Inheriting My Family's Culinary History

Monday, November 26, 2007

So after reading this last post, mom decided that if she was going to come up and visit for Thanksgiving, that she was going to bequeath to me a little bit of culinary history. She went into the attic and after much treasure hunting recovered the object she wished to find.

My grandmother's recipe files. Yellowed with age, stained, marked and retooled with a pen after use, a bountiful plethora of homey, American recipes from the California Central Valley and the little hidden nest of Ojai. Each little note card contains one recipe, hand written or type via an old Remington Rand, or displays some various magazine or newspaper clipping perfectly adhered to the card.

And not just a few recipes... cookies, veal, crab meat, salads, cakes, BBQ, and every other little sub-category that any grandmother had in her veritable secret stockhouse of recipes was here.

Ojai Grandma was a very worldly person, as I've told you before. However, I never really experienced the full gambit of her cooking. I remember a vague chicken dish covered in cream of mushroom sauce which I don't doubt came from a can. I recall that every morning she served us a bowl of Lucky Charms and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. She would warn us in her scratchy smoker's voice to "Drink your o.j. first before the marshmallow cereal or your o.j. will taste bitter and sour." My brother and I wouldn't listen and we would of course be choking down the now bitter juice. She enjoyed her toast burnt black. She had a huge pomegranate tree which never was used. She cooked an awesome dish of hand shredded green beans with almonds and a bit of soy sauce. But never had I been served 95% of the dishes in this box, but my mom recalls them all. So now I have to discover them myself, and it'll only be some distorted mirror image of them, like the squatty self you see in a carnival house of mirrors, real, but not authentic. They'll never be as grandma made them, but they'll be as close as I can get. Still, cooking and recipes evolve and pay homage to our history. (Who sees a sociology paper topic here?).

In these long, steel boxes were my family's history and kitchen lore now passed down to me. I'll definitely try to go through a few of these, and post the results and recipes here because history doesn't mean anything if nobody knows about it.

32 comments:

  1. Oh wow, how fantastic! And I love that last line "History doesn't mean anything if nobody knows about it." I can't wait to see what you make them.

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  2. Wow...that's so cool. What a great connection to your grandmother and family history.

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  3. I love that there is a special handwritten divider for clams because there must have been so many clam recipes to necessitate an entire section. Can't wait to see some of your renditions of any of these recipes!

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  4. You are one lucky guy! To inherit something like that is absolutely priceless.

    My own grandparents were not inclined to share their recipes (in the grand old tradition of secrecy upheld by pretty much all South African grandparents it seems...).

    Enjoy experimenting - I am sure there are a few gems to be found in there.

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  5. How lucky you are to have this wonderful gift!

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  6. you are very very lucky. enjoy!

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  7. I think it is fitting and wonderful that you inherited your Grandmother's recipes. It sounds like she had given up cooking by the time you were able to eat her food. It will be interesting to see what you discover in there--some odd ball things, some treasures... and perhaps something that will become a new tradition for you.

    By the way I have been in Ojai-- that's a beautiful town. I think a lot of celebrities live there now. (being close to LA).
    ttyl
    Andrea

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  8. That's so cool! I want to start my own history of culinary secrets so I could pass them down to my kids and their kids.

    I say 'start' because I have no one to have learn from.

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  9. your lucky I couldn't find any of my grandmother's recipies after she passed away.. treasure them

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  10. Great Post Garrett.
    I don't suppose you would consider this project in the future - how about a recipe from my grandmother round up. Everyone has to recreate a treasured recipe from an elderly relative?
    Or is that too too too Waltons for you?
    Charlotte at The Great Big Vegetable Challenge

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  11. You're so lucky! Wish I had a grandma like that too. I grew up eating instant food because my family can't cook and I'm so jealous of people with childhood memories of eating from their grandma or mum's kitchen.

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  12. Charlotte - It's a good idea! Not sure I have time to do a round-up but might be a good meme or event or whatnot.

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  13. What a fantastic, meaningful gift from the heart. I am sure you will enjoy flipping through the recipes as much as you will enjoy making them.
    Can't wait to see what you turn up!

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  14. What a precious gift! Much of our family history is tied to food. What a great way to learn about your roots.

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  15. WOW, I look at all those little recipe cards in the old library drawers and think, yeah, I bet I have that many recipes scattered about too. You've inspired me to put them in SOME order for my kids. Actually, those library drawers are adorable!!

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  16. That is such an awesome present. This should keep you busy for years.

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  17. That is a wonderful gift to get! I once had my mother's written recipes down but I knew she wanted them back, so I mailed them to her. I snagged a couple of recipes and wrote them down, but parting is such sweet sorrow!

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  18. Such a wonderful gift you've been given!

    I hope you'll blog your adventures in recreating these recipes. (And yes, it does sound like a very cool Sociology paper...)

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  19. Oh, what a wonderful treasure! And what a good mom to gift this to you.

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  20. I grew up in Ojai. Small world.

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  21. I popped over to your blog via Elise's "Simply Recipes", from where I'm looking forward to baking a batch or 6 of the brandy~soaked cranberry and choc chip cookies. :)
    I've since sat reading through your posts, and enjoyed them all ~ the sign language mistake was a hoot! And this collection of recipe cards from your family has me envious. Lovely blog, lovely memories I bet, and a whole lot of cooking to try out. What more could you ask for? :)

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  22. Garrett, what a treasure! A friend of mine inherited recipes from 3 generations. What she did to "preserve" them was to scan all the recipes. Although it's wonderful to browse through the originals (feels like one is looking through an archive at a museum), scanning them keeps them safe, especially the recipes that are very old and fragile. After the recipes have been scanned and catalogued, she can print out the recipes she needed and even if she splattered stuff on it (as I often do in my kitchen!), she will not ruin the originals. She also published them and gave it to close relatives.

    cheers,
    Nora

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  23. Hi! I can't wait to see the recipes! They are sure to be good ones.

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  24. I once got a collection of recipes at an estate sale.
    I was so excited to have this treasure! Then it hit me, just how sad it was, this womans family didn't find any special vaule in her life collection of recipes.
    You have done your grandmother a great honor carring on her recipes with such pride.
    Your both very lucky.
    Congratulation, and Enjoy!

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  25. drool,loves the history in those boxes!

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  26. I love this story. And how wonderful to be the recipient of such a treasure. In some fantasy universe I picture your grandmother sharing a smoke, a cup of coffee and a piece of crumb cake with my grandmother (though yours sounds like the better cook; and blessed perhaps with a broader world view). I wonder- in this fantasy flash back- would you and I be sitting outside eating bologna sandwiches?

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  27. I tried the banana cookies for the first time. I used chopped walnuts; just a few so as not to over power the dominant banana flavor. Milk chocolate chips to compliment and, oh, what a combo! I added 3/4 cup extra flour. This helped the dough set up better and resulted in a firmer cookie. Refrigerating the dough prior and in between batches also further facilitated firmness. Cooling the pan(s) between baking batches will also make the difference. Thank you for sharing a wonderful heirloom recipe!

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  28. (The comment was for your banana cookies...sorry if I used it on the wrong 'space'!

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  29. Neat, when you make something that is soo good someone appreciates the recipe to enjoy it again, not hoarding the glory for yourselft so yay to you!!! Happy cooking

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Hey, you're leaving a comment! That's pretty darn cool, so thanks. If you have any questions or have found an error on the site or with a recipe, please e-mail me and I will reply as soon as possible.
~Garrett

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