Recipes and genealogy
My mother was a “collector” (she didn’t throw very much out) and my genealogy research has benefited from that. She kept all of my grandmother and great-grandmother’s recipe cards even though she rarely cooked from them. I never paid much attention to the recipe cards until after my mom passed away and my siblings and I were cleaning out her apartment. I became the keeper of “all things paper” because of my interest in family history and so the recipe cards came to my house. As I started to go through the recipes I realized what a wonderful addition they were to a deeper understanding of our family history.
The older recipes from my great-grandmother are a reflection of how different peoples’ lives were 150 years ago. The recipes were for huge quantities because my great-grandmother lived on a farm and meals served not just the family but all of the farm workers. Ingredients were very simple (eggs, molasses, flour) because exotic ingredients weren’t easy to find, much less buy. Many steps were left out of the recipes because in that time period everyone cooked and it was assumed you would just know specific things, like how to sour milk to put in a baking recipe to make the end result lighter. There were ingredients included that we would turn our noses up at today like lard. Reading through the recipes was fascinating and it gave me some insight into a person I never met.
My grandmother’s recipes were equally enlightening. I always knew my grandmother had a terrible sweet tooth (as do I!) but when I went through her recipes, it became even more obvious. About half of her recipe cards were for rich, fattening desserts (that sound absolutely wonderful). She and my grandfather loved to entertain and that was equally clear – there were lots and lots of recipes for appetizers and a few for what sound like very enticing cocktails. My grandmother was an old-time Yankee and her main courses reflected that, being for dishes like fish chowder or boiled dinners. I knew my grandmother so her recipes were more of an amplification of what I already knew but they were also very intriguing to read through.
I also have my mother’s recipes. I haven’t gone through them yet. I know they will be very evocative because they are about the food I ate in my childhood (jello being a key ingredient!) and I’m not quite ready to take on that job. However, eventually I will sort through them and put them in the archival binder in which the other recipes reside. At some point I will also add in some of my most used recipes and the “favorite recipe” cards that my mother’s friends gave me at my bridal shower. I love those particularly because each one of them represents a special person in my childhood and they are written out by each person, making them even more personal. Ultimately, I will pass all of the recipes on to a family member who will equally enjoy the stories embedded in the cards.
So, as you put together your genealogy research, don’t forget your family’s recipes. They tell lovely stories for those who are open to listening. Happy research!