing a typical holiday dinner. So many of their secrets are hard to pass along in text or words, that a video seems the best solution.
As a family historian, these stories and sources are just so compelling, and some could be so easily forgotten. I hope to collect my family's into a book--recipes and family photos and their stories--something tangible and lasting. Something I can share with the other people in my family, something to which my generation can add, but that reminds us of our roots.
So, along with our normal witty genealogical-related discussions, I'd invite everyone to share some of your favorite family recipes in this open thread. I'm torn between sharing the rolls recipe or the noodles...
You are what you eat, and so were the grandcestors, as we like to call them.