One of the first memories I have is of food. I remember my birthday cake, my mom made it for me, it was yellow cake and had a really sweet peanut butter frosting. This memory is not much of a memory but every year that is the cake I wish I had.
Food memories might seem basic, everyone eats. This is true, food is a part of our daily life so in some ways it is very mundane. Food is also part of our triumphs, such as a celebratory dinner after you graduate or the perfect meal for your wedding. Food can also be part of bad memories, like eating an entire tub of ice cream after you know you bombed a test. The very first meal I had with my husband was a Whataburger with a strawberry milkshake. These kind of milestone meals are always the first part of a memory then you slowly begin to remember the other details.
We went to Whataburger because he had just gotten off a plane and had never eaten a Whataburger. I remember waiting for him to take his first bite, because I knew if he hated Whataburger then there was no chance that anything would work out with him… thank goodness he loved the burger.
A good Saturday when I was growing up always started with my mom making pancakes while my dad mixed some peanut butter syrup. He would put peanut butter and syrup in equal parts in a bowl and blend them together. This is a treat I still enjoy, sometimes I skip the pancakes and put the mixture on toast.
Food connects us to our past because it is a basic part of life.
My son has begun a project to record his family’s history. He has a diverse family, part is from New Zealand, some are from West Texas, and the rest are from South Texas. Each part of his family brings a different cultural emphasis.
He has learned that every story begins with food. This blog really was inspired by his project. He is carefully taking notes and building a history through recipes. He is determined to figure out the most popular items that come up in the family stories. Whether it is the pecan tassies we have every Christmas or the buttermilk pie that is served at Thanksgiving, every dish and every meal is a chance to connect the past to the present.
My mother makes the best potato salad, but she has no recipe. The project that began as a family history has turned into a science lab of sorts. He watches her make the potato salad, takes notes, then comes home to try and recreate it. We have not been successful, but he also is gathering stories as he watches her. We found that she remembers her mother’s lemon icebox pie but never thought to get the recipe and regrets it to this day. This is the same thing several other family members have said, they remember the dish but always regret never taking the time to learn how to make it. These stories help build the family history beyond simple dates and important events; these stories are what the family truly is.
Many people have commented that they wish they could gather their family history but do not know how. I suggest talking about food and gathering recipes, it is a great jumping off point for all families. Start with your memories, what food do you remember? I think about this a lot.
My dad and I made banana pudding, it was more layering ingredients than cooking, but it is a great memory. My mom made chicken and rice that I loved. I asked her how, and of course there was no recipe. She simply said a box of white rice, two cans of cream of anything soup (she used mushroom and chicken), chicken broth, and a whole chicken cut up. The first thing you do is salt and pepper the chicken and bake it at 350 (I add paprika). Then remove the chicken and put the rice in the pan. Add the two cans of soup and chicken broth enough to cover the rice, stir everything together, and bake until done… she then added, you might have to add more broth as you cook. Then at the very end put the chicken back on top of the rice and bake for a few minutes before serving. This is not the perfect recipe, but it worked. The rice was creamy, and the chicken was crisp and juicy just as I remembered. One day I will write the recipe down and figure out the actual measurements, but for now, every time I make it I think of it when I was a child and even better I think about how my mom taught me the recipe without any measurements or instructions.
Right now is the perfect time to begin this project, call your family and talk about food, gather recipes and share them. Tell us about your food memories, share your stories. Tell your family history through the food you eat and record the recipes before it is too late. Everyone can participate and connect to this project simply because everyone eats.