Family Food History

When I was a child, I loved television. Of course, we only had three channels, if the antenna was working properly that day. (Move the rabbit ears a bit more, a bit more… stop… now, don’t move!) Our family would congregate around the TV set almost every evening.  My favorite shows were All in the Family, Andy Griffith Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, Bewitched, The Dukes of Hazzard, Gilligan’s Island, Happy DaysI Dream of Jeannie, Laverne and Shirley, Little House on the Prairie, The Waltons, and Welcome Back, Kotter.  And Saturday mornings?  Those cartoons/kids’ shows were the best!  My siblings and I loved The Bugs Bunny Show, Captain Kangaroo, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, The Flintstones, Hong Kong Phooey, H.R. Pufnstuf, Josie and the Pussycats, and Scooby Doo.

This days, however, I do not watch much television. (I guess I am too busy writing blog entries.) When I do turn on the tube, I tend to prefer:

  • Genealogically related (pun intended) shows (As if you couldn’t surmise that already!)
  • Sappy love stories (What can I say? I have a thing for happily ever after.)
  • Home repair shows
  • And My Grandmother’s Ravioli

Each episode of My Grandmother’s Ravioli begins with this monologue:

I’m Mo Rocca, and this is my grandmother. When I was growing up, she used to make the biggest, most elaborate Sunday dinners. I will never forget Momma’s ravioli. But I, I never learned how to cook. That’s why I’m pulling out all the stops to get your grandmothers and grandfathers to teach me their favorite family recipes. Why not learn from the masters?

“So why do I like this show?” you might ask. The reason is because I believe that family recipes are an important part of family history. Certain foods remind me of certain people. When I prepare the food that these long-gone family members had made, it is as if these loved ones are joining me at the dinner table.

When I remember my maternal grandmother, I think of fried plantains, Seabreezes, and rum cake. (Yum… rum… My grandmother sure knew how to whip up a mean rum cake, although I swear, you could get drunk off those fumes!)

The first Christmas that I shared with my now-spouse, we spent the holiday break with my grandmother and step-grandfather. In honor of our visit, she and I made her famous rum cake or, should I say, TWO rum cakes. The four of us polished off those cakes in two days!  Although it has been 15 years since my grandmother died, I think of her every time I bake a rum cake and reminisce about that visit and the laughs we share.

When I remember my paternal great-grandmother, I think of snickerdoodles, shepherd’s pie, meat pies, and sweet tea… lots and lots of sweet tea. (So much sweet tea, in fact, that she and my Great-Great-Aunt Carella joked at family reunions that sweet tea flowed through our family’s veins! I think they might have been right!)

Growing up, my family visited my two paternal great-grandmothers on Sundays. My grandfather’s mother always treated us to family stories, followed by baked goods or Sunday supper. One of my favorite memories of her was the day we made rolled sugar cookies together. No matter what my great-grandma made, she never consulted a recipe. (I am pretty certain that she could have cooked circles around Betty Crocker.) I watched, fascinated, as she added a handful of this and a pinch of that to create a perfect sugar cookie dough. As she rolled out the dough, my great-grandmother told me about how she would make these cookies as a girl, around about my age. She then handed me an empty jelly jar and told me to cut out as many cookies as I could from that piece of dough. Press and turn, press and turn… one by one, I cut out those cookies. When I was done, she gave me a smile and told me that I had done well. Even though she has been dead 24 years, I still remember that smile.

On my spouse’s side, I will always equate ham and bean soup with his maternal grandmother. His grandmother often had a pot of bean soup simmering on the stove when we visited. (And, of course, we had to sample bowl or two each time. We can’t be rude, now can we?)

What I remember most about that soup was sitting with her at her 1950’s era kitchen table, listening to her as she shared stories of other family members, both alive and gone, and of herself, both old and young. I learned so much about my spouse’s family at that table. Fifteen years have passed since his maternal grandmother died, but I think of her each and every time I make a pot of ham and bean soup.

My husband’s paternal grandmother was renowned for her cooking. Family lore has that her cooking was what initially attracted my spouse’s grandfather. In 1936, a young, Italian-born Marine was assigned to a post in South Charleston, West Virginia. While in Charleston, he met and fell in love with a young lady who cooked sumptuous Italian food. They married within months of meeting.

When I met my spouse’s paternal grandmother more than 50 years later, her husband was no longer alive to enjoy her cooking. However, their large family—sons, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren—gathered at her table to enjoy her sumptuous foods. What I remember most about those meals was how she never seemed to join us; instead, she waited on us, making sure plates and stomachs were full. And she rarely allowed help with cleanup, even though some of us offered. She did, however, welcome a helping hand and a willingness to learn when it came to preparing the food.

Several times, I joined her in the kitchen, learning to prepare smelts, gnocchi, and ravioli. (Okay, so they were really tortellini, but who was I to argue with her?)  While we cooked, she told me all about her very large Appalachian family, how her mother who was given both a boy’s and girl’s name (Willie Alice), and her many, many brothers and sisters. We laughed about funny times in her childhood and wiped away tears when she talked about her sister who died from a car fire and her brother who was killed in a tank during World War II. (She claimed the tears were from the onions.) Although 12 years have passed since she passed away, I think of her still when I make homemade gnocchi.

So you see, family recipes are an important part of our family history. Each of us, especially family historians, should take the time to document this aspect of our loved ones’ lives. Considering attaching family recipes to family tree records. Like census records, these recipes (especially those written in that person’s own hand) tells part of that person’s life story.

Culture and personal preferences are captured when we remember to document the food of our lives. Every time a family recipe is prepared and shared, a part of our ancestors live on.

#familyhistory       #familyrecipes       #memories

What foods remind you of specific family members and why? Please feel free share your memories of your own life and the lives of your ancestors. I would love to hear from you.
Categories: Cole-Marriner Line, Everyday People, Miscellaneous Musings, Spangler-Kenney Line, Taylor-Thomas Line, Williams-Stott Line | Tags: , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

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18 thoughts on “Family Food History

  1. I got really emotional reading this post, so I’m sure it was emotional for you to write it!

    I’ve been writing ‘fictional’ accounts of the women in my family (grandmothers and one great grandmother) and so many of my memories are centred around the food they expertly (or not so expertly) prepared. One of my grandmother’s signature dishes when I stayed with her was a bowl of cornflakes with half-and-half instead of milk!!) I would give anything to once again be able to sit in their kitchens and hear about their long and fascinating lives. I am still devastated by the loss of my grandmother three years ago for whom I am named (exact same name first, middle, and last). No one made a better grilled cheese.

    Thanks for posting and keeping the memories alive!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am sorry for on your grandmother’s loss. She sounds like a lovely lady. No matter how much time passes, loved ones never leave our hearts. Hopefully, the thoughts of her and her half-and-half cornflakes and grilled cheese sandwiches bring more smiles than tears.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My mother learned to cook mostly from my father’s parents and most of my family recipes come from them. My grandfather worked at the Lord Baltimore Hotel directly after WWII and he brought home a stuffing recipe that is made every Thanksgiving and Christmas, never any other time. My grandmother made a seven day sweet pickle that I make every few years. My mother did make a pistachio pudding that I adored until I ate too much and was sick for days. Her snickerdoodles were the same as her best friend’s and I shared that recipe with the other woman’s daughter in law a few years ago.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What wonderful stories about some of your favorite family recipes! That stuffing must be amazing!

      I can certainly relate to your story about “too much of a good thing.” At our annual family reunions, my one aunt would always bring Watergate salad. I LOVED that dessert. However, at one reunion, I ate so much of that stuff, that I am pretty certain I looked as green as that dessert! I know I certainly felt a “green around the gills” after that!


  3. Lovely post! On my mother’s side we have a tradition of a roast dinner every Sunday, as we always used to go to my Grandma’s for Sunday Roast. I remember my Grandma was always old fashioned and would still always cook her own Yorkshire Puddings from scratch, even though you could buy frozen. I remember being a young child and watching her pour the batter into the boiling oil! Now we still have the same dinner every Sunday, and I hope to continue it with my own children one day!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It sounds like your family spent many memorable Sundays together. I love that the tradition started with your grandmother continues to this day and that you hope to introduce any future children you might have to this time-honored tradition. As a side note, I bet your grandma’s Yorkshire pudding was to die for!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I loved this post so much! I think that these food memories leave forever marks on our hearts. We feel the love and the history with every specialty dish. Thanks for sharing!

    I always think of my sweet grandmother when I think about or eat bologna and cheese sandwiches or okra. It’s funny how strong those “food memories” are!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am so glad you enjoyed this post, Samantha. Food memories, as you so aptly termed them, are strong indeed.

      Your grandmother’s culinary choices sounds like my mother’s. Growing up, I ate my fair share of bologna and cheese sandwiches. We packed lunches every day of school, alternating between bologna and peanut butter sandwiches. Funny, we never seem to grow tired of them!


  5. I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in this week’s Fab Finds post at Have a great weekend!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Jana! I am so glad you enjoyed my post. I hope you have a great weekend too!


  6. Thank you for such a great post! I’ve actually been spending this weekend scanning family photos/documents at my parents house and some of the conversations we’ve had this weekend have involved foods – who made what, what was brought to the family potlucks, different definitions of “pigs in a blanket”, etc. I’m also starting to make my way through my Mom’s family cookbook and try out some of the recipes and update them a bit (there are very little instructions) to share with my family today.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What a wonderful way to spend a weekend, Cassandra! I wish I had the cookbooks of some of my family’s matriarchs. Sadly, some have been lost to the ages or passed onto other lines. Best of luck updating your mother’s recipes! And enjoy sharing those family memories!


  7. I love this post….Great way to nourishes your body and your soul through making family recipes and strolling these the memories in the process! Jan

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: Sunshine On My Shoulder – Daze & Weekes

  9. Pingback: Favorite Family Recipes – Tales of a Family

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