Don’t forget to preserve family recipes

April 26, 2012

Don’t forget to preserve family recipes. While interviewing family or at holiday get-togethers are both good opportunities to approach this subject. Many family recipes have been lost through the years because no one took the time to write them down or even show an interest in them.
preserving family recipes

Some cooks are extremely secretive about the recipes passed down from one generation to the next. Perhaps there’s a secret ingredient involved. Sometimes the recipe creator simply wants a dish no one can duplicate and hence refuses to give information on how to create it.

It’s up to you, as a genealogist, to create a written record of how a dish is created.

Recipes may not be what you think of when researching your family tree, but they’re a vital part of family tradition. Food is as much a part of your heritage as names or places of origin. Many dishes reflect the culture where an ancestor was born. Certain spices are native to different regions and give a recipe the unique taste your family has grown to love through the years.

I’ve never been afraid of asking for a recipe. My Aunt Dorothy always made a to-die-for blueberry salad for Christmas and Thanksgiving dinner. She was flattered when I asked her for the recipe and recited it from memory. Some cooks may have a recipe box for you to search through.

My own mother was known as an excellent cake baker. I still have all of her recipes in a square index card box. Not all of the recipes are written on cards. Many were clipped from magazines and newspapers. Some even have notes scribbled along the side listing a substitution mama made to the original.

My mother started me baking at the age of nine. She was the oldest of seven children and was 43 years old when I was born. I asked for an Easy-Bake Oven for Christmas when I was nine years old. She laughed at me and told me if I was ready to learn to cook, I was going to learn on the real thing.

A lot of people think the recipe creator is more important than the recipe. I beg to differ. My first cooking lesson was baking pound cakes. Mama told me to follow the directions exactly. No guessing on ingredients amounts was permitted. Every ingredient was measured precisely as written. I did as she instructed and my first cake came out as perfect and tasty as her 5000th cake!

I admit there are cooks out there who throw in however much of an ingredient as they see fit. They toss in a few herbs and such, then taste test until they get what they think is right. Should your favorite recipe be from a cook who guesses on amounts, my advice is to follow them in the kitchen while they prepare the dish. Get exact amounts and write everything down. Small index cards are perfect or you can order fancy recipe cards or blank recipe books. The latter two are available online or in some larger bookstores.

Always list the ingredients in the order they are used in the recipe. You should also note if any dish requires the ingredients to be used at “room temperature.” Most of my mama’s cake recipes stated the milk, eggs, and butter be set out about an hour before preparation.

Don’t substitute margarine for butter or vanilla flavoring for vanilla extract. I’ve learned through trial and error they are NOT the same and substitution may produce less than perfect results.

Be sure to note pan sizes, serving size, ingredients, baking times and any other important information about the dish. Take a photograph if possible and attach a copy to the recipe.

Should you decide to “modernize” a family recipe to make it more nutritious, be sure to keep a copy of the original also.

A true recipe preserver knows the importance of using an online recipe storage system as a backup. I hate to think of the recipes lost over the years due to fire or accidentally thrown away by a surviving family member. Not to mention recipes taken to the grave by a cook who never trusted a favorite relative enough to pass on the tradition. The website, One tsp, offers free starter online recipe storage that is accessible by computer or mobile phone. There’s even space to give credit to who created the recipe. Their website is

The website, One tsp, offers free starter online recipe storage that is accessible by computer or mobile phone. There’s even space to give credit to who created the recipe. Their website is .

Regardless of the method you use in preserving the special recipes created by family members, please consider sharing them with others. Not only are you keeping your food traditions alive, you may also be helping a new cook develop her own recipe traditions.

I wouldn’t be much of a writer if I didn’t share my most requested recipe for Southern Baked Beans with my readers. This recipe can be made ahead a few days and becomes more flavorful if it sits a few days in the refrigerator. Good luck in keeping the family out of the finished product. I’ve spent years perfecting this recipe and it’s delicious.


1 industrial size can pork and beans (around 100 ounces)

3/4-1 cup light brown sugar

1 large bell pepper (diced)

1 large sweet onion (diced) Vidalia works best

3 T Worchestershire sauce

1 lb bacon (diced)

4 regular size cans diced tomatoes. These are around 17 oz. cans and can be plain or flavored tomatoes.

Pepper to taste

Combine everything in large slow cooker or large Dutch oven. Use liquid beans are in and don’t drain the tomatoes. Cook overnight in the crock pot. If using a Dutch oven cook beans in oven overnight at 210 degrees F.

Vegetarians may leave out the bacon. I do caution the bacon accounts for much of the flavor

This makes enough to feed at least a dozen people.

Please feel free to share this recipe with your friends and family.


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