Food is an important part of my life. Not just for the nutritional necessities or the flavourful enjoyment, but for the social and cultural importance of it. Indeed, my own family’s culinary heritage is extremely special to me. And, in some ways, it has shaped my attitudes towards food and my life in general.
A family’s heritage is one of the most precious things to know, to learn, and to understand. While some families around the world share a history full of nobility and land, others share their history through family recipes, passed on from one generation to the next.
(Excerpt from forward in Cook Family cookbook)
I was incredibly lucky to grow up in a home where both of my parents are (were) great cooks. We ate very well as children and enjoyed a varied and interesting menu – possibly more so than a typical family. Yes, I recall friends remarking about the “fancy” food* that was served or the fact that we almost always sat at the table as a family** to eat it. Indeed, at one point a friend asked what the special occasion was as we sat down to a boring and basic roast dinner. But in her mind, a large slab of meat for carving with several sides (potatoes, carrots, parsnips, and the rest) was a real treat.
Even luckier than having parents who loved to cook (and were very good at it) is that they passed on their skills and passion for cooking to me and my five sisters. We were part of planning and preparing meals, preserving (and growing/harvesting) food, and the set-up and clean-up processes. Tasks were age-appropriate, beginning with tearing lettuce or grating cheese and progressing to full-on cooking as our skills improved.
And my parents’ willingness to experiment meant the added bonus of meals that were varied and interesting, so there was always something new to discover and enjoy. Indeed, regular readers might recall that I’ve shared two separate posts dedicated to the favourite foods my parents cook for me when I’m home.
One of the great things about the culinary practices in my childhood home is that my sisters and I are all excellent cooks, too. We left home with cooking skills far beyond those of most of our peers. We also all continued to improve our cooking skills and branched out to new culinary experiences as our lives took various paths. In fact, whilst I am the only one of us who still carries the family name of Cook (I’m double-barrelled), we are all still cooks and will be cooks for life.
When you have such a strong culinary heritage, it’s important to preserve it so that it can be passed on for generations to come. With that in mind, my mother decided it was time to create family cookbooks. And so, we worked together to make her vision a reality so that everyone in the family could have a copy of the family recipes.
The project began in the early 2000s when Mum began the painstaking task of typing out all the recipes from my maternal and paternal grandmothers’ collections. When she completed her transcriptions, Mum passed the files on to me for formatting and presentation. Together, we created the forwards and photograph pages, and Dad had the fun job of printing it all. I seem to recall that we all pitched in with binding the books, but the folks might have done that without me. (It was so long ago; I can’t quite remember!)
We completed the maternal recipes first (2004) and they were bound in three-ring notebooks for me and my sisters as well as Mum’s siblings. Two years later (2006), my sisters and I were all given the second section of the book: Our paternal grandmother’s recipes.
Cooking is a way of telling someone you love them, a way of bringing family and friends together.
(Excerpt from forward in Eberle Family cookbook)
The third phase of the family cookbooks began in 2017 or 2018, but was delayed because I lacked the time during my PhD studies and later during my post-doc life. However, Mum continued typing up the next batch from my maternal family’s recipe cards – this time along with stories and memories from her siblings. Then, in early 2021, we had (almost) everything we needed and began talking about how best to format the new book. We were in the process of editing the book when Mum went to the hospital in December 2021, but she died in January 2022 with the book unfinished.
However, I will not let Mum’s hard work and dedication to our family’s culinary heritage die with her. I have Mum’s final edits from everything she compiled and I will work to complete the third instalment of the family cookbooks over the coming weeks. And then it will be time to begin the process of creating the fourth and final family cookbook***. My youngest sister, Royann, will help with both in Mum’s absence, and Dad will give his input and sign off on them – especially the final one as many of the recipes for that book live in Dad’s head!
Over the years, I have tried many of the recipes in these family cookbooks, but there are far too many that I’ve never tried. One of my 2022 goals had been to cook (at least) one recipe from the family cookbooks each month, but Mum’s unexpected death meant that goal was set aside. But I will be picking it up again for my 2023 goals. That means you can expect to see some of the recipes and results of my culinary goals in posts over the coming months.
As always, I’d love to hear from you. So if you have any stories of your family’s culinary heritage or experience in putting family cookbooks together, please feel free to share in the comments below.
* “Fancy” is a relative term. There was no lobster and caviar, but I did have a friend remark with a touch of jealousy on my lunch of a pita stuffed with sprouts and turkey once.
** Family meals around the table became less common as we grew older (for so many reasons) but when life settled down meals were served “family style” at the table – even after my parents became empty-nesters.
*** The fourth book is the last of the books Mum and I had planned. It’s possible that I may continue creating books from family recipes moving forward (with help, as needed). However, I am not ready to commit to that. That said, I do have ideas…