In general, heirlooms are a great source of history for families, as well as communities and museums. Family heirlooms are great “treasures”, whether they have monetary value or not; simply, because of the priceless memories and family folklore attached to them. Heirlooms such as a wedding ring, a grandfather clock, a rocking chair, a painting, a homemade quilt or afghan, the family homestead; as well as, journals, photo albums, scrapbooks, and even recipes preserve these special stories for generations.
I came upon a really interesting article, last week, regarding common heirlooms that get passed down, through families. “21 Most Common Family Heirlooms”, which was written by Linnea Crowther, Senior Writer at Legacy.com, on August 12, 2019, can be found at https://www.legacy.com/advice/21-most-common-family-heirlooms/ and I highly recommend checking it out! Interestingly, between the two of us, my husband and I have something from almost all of the 21 common heirlooms listed in the article, in some form.
However, one passage, regarding “heirloom recipes”, struck a particular chord close to home for me. It reads: “Recipes are a very special kind of family heirloom. While things like jewelry and furniture can only exist in one family member’s home at a time, everybody can conjure up memories of a lost loved one by cooking their heirloom recipes. The handwritten recipe cards are especially sentimental for many of us, as seeing that familiar handwriting brings back vivid memories even many years later.”
I certainly can relate to this one and many of my friends, who lost their mom’s too, can relate, as well! After Mom passed away, I got a lot of her albums and scrapbooks (as well as those of my grandmas that she had). I, personally, have scanned tons of photos, recipes, cards, letters, and other bits of our “family history”, which Mom and both of my grandmas felt were important enough to them to save; so that my siblings could have copies and share in the memories too.
As I’ve mentioned in my last two blog posts, June is Country Cooking Month. It is a fairly new observance, as it has only been around for the past few years – since 2017. Nonetheless, June seems to be a fitting choice, since it’s usually the first month when most people tend to spend more time with family – such as on vacations or at reunions, picnics, weddings, graduation parties and so on.
One common element among ALL of these family and friends events is food! We almost always get to enjoy some good, old-fashioned, country cooking from someone’s heirloom recipes. They are the “secret” recipes (and methods) of the family’s favorite dishes that are usually passed down from one generation to the next generation, with each one possibly adding a little of their own flavorings of memories and love into each serving. Heirloom recipes are what down-home, country cooking is all about! There is always some dish that goes over with a bang and everyone wants the recipe for it!
So much heart and soul and love goes into down-home, southern-style cooking! When I think of “country cooking”, I am reminded of the many satisfying, comfort foods I enjoyed while growing up as a daughter of the Recipe DetectiveTM, as well as those we enjoyed on special family trips to visit relatives in West Virginia. Some of the best foods we ate were either fried or barbecued or full of sugar!
The family reunions always included the best fried chicken! But let’s not forget to mention other country-style favorites like sweet iced tea, coleslaw, potato salad, corn-on-the-cob drenched in butter, peach cobbler, strawberry-rhubarb pie, and pecan pie! Like many people, my husband’s favorite country-style breakfast always includes a big meat-and-cheese-lovers omelet, with a large side of sausage gravy and biscuits!
As much as I love all of those “country-style” carbs, I can’t have them any longer. Over a year ago, I made a committed choice to live a low-carb lifestyle based on the Atkins Diet. Thus, as a daughter of the Recipe DetectiveTM, I’ve been going through some of my old, favorite recipes and developing my own new, favorite, low-carb imitations (a few I have shared in previous blog posts); which brings me to mention the following fun ideas for Country Cooking Month.
NationalToday.com suggests three great activities. First, they recommend taking your favorite “heirloom” recipe and putting your own personal, updated spin on it, for something new and exciting. (Check!) Second, they propose making your own recipe booklet out of your personal favorite “heirloom” recipes, with your own twists added. (Check!) Third, they endorse breaking out your grill or smoker and hosting an outdoor cookout. I was already working on the first two suggestions. But the third is something my husband and I enjoy doing every summer, in late July, for our anniversary. We’d like to make it a family reunion thing!
FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…
As seen in…
Gloria Pitzer’s Cookbook – The Best of the Recipe Detective (Balboa Press; Jan. 2018, pages 141-142)
In Great-Grandma’s day, baking bread was as much a part of a woman’s household routine as was the laundry or the dusting. In colonial days, bread was often the main dish, used like a sponge to soak up whatever broth or gravy might accompany a meager meal, which most of colonial cuisine consisted of on the frontier.
BREAD-BAKING has filled my house with the most delicious aromas – on those occasions when I have ventured into the catacombs of conscious cookery. I was taught by a grandmother who believed that the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach; and, if you kept your man well-fed and loved and listened-to, everything else would fall into its proper place in perspective. Well, we can’t all be right all the time. Grandma tried.
Bread-baking was not the Elmer’s ‘Glue-All’ of my marital bliss and stability. In fact, on occasion, it might have threatened our harmony – considering that, before I learned a few chosen shortcuts to better baking, I could (at the drop of a hat) clutter the counter-tops with every bowl, dish, spoon, pan and ingredient possible! This, of course, necessitated having to ‘eat out’ on those nights when there was no place to prepare a deserving dinner at home.
It reminded me that somewhere there should be a clause in every cookbook warning young wives with old-fashioned morals about marriage that there are some things Mother never told us… Or if she did, I just wasn’t paying attention! In any case, I recommend cooking as being thoroughly therapeutic! Bread-baking includes the energetic kneading of the dough – which enables one to work off pent-up emotions that one cannot otherwise rid themselves of verbally.
Whenever I had problems to work out (which was like every other minute or so) I would either be in the kitchen, cooking something, or at the typewriter, writing about cooking something! Kneading a large batch of yeast dough is a great way to unwind and relieve tensions. Of course, it didn’t always solve my problems, since most of them were directly related to my finding my utensils, which I had to locate before I could start relieving myself of unwanted tensions. I’ll bet I was the only woman on the block who had to sift through the kids’ sandbox before I could set the table or bake a loaf of bread!
THE SECRET OF GOOD BREAD is in the kneading and rising. If given enough time, bread will rise anywhere – in the refrigerator, on the sink top, in a dark closet! The more you allow the dough to rise, until it is doubled in bulk, and the more you punch it back down again to let it rise once more, the better the texture. Not enough salt in the dough will make it course. Too much shortening will make it heavy. Not enough shortening will make it dry. Eggs will make it soft like a coffee cake. No eggs at all will make it spongy like old-fashioned bread. Homemade bread can be anything you want it to be, depending on the amount of time and effort you put into it.
The kitchen has always seemed to be my family’s center hub. The place where we all gathered, ate, laughed, talked about the events of our days, made plans for our future, and created happy memories. I have a sign in my kitchen that reads: “There’s a room in every home where the smallest events and biggest occasions become the stories of our lives.” Ours is usually the kitchen!
MORE FROM MOM’S MEMORIES…
As seen in…
Eating Out At Home Cookbook (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; Sep. 1981, 12th Printing, p. 25)
LIVING AT HOME
(A story by Gloria Pitzer, based on family folklore.)
CROOKED PATH was a mid-western, sage brush hamlet, settled shortly before the Civil War by pioneers in covered wagons. Grandma was born there a few years after the war – the oldest daughter of her father’s second marriage.
Fortunately, for Grandma, her father dabbled in a little of this, a little of that; owning the saloon in town, a boarding house, and the town’s mercantile [store]. Her diary tells how she learned to cook at the boarding house, where she met Grandpa, who was renting a room there.
He married her in the parlor – much against her parents’ better judgement. On her 16th birthday and 17th birthday, they were blessed with the births their first two of eleven children – six boys and five girls. We were never quite certain what work Grandpa was in, but it took them from the plains of Nebraska to Ohio, to West Virginia and, eventually, to Michigan, with abbreviated residencies in Pennsylvania and Indiana.
From her ‘Recipe Journal’ notes, it seemed clear that Grandma’s ‘Back Door Bakery’ supported the family’s income rather substantially for many years. Grandpa was probably a professional handyman from what we’ve been able to piece together from Grandma’s ‘Recipe Journal’. She made meticulous notes on recipes, to the effect: ‘This is the pie I baked from the California lemons that Gus Maxwell gave Pa for fixing his plow.’
[Another entry said:] ‘The hens Pa got in payment for the book cases he made for Judge Burns made a fine stew, good soup, and six loaves of chicken sausage.’ [And another said:] ‘The sack of brown sugar Yostman gave Pa for mortaring up his stove pipes made a good caramel pie – sent to ailing Bessie Forbes, down the road.’
From studying the quill-pen entries, I gather that work was the most essential part of life 80 years ago. By contrast, today’s workmanship is inferior to anything produced by the craftsman of yesterday. I wonder why people, today, are so unhappy with their own work – as if the tedium of labor is not really the problem; and isn’t it typical that those who hold work to be without value are, themselves, empty? To imply, today, that work is without meaning is actually to also imply that life is without meaning – which most of our social influences do rather thoroughly.
Grandma’s cookery appears to let nothing go to waste. The broth from Judge Burns’ hens also made the gravy for the stew, the meat portion made the sausage and the bones from the carcass were ground fine and buried in the vegetable plot in the back of the firewood shed.
Apparently, Grandma and Grandpa were considered among the prosperous of their community because they were productive, although, never wealthy. At least, we do know that they were indeed happy. But the definition of ‘happiness’ in Grandma’s own handwriting was: ‘Happiness sometimes comes from ignorance – from not knowing how much better our life might be.’
One of the aunts confided that Grandma placed great importance upon the strength of her family and the respect they gave their father because her own life, with her parents, was less than memorable. Her life centered around her family – the heart of which seemed to be the kitchen. Their nourishment, however, was not [solely] food but [also] love that came from ‘actions’ rather than lip service!
‘The healing meadows of memory lift more than spirits.’ – Unknown
In honor of tomorrow’s national observance of Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Day, here is Mom’s copycat recipe for Big Boy-Style Strawberry Pie, as seen in Mom’s cookbook, The Original 200 Plus Secret Recipes© Book (Secret RecipesTM, St. Clair, MI; June 1997, p. 7). PLUS, 2 BONUS RECIPES to go with it! Enjoy!
WAIT! THERE’S MORE!
I HAVE 2 BONUS RECIPES FOR YOU THIS WEEK!
SPECIAL NOTE: For the strawberry jam, in the above recipe, try Mom’s freezer jam recipe below, which she learned from my dad’s mom (my grandma)! And, for the pie shell, I highly recommend Mom’s personal favorite heirloom recipe, from her own mom (my grandma), for “Butter Pie Crust”, which follows the jam recipe, below.
P.S. Food-for-thought until we meet again, next Monday…