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Obligated to carry-on family recipes and cooking traditions?

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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.

                2. I wish I'd gotten some of grandma's recipes off her while she was still alive... I've got my mother's cookbook but it's not the same. But I know how to make the family plum pudding - grandma used to make it at christmas, and then mama took it over, so then I learned how to make it, and the recipe will live on, if not every year (it's a bit silly to make it for two people!) at least on occasion.

                  1. What a sad topic. Preserving American foodways should be a privilege not a burden. It's a link to our heritage and the history of our country which is still so young compared to so many.
                    Our melting pot melted more quickly than most because we have been so open to immigration, so we have more competing influences, but there still is such a thing as American food, and it is exactly what everyone is now so enamored of: simple, local and seasonal.
                    Alice Waters? She didn't invent this. Our grandmothers did as they crossed the Great Plains and settled the West.

                    Maybe I've felt the tug more strongly because I have a strong and distinct food tradition from New Orleans and my father's Cajun family. But as I've eaten in homes from Coast to Coast and Border to Border, I've discovered the links to the immigrants who settled America.
                    Network TV has almost obliterated regional accents. The propensity of Americans to move away from their original home towns and States to go to college, take jobs and raise their families has meant that they've lost the day-to-day connections to their parents and grandparents and to their tables. Mass marketing of foods and the food media have homogenized American tastes.
                    So what if we eat Mexican or Thai if it's all the same Mexican or Thai dictated by the same cookbooks and media? High end restaurants follow the same trends as surely as Applebee's serves the same menus.
                    We are losing it, folks.

                    Many mock their families' foods as bland or boring. They remember their mother as "a terrible cook." Talk about the awful dishes of the 50s which was perhaps before they were even born. People in New York or California insult the Heartland when they have only eaten at two places in Chicago during a convention or maybe the Atlanta Airport. Have they ever actually spent time in the Mid-West, the South, on a farm, or small town America during the growing season or in winter - when they weren't skiing in Aspen?

                    Yes, your family came to America from somewhere. There's a story there. A history that's part of America and the foods that your family ate are part of that. Once upon a time, your grandmother had ONLY local and seasonal foods and she cooked. Some things from the "old country" and some things from her new home in America - even if she fiddled with the recipes.
                    There's nothing wrong with your exploring the entire frigging United Nations in your kitchen, but why in the hell are you forgetting where you came from and how you got here?

                    14 Replies
                    1. re: MakingSense

                      Hmm ... Making Sense, was that diatribe directed at me?

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        Nope. Just finding it sad to see American food always trashed and not given the respect it deserves.
                        Your family makes those dumplings for a reason. It probably has something to do with your heritage. Find out what it is. Get good at making them. Find other foods from that heritage. There's probably a story there about your family settling somewhere in America. It's part of who you are. And part of the American story.
                        We're more than burgers and fries, but you have to look. It opens doors.

                        1. re: MakingSense

                          I've learned how to make just about every single one of my family's recipes -- mainly because I was cheap labor as a child for our family's restaurant.

                          While I can't yet match my mom's skills and artistry for most dishes (mi-fen, steamed buns, scallion pancakes, beef noodle soup, tzong-tsi, etc.), I am probably the equal to her on at least a handful of things (e.g. dumplings, jia-jeng mien, xiao long baos).

                          I just wish I had picked up more of it when I was younger and had more time to learn and practice. Now that I am older, it is much, much more difficult. Sigh.

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            The more you do it, the better at it you get. Keep it up and pass it on to your own kids, along with the stories - especially about running the restaurant and how that was part of your family's American Dream.
                            My kids took some of our family's foods to school for special events and they were really proud of their heritage. Now they make some of those same things themselves and my older daughter can make my father's turkey gumbo as well as anybody in the family.
                            Pass it on and keep it alive!

                            1. re: MakingSense

                              Not sure when this topic became about "America" and not about family traditions, from any and every country of origin and culture. I had been reading each person's post with interest and considering adding my own perspective, when I came upon the comments of MakingSense and was instantly turned off and frankly, a bit irritated. I'm Canadian and very proud to have been born and raised in Toronto, a city which has citizens that represent EVERY country in the world. There is no melting pot. It is possible to become Canadian while retaining one's heritage and culture, including one's mother tongue and representative recipes. I, for one, am grateful to be able to enjoy the vast array of cuisines available in Toronto. It inspires me to travel to many of those countries and learn about their cultures. My own personal style has come to reflect the multiculturalism in Toronto much more than my own Russian Jewish heritage. That heavy, meaty style of cooking just doesn't suit my lifestyle. Sure, every so often I make matzah ball soup from scratch (even though my mother and grandmothers made it from a package), or a brisket or blintzes, but more often, I'm making Italian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Moroccan, Lebanese or Spanish food, just to name a few styles.

                              I remember family events and representative dishes with fondness, but less for the quality of the recipes than for the company and the ritual. To be honest, I'm a little embarassed by some of the ingredients in those recipes. If I were to try to recreate those dishes, I'd cross the dried onion soup mix packets, cans of Coke and Heinz ketchup off the ingredients lists and make the dishes from scratch. Would it be desecrating family traditions or improving upon them? I don't know, but frankly, I'm just not interested in the "short cuts" that made the dishes that adorned our Yom Kippur or Pesach dinner tables. I know how to make them all, but I choose not to carry on the traditions, but rather, create new ones that reflect my own experiences, which happen to have a much more multicultural bent.

                              1. re: 1sweetpea

                                Absolutely.

                                1. re: 1sweetpea

                                  I appreciate your point but I would find it just as interesting to know how your Russian Jewish family came to settle in Toronto as I would those other ethnic groups.
                                  We have Czechs, Germans, Canary Islanders, Italians, Polish, Irish, Haitians, Cubans, Sephardic Jews, Lebanese, and so many more in Louisiana, all contributing to the mix and the foodways. Some of it influences my cooking without taking away from my history. I can have it all.

                                  Do I like the short-cut, bastardizations of Creole and Cajun food that are so often seen today? No. Some of it gives me heartburn and pain to even hear about. I reject even some family versions. That didn't stop me from asking older relatives how they did it BEFORE they took the easy way out. They were eager to talk about it.
                                  I started to use the old ways and found even better recipes in old cookbooks and took the liberty of using the good skills that I had learned to "improve" on those old recipes. I had no qualms about lightening up some heavy dishes that I thought were cooked far too long or used too much of something for modern tastes.
                                  To my thinking, the dishes became "cleaner" and more clear, almost more traditional. Much to my pleasure, the older relatives loved them because they said they reminded them of the way food "used to taste."

                                  Tradition is not necessarily what immediately went before you. It's the long history of how you got there.

                                  1. re: MakingSense

                                    Thanks for responding, MakingSense. I get a bit prickly when I perceive that the focus of a general post has somehow been redirected to be specifically "American", whatever that is, exactly. Perhaps the melting pot concept is not totally foreign for Canadians either, but I find it amazing that when I visit my family doctor, I hear a half dozen different languages being spoken in the waiting room. Children or grandchildren often have to accompany their elders to act as translators. I could be offended that someone might be a Canadian citizen for decades and yet not be comfortable communicating in either of Canada's official languages, but it's a testament to the strength of the various ethnic communities that these people can exist and function completely in their mother tongue. That, to me, is an impressive preservation of culture, despite having relocated half way (or more) around the world.

                                    If we can consider our own adaptations as carrying on family recipes, be they short-cuts or returns to traditional techniques, then I suppose I can claim to have done that with success. I certainly learned from my great-grandmother, grandmother and mother. I'm just more keen to create some new traditions, influenced by my contemporary surroundings. As an aside, I wonder if my female elders were carrying on their own family traditions, or if many of the standards that graced their tables were, in fact, recipes clipped from magazines or shared by members of their Hadassah chapters (social network of Jewish women with a charitable focus, for those who have never heard of it) and adapted to their tastes, as I have adapted virtually every recipe I've attempted.

                                    1. re: 1sweetpea

                                      sweetpea, I'm glad you stepped in. Although this board is based in the US ("America" - though Mexicans and Canadians who have been mentioned are every bit as much a part of America as US citizens are, as are people further south) it is graced with posters from around the world, and that is what makes it so interesting. I'm a social historian by training, so of course I'm interested in food history and daily life, but I don't believe in being a slave to the past. A lot of that past was not very nice at all, especially for women.

                                      I'm especially interested in what sweetpea has said about the evolution of our eating patterns - for example, here in Québec, the traditional food is far too heavy for daily consumption by us cyberslaves, who are no longer farming and logging in the cold. An important influence here in recent decades has been immigration from the Middle East (especially Lebanon) and North Africa.

                                      sweetpea, it is something I've observed a lot among Askenazi Jewish friends: their table has very much opened up to Sephardic influences, with more vegetables and grains. Of course here in Montreal there is also a large Sephardi community, but I see and read the change elsewhere among Askenazi communities in North America and Europe.

                                      1. re: 1sweetpea

                                        I think that we do forget that all traditions (but especially food traditions) are ALWAYS adapted by current conventions, available ingredients, the nutritional, financial and emotional needs of the family.

                                        It's a good bet that what my great grandmother made in "the old country" had little resemblance to what her daughter made in the U.S. during the depression or what my mother made in the 50s or 60s -- all by the same name and for the same holidays.

                                        And for sure, that when I make the traditional dishes, they are influenced by current trends and contemporary tastes. And my daughter will alter them also.

                                        1. re: chicgail

                                          chicgail, one of the best books on this historical process indeed deals with Jewish foods in many cultures throughtout the Diaspora: Claudia Roden's magnificent "Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand to New York".

                                          And the "old country" dish from Eastern Europe evolved in different ways, in New York, Paris, Buenos Aires or Tel Aviv...

                                          1. re: lagatta

                                            Lagatta, the only Sephardic influence I can think of with regards to my Ashkenazi family's Jewish celebrations is the charoset my mother makes every year. I suspect she found the recipe in a Jewish cookbook and paid little attention to its origins. We all love it and I secretly wonder whether more Sephardic inclusions would be welcome, since the salt, pepper and schmaltz seasoning repertoire is pretty bloody limiting.

                                            I'm certain that North African immigrants to Canada have chosen Quebec over most or all other provinces because of their French colonial histories and their command of the French language. I have travelled in Morocco and Tunisia and wish there were a stronger presence from those (and Algeria) countries in Ontario. My experiences in those countries, as well as Spain, have strongly influenced my own flavour preferences. Were I to host the Passover seder each year, I suspect my own contributions would have a much more Sephardic bent to them.

                                            The extensive pan-Asian and Italian populations in Toronto have made the strongest impact on my tastebuds and culinary repertoire. My dinner table sees far more whole grains and rices than it does potatoes. My homemade chicken soups often contain ginger, cilantro and green onions, and cellophane noodles instead of egg noodles or matzah balls. My preference for vegetables, legumes, fish and seafood over meat, poultry and dairy make me wonder whether I was born into the wrong family. I'm certainly an anomaly among my carnivorous crew.

                                            When I travel abroad, I often get questions about Canadian cuisine. What is Canadian cuisine? Cedar-planked salmon, flipper pie, maple syrup and poutine? I wouldn't know. I've never had flipper pie, and Toronto has yet to produce a solid poutine. Flipper pie will never be available anywhere but the east coast. I do love wild salmon, but even that isn't native to my part of the country. I tell them that aside from a few regional specialties, Canada's cuisine is most interesting in that it is so heavily influenced by outsiders. So, if that is what is reflected in my own cooking, then I am a product of my environment, which suits me fine.

                                            1. re: 1sweetpea

                                              Yes, there is a very strong Maghrebi presence here (of both Muslim and Jewish backgrounds) because of the French colonial tie and language familiarity. For the same reason Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians, colonised by the French, also make up a much higher percentage of the (Eastern) Asians here, and there are not many Koreans, for example.

                                              All of those foods are very regional, and poutine is a fairly modern "snack food" item, not traditional Quebec cuisine (unlike tourtière, for example). There is probably a bit more of a traditional cuisine in both Quebec and the Atlantic provinces, but not necessarily people working on computers in cities want to eat every day.

                          2. re: MakingSense

                            Well said, makingsense. And even if the recipes of our foremothers and forefathers are available in cookbooks, they are not the same necessarily. Learning at their elbows just how mom or nana made those dumplings, that lasagna, those pickled beets, that irish stew, is irreplaceable and important to our individual and collective heritage.

                          3. I can't imagine certain holidays without the foods my grandmother made. Christmas would not be the same without potato sausage, my grandmother's meatballs, a dozen kinds of cookies, and all of the other Swedish specialties that she learned from her mother and grandmother.

                            At the same time, my grandmother's hamburger recipe also called for 6 tablespoons of butter. I don't bother recreating those anymore.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: lulubelle

                              I'd love to know what "potato sausage" is. I grew up in Sweden, but I can't picture it. Thanks.

                              Oh, and to answer the original question, YES! I have been neurotically recording (mentally, as well as with pen and paper) many of my grandmothers' and also my mother's and aunt's specialties over the past five or six years. It seems as if every family holiday and birthday has at least one traditional dish attached to it-if not ten of them!- and I guess I do put a lot of pressure on myself to be prepared to carry them forward. Not to get too morbid or anything, but I have witnessed a lot of serious illness in my family over the past few years, and I know that I will be in a unique position (unfortunately) in my family when it comes time for my generation to step up to the plate, so to speak. So, yeah, I feel some pressure. But also immense pride and comfort.

                              1. re: vvvindaloo

                                Maybe you don't know "potato sausage" because it wasn't made in your house but perhaps your grandmother knew what it was and didn't make it for some reason. Perhaps it was just a pain in the neck or she preferred to eat it in a restaurant.
                                There are some traditional Creole dishes that we never made at home or even ate rarely in other people's homes or restaurants. I've sought those out, learned about them, eaten them when I could find them, and now learned to cook many of them.
                                All in an effort to keep the traditional cooking alive and well.

                                Swedish food is part of your heritage. Who you are! It is a wonderful cuisine - light, fresh, and delicious!
                                Why not bring it back to your own table on a regular basis? Your dinner parties would certainly be standouts, wouldn't they?
                                Everybody else is serving the same-old, same-old except for that very clever vvvindaloo. Wow!

                                1. re: vvvindaloo

                                  It's basically a veal and potato sausage. Here's a link to a recipe I found online.

                                  http://www.cooks.com/rec/view/0,1938,...

                                  1. re: lulubelle

                                    Interesting. Thanks, lulu

                              2. It's not an obligation; it's a privilege.

                                I have recipes from both my mother and my grandmother. I come from an Eastern European Jewish family and while I make sweet and sour cabbage balls, brisket, mushroom barley soup and chicken noodle soup, I have added my own variation to them.

                                The sweet and sour cabbage balls get white raisins both in the meatballs and the broth. I use brown rice instead of white to the meatballs and when we are being careful about fat, I use ground turkey instead of beef. In addition, I add dried chilies to give it some punch.

                                My brisket is a far cry from what mom used to make. I season it with smoked sweet paprika, coffee, cayenne, rather than my mother's version that used Lipton onion soup and catsup. Neither, I am sure were anything like the brisket my grandmother used to make.

                                I use a lamb shank instead of a beef soup bone to the mushroom barley soup and I used dried, as well as fresh shitakes, porabellas, oyster and porcinis.

                                I usually add ginger and garlic to the Jewish penicillin, neither of which were in the original recipe.

                                I hope my kids take on the tradition, enhance it and make the foods that please their families, while maintaining their heritage.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: chicgail

                                  I'm intrigued -- are sweet and sour cabbage balls made from cabbage and other ingredients that are somehow rolled into a ball? or is this a cabbage soup that has meatballs in it? or something else?

                                  1. re: charmedgirl

                                    Sweet and sour cabbage rolls are meatballs, wrapped in cabbage and served in their own broth with plenty of tomatoes, brown sugar, lemon juice and my grandmother's secret ingredient.

                                    Here's my version of Gramma Tillie's recipe. Feel free to adapt as you see fit. I did.

                                    1-½ lbs ground beef
                                    ¼ cup brown rice
                                    ½ t salt
                                    1 cabbage, leaves separated
                                    ½ cup white raisins
                                    1 large can diced tomatoes
                                    2 celery stalks, chopped
                                    3 small dried chillies
                                    juice of one lemon
                                    ½ cup brown sugar
                                    2 pieces of sour salts
                                    4 peppercorns

                                    Scald cabbage leaves with boiling water until pliable. Mix ground beef, brown rice, salt and ¼ cup white raisins. Form into walnut-sized balls. Wrap meatballs in cabbage leaves and fasten with toothpicks. Cover with water. Bring to boil. Reduce to simmer for 45 minutes. Add tomatoes, celery, chilies, and remainder of raisins, lemon juice, brown sugar, sour salts, and peppercorns. Cover and bake in oven at 325 degrees 2-1/2 –3 hours. Correct sweet-to-sour seasoning to taste.

                                    Best if cooked a day in advance, chilled, and any fat removed.

                                    Makes 5 (at least) hearty servings

                                    1. re: chicgail

                                      Thank you chicgail! I love cabbage, so I was really interested to read about the cabbage balls. I appreciate you taking the time to type out the recipe. Can't wait to try them.

                                  2. re: chicgail

                                    I, too, come from a partial Eastern European Jewish background. And I do the same kind of thing that chicgail does. On holidays, I keep up with the traditional dishes, but make them in my own way. My mother happened to make excellent brisket, but over the last few years I have created and perfected my own recipe and now I am proud to serve it.

                                    My mother made more or less the same dishes every year on holidays (Jewish holidays). I like to change it up a bit. For example, on the upcoming Passover holiday, I will keep the basics -- brisket, some type of potato kugel, a chicken dish, vegetables of some sort. But with the exception of the brisket, most dishes are new recipes each year. My mother was (and still is) more likely to microwave some asparagus to death and call that the vegetable...that would not make an appearance on my table.

                                    I like the traditions and hope that my kids will one day want my recipes.

                                    1. re: chicgail

                                      ginger and garlic are definitely in the Moroccan version of Jewish penicillin, Gail. A Moroccan-Jewish friend in Paris makes it that way. Her husband is of Polish-Jewish descent, but does like the added spice!

                                    2. Only at the holidays. There are certain dishes I would not make, ever, but feel the need to for ritual reasons. One such is the sliced hard-boiled egg in salt water "soup" that always starts off the Passover seder meal for my family. Followed by chicken soup with matzo balls.

                                      Why is this night different from all other nights? Because we eat two soups, that's why!

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: BobB

                                        We do the two soups too. Our family joke was that the eggs were served with water from the Dead Sea - my father liked it that salty!

                                        1. re: BobB

                                          You EAT the salt water? You've got to be kidding.

                                          1. re: chicgail

                                            Like I say - family tradition. My sisters and I make it less salty than my mother used to, though.

                                        2. This topic opens a real Pandora's Box for me. Because I'm the principle cook in the house, it falls on me to bear this particular burden. On Mrs. ricepad's side, there's really only one dish that has a family tradition, and even though I do a pretty fair job of it (even according to my mother-in-law), I don't like the recipe and the dish itself. Still, I'll make it out of duty and honor to my wife's family every year. Small price to pay, in my opinion.

                                          As for my own family recipes, my mother is a fantastic cook, and whips together multicourse meals without busting a sweat, cooking largely from memory and taste. There are some dishes she makes, especially those she makes for New Year's, that I don't know how to make. Mrs. ricepad keeps telling me that I need to find out how she makes them so the recipes aren't lost to the ages when she dies. I usually say, "yeah, I really should...", but I end up 'forgetting'. I think it's because I don't want to face the fact that, sooner or later, Mom won't be around, and I prefer to think she'll live forever. I've tried convincing myself that keeping the recipes alive will honor her long after she's gone, but I can't get past the thought that she'll be gone one day. Freud could write a book on it.

                                          1. My late mother was an fine cook, as were my grandmothers. Before momma died, she hand-wrote scores of family recipes, and appended commentary to most of them, describing from where they came, whether they were an item to be served on a particular holiday or at a certain time of year, funny stories about when the recipe didn't quite work out, etc. She bound the collection, and gave it to me for Christmas 10 years ago. I use it - a lot - for the reasons that the recipes are good, the recipes are evocative, and the recipes, I believe, are a little family heritage I can give my wife and children, literally served up on a platter. The little volume my mother gave me is my most cherished cookbook, and I plan to add to it, and duplicate it, to pass on to our children. So, in answer to the question, I'd say I believe I have a responsibility to give my children the opportunity to experience this part of our family's history, so they will know what "Nanny" cooked for me, and her mother and mother-in-law before her, and then, they, when they are grown, can decide what to do with it.

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                                            1. re: Mister F.

                                              What a beautiful gift from your mom. And lovely that you will add to it and carry your own traditions forward. Really wonderful ideas, Mister F.

                                            2. I think that one of the reasons it is so difficult to carry on family food traditions is that much of our food heritage has not been written down. I am a very instinctive cook,. and usually don't know what to say when someone asks for a recipe: "well, you take some flour, then a little butter.......". My mother & grandmother were the same way. My mother was also not the most patient with kids, so I was considered more under foot than a helper.

                                              The thing I enjoy hearing is ABOUT the recipe. When was it served? Who liked & who didn't? Are there any family stories surrounding it?

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                                              1. re: PattiCakes

                                                Amen, but I have pretty good food memory and able to recreate the food s& flavors of my youth. Divfficult when families drift apart, siblings and cousins drift around the world. I am certainly not of the New England food heritage, just a transplwnt, and now all the kids move away.

                                              2. I find it an honor rather than an obligation to try to retain and transmit the traditions I grew up with. I'm from a Syrian/Jewish background. I love trying to recreate the dishes my grandmother made for her very large family.

                                                1. This whole thread reminded me of my attempt to learn how my mom made Thanksgiving dinner. I must have been in college, or just out, and I sat and made careful notes of how things were done. Then when I went to actually make my own Thanksgiving a few years later, I discovered that the family stuffing recipe was straight out of the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, along with several other recipes.

                                                  There were also a lot of my grandmother's recipes that my mom doesn't make, but my aunt still does. I have to admit that I'm happy that someone is passing down the recipe for 24-hour fruit salad (mayonnaise, cool whip, canned fruit and all), and I'm delighted to eat it when I'm there for holidays, but I don't want to be responsible for maintaining the recipe for pistachio jello surprise.

                                                  1. only if they are good. its not worth preserving recipes that nobody liked.

                                                    1. my great grandmother (italian) passed down lots of recipes to my mother that i intend to keep doing and teach to my children, artichoke omlets, napolitana pasta done with a whole chicken, fresh pasta and gnochi roasted pigeon fresh crusty dark bread and tirimisu. on my dads side my vietnamese grandmother is always teaching me things and i hope to pass those on awell she makes the best asian sweets too and i don't have much of a sweet tooth, but she dosn't use any sugar which is probably why i like them my favourites are red bean dumplings and coconut rice mmm

                                                      1. No pressure from anyone but myself. I adored my italian grandmother's cooking - she's my cooking idol. I've taken it upon myself to carry on many of her cooking traditions, and my (irish) mom and my sister as well as my in-laws love me for it. No one asked me to do it, I do it out of love for the foods I grew up on.

                                                        1. One of the great aspects of American culture is that the melting pot does allow for a great many cultures to come together and create a new amalgamated identity. But taken to an extreme, amalgamation can also sever the connections we have with our history, which is why keeping traditional recipes and foodways alive is of great importance to me. As the product of a multicultural family, I realize keenly that food is intertwined with identity. Were I to subsist solely on a diet of collard greens, bulgogi and lox, foods I love, I might survive and subsist satisfied, but I would lose my ability to commune with my ancestry. Traditional foods are our communion with the past.

                                                          When my mother passed away while I was at school, one of the most upsetting aspects of her death was that I couldn't remember the sound of her voice. But in making adobo, I was transported back to the day she told me the secrets to her special recipe. Being able to bake hopia the way my grandmother did is a source of comfort to the children who still miss her. I used to be embarrassed when my father insisted on making chicken tikka at barbecues, but now I do the same and know how he must have stood out when he went to his first American cookout in his 20s.

                                                          Who we are today is not something of our own making, the sum of our efforts. There are generations that went before us, without whom we would never exist. And whether it is their genes or their spirit, there is still a part of them within us that deserves recognition. So when the next generation is born, I look forward to feeding them the dinuguan my grandmother taught me to make, the munggo I hated as a kid, but have now perfected, my uncle's gumbo and my father's curried catfish, as well as the pörkölt with harissa and chicken fried steak with chipotle gravy that are my contribution to our evolving traditions.

                                                          1. Ha, what family traditions? Whiskey and cigarettes? Nah, I'll stick to the same old Thai and Mexican. Sushi one day, vindaloo the next... Sorry, MakingSense, but you shouldn't be so hard on those of us with NO stories.

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                                                            1. re: Glencora

                                                              I'll bet you do have a story.

                                                            2. My grandparents and parents are gone now, yet when I make my mom's lasagna and my brother says "This is Mom's food!" , I feel her presence. When I make my Appalachian granny's sausage gravy and biscuits, it's like a part of her is still with me. I believe that those whom we love never really die so long as they live in our hearts and our memories; cooking their food is the most visceral way I know to cherish the women who taught me so much.

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                                                              1. re: Niki in Dayton

                                                                So beautifully stated and so very true.

                                                              2. In a word NO.For something to move forward it has to be "good".My sibs and I decided long ago that food traditions of habit would not do.Many of our friends a very suprised we don't have ANY guilt laden sacred cows on the table at holiday meals.My Great Aunt (spinster) had a recipe for haroset that was TOO NASTY TO EAT.She played the bully inheritence card.NO ONE PLAYED all of us share any recipe,and a cooking lesson if needed.
                                                                My father was great about keeping things gathered and written for posterity.But it was about family heritage more than food.