Recipes Can be Full of Family Memories
by: Linda Kleback
As genealogists we pursue names and dates with great fervor, but a family tree is about more than facts. We become interested in our ancestors as people. We hunt for photographs, wanting to see theses faces of our family. Sometimes we are fortunate enough to find possessions: books, letter, toys, linens. We add these to our family treasures. There are other treasures we can add to our family holdings: recipes.
I hadn't thought of recipes as a component of family history until I read The Ellis Island Immigrant Cookbook which is part of my personal collection. Compiler Tom Bernardin, who worked at Ellis Island since the late 1970s, conducted a national recipe search. He received many recipes from members of different ethnic groups along with notes on their immigration experience or that of their relatives.
Food was supremely important to the immigrants as a reminder of the people and places they had left behind. They would adapt to American life, but through their recipes, they could remember their former lives.
Much as I always loved the Slovak and German recipes of my grandparents, I had never thought of them as family history before. I'm now glad that I learned to make some of them, and I wish more had been written down.
That is something we can all do right now. Ask your relatives to put their recipes in writing, preferably in their own handwriting so you have a double family treasure. If they always cook from memory, spend a day with them in the kitchen, recording these pieces of family history. Preserving these tastes and aromas are as important as saving legal documents.
Copies of The Ellis Island Immigrant Cookbook can be ordered directly from this site. In addition to the recipes and stories, it contains historical information and photographs from Ellis Island.
*** This article was originally published in the Sunday, January 25, 1998 edition of The News Herald,
P.O. Box 1940, Panama City, Fla. 32402.