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Cooking Up A Long Lost Family Feast


Why modern home cooks are recreating old family recipes

Recipe cards found at the back of the kitchen draw, scrawled on scraps of paper found in aprons, old cookbooks with scribbled notes in the margin. These are more than just recipes. They are links with our past and our connections to special events in the lives of our ancestors.

A recipe for grandmother’s apple pie, great grandfather’s method for cooking the perfect Irish stew and the full proof biscuit recipe that’s been in the family for years can all mean more than an inherited diamond brooch. With the surge of interest in researching our family history curiosity heads to the pantry. We not only want to know what great grandpa did in the war. We want to know what great grandma made in the kitchen.

Recipe book

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The fun of food and family findings

The intertwining of genealogy and food hobbies is driven by a sense of nostalgia and thriftiness. More and more of us are looking into the past, building family trees and delving into archive records with the aid of ancestry sites. As well as birth, death and marriage records searches and results from a Census search, we’re playing family food detective, searching for half-remembered dishes from childhood memories.


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The exercise of cooking the old recipes our relatives made in the past makes us look back at the diets from those times. Subtle changes can make the biggest difference. Butter instead of margarine, full fat milk delivered by the milk man instead of shop bought semi-skimmed, a particular brand of cooking sherry and so on. Financial means also affected home cooked meals. The more frugal homemaker would use recipes that used a lot of butter or cream in every day cooking as they were costly.

Looking back to the meals of previous generations also raises an awareness of eating habits and what brands and ingredients were available. The emergence of fast food outlets and big chain supermarkets has grown over the past 40 years. Before that most people got their meat from the local butchers, bread from the baker and other items from grocers and newsagents. Back then everything was fresh and nothing was wasted.


A glimpse of the past through taste

Some recipes reflect the economy. In these thrifty times that’s no bad thing. It wasn’t uncommon for a family to use ingredients to make mouth-watering meals that lasted a week. One chicken would last over three meals. A baked ham would serve as a meat and two veg dinner for one evening and any leftovers could be layered into sandwiches, baked into a quiche, added to a rice or pasta meal or fried next to scrambled eggs.

Grandma would be proud

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As we move through our super speedy, fast food culture, we risk losing touch with the special moments of family home cooking when recipes were shared between generations. Look in your kitchen cupboards, the boxes in the attic and family scrap books to discover old heritage recipes. Experiment with ingredients and methods. If you really want to and have the utensils, you can do away with the electric whisk, blender and other modern contraptions and opt for using a manual whisk, and a pestel and mortar. You may be surprised how different a completed dish tastes and you’ll get a true sense of flavours from times past. Make sure you continue cooking up plenty of dishes to keep the family traditions alive so future generations can benefit and never forget the recipes from their roots.

Home made apple pie

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