Food & Family History: Special Memories Often Start in the Kitchen

Serendipity gives me goosebumps. Just as I was about to write this post about “food memories,” I stumbled on a terrific example of this exact form of family-history writing.

From Billee’s Kitchen” is a great, simple collection of not only recipes but memories. Compiled in pdf form by Melissa Corn Finlay, it honors her grandmother, Billee Barton Corn. And you can read it for free, here!  It’s packed with Billee’s favorite recipes, from Shrimp Victoria and desserts to die for, and great family photos. But best of all,  it includes Melissa’s memories of her grandmother.

The table of contents from “From Billee’s Kitchen.” Her granddaughter included recipes, memories, and even home movies!

Born in 1918, Billee used to keep a jar of bacon drippings on her stove. (Sound like anyone you knew?) She went to bed every night with a Louis L’Amour novel in her hand. Granddaughter Melissa got sips of Billee’s favorite nighttime beverage (Dr. Pepper over ice) as she joined Grandma under the puffy down comforter. And Melissa can still recall the tantalizing smells of her grandmother’s apricot “fried pies.” Special memories indeed!

So, what fascinating nuggets of family history and memoir material might be lurking in your kitchen? And how can you easily preserve and share them?

  • Start by pulling out that old card file or family cookbook, and thumb through the recipes. What dishes were your parents’ favorites? And what do they say about your family’s travels or the way things were?
A simple recipe box can be a treasure chest of memories! 
  • What special culinary treasures have been handed down from long-gone relatives? I treasure my great-grandmother’s recipe for Burnt Sugar Cake just because it’s a legacy. And I love the visual image of my great-aunt’s recipe for Deep Dish Peach Cobbler, scrawled in her own spidery handwriting. How fun to know that these special treats once graced their tables, too, and how rewarding to pass the recipes along to future generations!
  • What memories do certain recipes bring back for you? I still remember the welcome smell of my dad’s Beans Bretonne simmering in the oven — a family favorite — as I walked in the back door after school. (In case you want to try it, here’s his recipe — with some hilarious comments from my sister.)

    Love the funny notes added to the directions.
  • And you might even find surprises tucked away in that old cookbook or filing box! As I was writing this story, I discovered a long-forgotten collection of old newspaper clippings in the back of our family recipe box. Domestic goddess that she was, my mother had tucked them away in the 1960s, preparing to be the perfect party hostess.
  • Sharing food-and-family memories doesn’t have to be a huge production. Make it  easy on yourself! You might simply copy those old family recipes and bind the pages together, or paste individual recipes into a small scrapbook, as my sisters did (see below). If you’d like to “pretty it up” as Melissa did in her family recipe book, just create a Word document with images, then convert that to a pdf for sharing.

Okay, that’s your Memoir Writing take-away for today:  Let favorite family recipes prompt your memories of both food and family!

And of course I’d love to hear what stories you remember.