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Mar 15, 2009 12:41 AM

Obligated to carry-on family recipes and cooking traditions?

As a cook, or just someone who takes an interest in cooking, do you ever feel pressured to carry on family recipes and traditions?

Whether the pressure is imposed upon you by your parents, or from within by a sort of self-directed guilt?

For example, do you ever feel obligated to learn how to make mom's "special latkes" or tamales, or that particular "Smith family apple pie" just so that the family recipe survives another generation?

This sort of occurred to me the other day when I was making dumplings with my mom when she made a causal comment that she wondered how long "our way" of making dumplings would survive given that many of the younger family members no longer cook and we all live far away from our homeland.

Curious as to your thoughts, or experiences.

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  1. I don't feel obligated to carry on all the traditional cooking of my parents and grandparents. But having lost both my parents several years ago, and having my Finnish grandmother's specialities lost forever, I regret not paying more attention when they were alive. I urge people at the very least to document your childhood favorites and family cooking traditions while the elders are still walking this earth. Even if you're not interested now in carrying on the family traditions, you may feel differently after they're gone.

    2 Replies
    1. re: janniecooks

      I belong to a traditional New England family. Recipes have always been plain and readily available. I do have to learn how to make a decent apple pie now that my MIL is gone. I've received the recipes from two elderly friends for a never fail custard pie (which after 3 tries is still not right) and lemon meringue. Sometimes I make baked beans. We're lucky, the good cooks contributed their best recipes to a village cookbook, one of the first community cookbooks I had ever heard of, and the National Grange cookbooks. I also have a 4-H cookbook of local recipes.
      My husband asked that we start having weekly family dinners so we chose Thursday nights. At first it was 4 generations but my FIL died a year ago. My husband fondly remembers pork roast and fresh apple sauce and other basic New England cooking. We noticed while our son was growing up that many families had stopped eating together. One friend of our son's was flabbergasted that I cooked things like pork roasts and was happy to be invited to stay for dinner. I'm now the 'matriach' and enjoy hosting the holiday dinners.

      1. re: janniecooks

        Thank you for this topic. I'm suddenly struck by my grandmother's brownie cupcakes that my mother now makes. Everyone adores them, though I've never cared for them. Same with my grandmother's potato kugel (I always thought it was kind of uninteresting). Still, the reminder that my mother won't always be around with those recipes makes me want to learn them. Who knows what my own future children or grandchildren might appreciate.
        Now, my other grandmother's stuffed cabbage I always loved and never once thought to try to make.
        Time to call the parents and take notes!

      2. When they're really wonderful dishes that appeal to a variety of people, yes. I'm so glad I learned to make my grandmother's cornbread dressing and dinner rolls, among others, and my MIL taught me some of the best cajun-creole recipes I've ever tasted, and favorites of my husband that I make all the time. Others have asked for the recipes, so I know they're good. We enjoy these links to the past.

        1 Reply
        1. re: bayoucook

          Never a burden nor an obligation; a privilege and an honor to be the torch bearer of one's heritage and tradition. Whenever I use my late grandmother's rolling pin and make something I watched her make as a child, I feel her presence and a gladness that things carry on.

        2. It makes me sad on a surprisingly frequent basis that my grandmothers died before I could learn their recipes. I can't rely on my mother to teach them to me because she doesn't like to cook and always made "her" versions of their dishes, which inevitably included shortcuts and packaged/convenience ingredients. The frustrating part is my mom doesn't see the difference. I try to recreate the things I remember from my childhood, so I ask my mom's advice, and she tells me to "just do xyz." When I ask if xyz is how Nonna did it she'll shrug and say "well that's how I always do it when I make Nonna's [whatever]." Yet, I KNOW my grandmother did not use packaged ground beef in her meat sauce, just like I know she didn't use Kraft parmesan in her lasanga. Unfortunately, I don't know what she did use instead. Makes me sad. :-(

          4 Replies
          1. re: charmedgirl

            Your post points out the reason someone needs to record the way things were done for future generations. Sometimes the muse skips a generation or three.

            1. re: yayadave

              Yes! Neither of my grandmothers was much interested in cooking, so my family is starting our food traditions over from scratch. Now that I've moved out I'm always emailing my parents for their recipe for whatever, so I can make it myself.

            2. re: charmedgirl

              If my Grandma Owen had thought I was trying to learn how she did her fried chicken, she'd have chased me out of the kitchen; she was like that. Selfish to a fault. My Grandma Kuntz, on the other hand, was a brilliant baker (and lousy cook!), who would happily write down any recipe you might ask for. Unfortunately, she never got her amounts right! I'm sure she THOUGHT she'd made her date bars with that list of ingredients that yields barely 1 1/2 cups of dough, but that's barely enough to cover the bottom of a 9" square pan, much less cover the filling too. I think she baked from memory and wrote from memory, and never bothered to check the written version with reality...

              I don't cook a lot of the things my mom did, either, but I have carried on with some of her favorites, and I'm forever grateful to my sister for having rescued mom's recipe files from her house after she died. That jellied tuna loaf is not something I'd find in Saveur, I'm sure. Well, kinda sure; you never know about those guys...

              1. re: Will Owen

                Will, Nanny (like your Grandma Kuntz) was happy to share a recipe and my mom still has hers for date bars. I can get it for you and post on home cooking later if that's something you love and miss. That's an oldie but goodie!

                Like other posters, I don't see it as an obligation, but as a source of pride in carrying on traditions. I am the self-designated oatmeal cookie baker in my family. Nanny made big plates ot them with M&Ms for every holiday. I made them several years ago for one of my uncles who said, "They taste just like Ma used to make--except you didn't burn them!" ;)

            3. Yes, a little. It's more a self-directed guilt. In our family, my grandmother's spaghetti sauce was the center of our food world. I learned how to make it and have been told mine's as good as hers. But I've since moved to a town in England where I can't find the proper sausages. My sister has since moved to Italy, where she makes a "real" meat sauce that isn't anything like our grandmother's "gravy." Her partner cooks a plain pomarola sauce that's divine, and I've learned that recipe too. That's the one I go to on a weekday evening when I need a quick delicious dinner.

              So there's always this little pang of guilt that I'm not carrying on the tradition. I figure if I move back to the States, I'll come back to the gravy. In the meantime, I do think my grandmother would be happy to see me cooking at all--she taught me in the first place, so the fact of my cooking alone is a testament to her. And she always liked to hear about things that I cooked or baked. But I can't help but think she'd taste the pomarola and say "very good, but not as good as ours!"

              1. My aunt started teaching me how to make candy when I was 10 years old...I'm considerably older than that now ;-D.

                I've been making those candy recipes for 40+ years and am sick to death of them to the point where I never want to make them again. But every year Christmas rolls around and my mother (who is almost 90) always asks when I'm going to start the candy making. I hem and haw, but eventually I make all the recipes. I can just about make them in my sleep.

                A delightful by-product of all this candy making is that I have some pretty good skills and am not intimidated by most candy recipes (except perhaps pulled/spun sugar, no experience there - lol). This past year to keep myself interseted, I added a new recipe to the collection.

                My grandmother was a tremendous baker and always let me "help". All that help rubbed off because there are things that I just instinctively know to do because of all that observation and assistance when I was little. 2 years ago we did a major kitchen remodel. As we were packing up the kitchen we found an old spiral-bound cookbook that had belonged to my grandmother. It was from 1937 and was put out by a local flour company. As I began leafing through it I realized the recipes were all pretty sound and even found some on which my grandmother had made margin notes. I've been transcribing the cookbook into MasterCook since the old recipes assumed everyone knew how to bake and the method is a little scanty on some of them :-). I've made several of the recipes and so far they've all been surprisingly good. So in lieu of still having my grandmother around, I've got a recipe book she clearly used and now I understand why.

                Over time I think some recipes need a rest or to be retired, like the candy recipes I do every year. They're very good but their shelf life has expired. Others, like my grandmother's spiral-bound baking book, seem to have a more timeless component to them. All food and all recipes evolved over time, sometimes it's good to move forward :-)

                1 Reply
                1. re: DiningDiva

                  I hope, as does your family, that there are some younger generations hanging around when you are making those candy recipes and going through that old cook book. In 2030 someone will be wanting some of those things you're making.