Mom Blog

Keeping Memories Alive through Family Recipes

A friend of mine recently contacted me for help putting together a book of recipes. Not his own recipes, but his grandmother’s, and the plan was to make a book to share with family. I thought back to all the recipes I’d collected over the years and thought this was a great idea.

Family recipes are more than just instructions on making a meal, they’re also family heirlooms. They can be passed down and treasured just as much as tangible items, but it’s up to us to keep them going. I’ve always thought of recipe books as being much like grimoires, full of magic and possibility. But also full of family history, and a place to record instructions on how to make wonderful things. And something that should be passed down through generations and treasured.

The Legacy of Grandma’s Recipes

Smells can produce powerful memories, so what better way to remember grandma then by making her famous stew or delicious homemade cookies? There’s an amazing connection between emotions, memories and scent, where smelling something that reminds you of happy times can actually bring on happy emotions. Scents are the only sensations that travel a direct path to the emotional and memory centers of the brain, which explains why one whiff of peach ice cream takes me right back to great-grandma’s kitchen, eating her handmade fresh peach and vanilla ice cream.

When my great-grandmother passed away, I was very happy to inherit a few of her cookbooks. Not only did they have her recipes, but they had her handwritten notes in the margins. There were also recipes ripped out of old magazines and newspapers, some of them dating back to the ’70s. They even had some random notes and phone numbers of friends. These are books she used over and over and always had around. I remember always flipping through the books when I stayed at her house. She’d let me pick any random recipe to try. Spoiler alert: it was always cookies or cake!

grandmother's cookbook
Grandma’s Recipe Book

The Way to a Man’s Heart

That old saying “The way to a man’s heart, is through his stomach,” might hold a bit of truth, as I certainly stepped up my cooking in our early dating days. The only thing I used to make was a stir-fry or spaghetti, and now I love cooking gourmet meals.

Back when my husband and I were dating, sometime after we had moved in together, I asked his mom to share some of her recipes with me. She didn’t have a recipe book and always just went with her memory, so she hand wrote several of her recipes down for me. I wanted to be able to make my husband’s favorite family meals like pork schnitzel, garlic mashed potatoes and creamy chicken and rice with golden sauce.

mother-in-law's handwritten family recipes
My mother-in-law’s handwritten recipes

I treasure those hand written recipes and saved the handwritten originals even after I had copied them down in my book. My husband and I have been together for over 20 years and I still refer back to those little purple pieces of paper sometimes and appreciate that she would share those with me. The family joke however, is that she left out some of the ingredients so it wouldn’t be the same! She assures me it was not done on purpose, the only reason being she had never written them down before that. And while my meals never tastes exactly like my mother-in-law’s, they are still made by her guidance so they are similar, but with a personal twist. And that’s just the way I like it.

My Own Recipe Legacy

I started my own recipe collection in high school, with a recipe book I’d gotten from my great-grandma. It’s not very cool looking, just a small yellow thing with a rooster on the front. Not something I’d ever pick for myself, but I love it just the same. Some of my first recipes I put in there were very simple – there are several early entries on making salsa. I think the most used recipe in the book is the one for Pico de Gallo!

I haven’t actually looked at that recipe for a long time, always just making it from memory. So I understand why it was such a challenge when my mother-in-law tried to write down her recipes, and figure out how many cups of this or tablespoons of that. It’s hard to write it down when you just go by taste and memory.

My recipe book is partially hand-written, but also filled with recipes I’d cut from magazines or saved from product wrappers. All cut out and taped inside. I later got lazy and just started sticking full magazine pages in there. And then with the Internet now (yes, my recipe book was started pre-Internet) I have a lot of printed pages folded in as well.

Someday, I’d love to sit down and write out all my favorite recipes, the ones I make all the time. There’s a lot in the recipe book that I haven’t ever even made, but just thought they looked interesting. And I’d like to include favorite family recipes as well. And then maybe someday, my son will keep our recipes alive and cook them with his family.

Now I just need to figure out which special ingredient to leave out… 😉

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