Treasured Family Recipes

Earlier this year, I read with great interest an article by Alina Dizik that appeared in The Wall Street Journal. It was titled “Playing Kitchen Detective” and was about home cooks who are trying to recreate family recipes. One of the points that stuck with me was that there is a growing movement of people who have interests both in food from their past and in tracing their ancestors. Years ago, around the time I was in graduate school, I finally wanted to learn how to bake some of the special holiday breads that my Lithuanian grandmother made. She made pyragas, a tasty, sweet yeast bread with golden raisins at Christmas and at Easter. Over the years, she did this both at home and at her church’s parish hall, as a fund raiser. By the time I was interested, my aging grandmother was suffering from many of the problems older folks succumb to, including severe arthritis in her hands. She also had never written any of her recipes down.  It simply was a matter of waiting too long to ask the right questions. My window to learn from her had essentially closed.

Fortunately, one of my aunts, now in her late 80s had compiled a trove of recipes.  I was the recipient a few years ago of copies of some of her most treasured recipes, including her version of pyragas. With life as it often happens, I delayed trying out any of these gems, thinking that there will always be another weekend or vacation to get the handwritten sheets of paper out and test them out for myself. I still haven’t done it. The article in The Wall Street Journal, however, was a wakeup call for me to get moving and try these recipes that had been enjoyed by several generations. So, before that window closes again, I’m marking my calendar and making the time to work with these treasures, while I still have the luxury of picking up the phone and calling my aunt.

Every family has favorite recipes that make their appearance throughout the year. Some show up at holiday time or at birthdays or anniversaries. Others, in a much smaller category, may be the type reserved for really special occasions, such as a wedding. Each recipe has its own story and history. In keeping with the notion that meals prepared and shared together have always been part of family history and memories,  I gathered some books from our library collection on this topic. The books are available for checkout on the 3rd Floor of the library in the New Books area. There is also a brochure about the books on this display: Treasured Family Recipes / Books about the cooks and the foods that continue to feed generations (Treasured Family Recipes). Check out some of them to read about how cooking and eating together is a vital part of being a family. You’ll probably learn some new recipes along the way!

– Tom D.


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