By Tara C.
When my grandmother came to visit during my pre-teen years, she would arrive full of questions, wanting to know every detail of my life--who my friends were, what I was interested in, how school was going, and so on. We would stay up late, talking and drinking sugary, milky tea. Well, mine was sugary and milky, at least. It made me feel important that someone wanted to learn so much about me and my interests.
In public she ate tiny, dainty portions, but I know she snuck into the kitchen at night for sweets and her travel journals read like food diaries. For years after she passed away, I would compose letters in my head whenever I traveled, compiling all the details I knew she would care about.
After she died, I somehow ended up with one of her recipe notebooks. It's a worn file, full of handwritten recipes and recipes collected from friends or clipped from newspapers and magazines. The recipes tend to be dated by today's standards, but that's how people cooked back then. A disproportionate number of recipes in the "salad" section call for gelatin. There are also some real gems in there, like my great-grandmother's rice pudding recipe with brandy sauce and her baked custard.
Good or bad, I think that family recipes tend to be about more than the recipes themselves. Taste and smell are powerful senses and can easily bring back distant memories. I still make my grandmother's date balls every Christmas, not because I love them, per se, but because they feel like Christmas to me. Sometimes keeping family traditions alive helps us feel a little more connected to each other and to our collective histories.
Several years ago (wow, almost 5), I asked my dad to borrow some old family photos. I scanned them in order to make a combination recipe/photo album for Christmas. Most of the photos I included were of my grandmother as a child and young woman or of her future husband, my grandfather, as a child. My grandmother was a twin, so most of her childhood photos include a matching set of darling little girls. This is the cover page:
While some pages are just photos:
This page shows my grandfather almost 100 years ago along with a family recipe for rum pecans.
I know that there are still several months before Christmas, but I'm posting this now so that you will have plenty of time to gather up photos and recipes and put them into a book. I made a copy for my dad, his two sisters, and myself. I think this makes a meaningful and heartfelt gift for the recipients, but I gained a lot from the experience too. Working closely with old photos and recipes made me feel a little more connected to the past and to the people I care about.