Recently, I found motivation to sort and organize my recipes. I have one kitchen drawer where I stuff recipes and I remembered an old plastic 3x5 card box I have been carting around since the 1980s. I also found an expandable file hidden on the top shelf of the pantry closet. I dumped all the recipes into the center of our kitchen table and read through them one by one. Buried under countless recipes I once ripped from magazines or cut from food packages was a treasure trove of family history.
There were recipe cards printed in my childhood handwriting, neatly recorded in pencil for my 7th grade home economics class at George Washington Junior High School. I found home-cooked classics written in my mother’s familiar handwriting (she passed away in 2011). There were favorite dishes belonging to both of my grandmothers common in their respective homelands - Scotland and Finland. I discovered hearty meals, my sisters, frequently prepared for their growing households. Unfortunately, I found nothing from the men in my family. I don’t want to imply that men in my family did not cook, but apparently, they did not leave any recipes for me to discover.
I pondered the simple ingredients of the dishes that spanned over a century of my family’s existence. I wondered about the kitchen appliances they used to prepare the meals. I was curious where they shopped for the necessary ingredients. I considered how my ancestors provided food and cooked meals during strenuous times in our nation and uncertainty at home.
My paternal grandparents immigrated as teenagers from Finland to the United States. Seeking employment, they worked their way from New York City to Pennsylvania. During the time of the Spanish Flu pandemic, my grandmother was pregnant with their second child. My maternal grandparents lost their business and rental properties during the Great Depression. Economic disaster upheaved the young family from Maryland to Pennsylvania. They survived growing their own food on a farm in the country.
Soon after my parents married in the early 1940s, my father nearly died from an infection in his hip. He participated in early clinical trials for the drug penicillin and it saved his life. During World War II my mother never knew what food would be available at the grocery store. Americans used ration cards and stamps to get their meager share of household staples including meat, dairy, coffee, dried fruits, jams, jellies, lard, shortening, and oils (Rationing in WWII nps.gov). In the mid-1960s my father served as president of our local school board at the height of racial integration. Amid protests and riots, he championed desegregation of the education system.
In all these circumstances I imagine my relative’s worry and concern over the uncertainty of the future. In my hands, I held the gift of these old notecards admiring their meticulous handwriting. Despite the changes in their world and their nation, changes that sorely affected them, they continued to provide food for their loved ones. Day by day they cooked their family’s favorite meals and preserved the customary cuisine of their homelands. They gathered around the kitchen table to ask God’s blessing. They prayed to a God they knew to be trustworthy and true. They passed on recipes to their loved ones. A century later a grandchild would cherish scraps of paper in a kitchen in Arkansas.
Now it is our turn to pass to the next generation. Let us leave our children and grandchildren recipes for hope. Hope for the future. Hope in God. Leave a legacy of what matters most in life – God, faith, and family. Oh, and it is always a good idea to pass on delicious food!