On Family Recipes and Giving Thanks

First of all, thank you, thank you, thank you all so much for your responses both here and on the Facebook Page to the previous blog post On Finding Home And Honouring Yourself, I’m so grateful, thank you.

I just wanted to add as a P.S. that there were some fascinating themes that came from it – whereas some find Home externally in a place, or with other people, some people find Home within, particularly people who are more nomadic and travel a lot, rarely settling in a place for more than a couple of months.  It also seems that a lot of people who move abroad tend to keep a piece of their childhood Homelands with them too, and appreciate it when they go back for a holiday, even if it’s not to move back.

Over the last couple of years I have been learning how important food is to that feeling of Home.  A couple of responses stated that it’s the food that reminds them most of their first Homeland – that’s also something my other half has mentioned, that no food is ever quite as good as how the elder women in his family made it.

It also got me thinking about food as part of a country’s cultural identity – we all know the various stereotypes, such as the Italians and their pizzas and pastas; the Germanic peoples and their sausages and sauerkraut, the Archers and their turnips…


But have you ever asked *why* particular food became part of a country’s tradition?

There are two main things that I can think of:

Firstly, traditional food is generally based on what could historically be immediately accessed to eat – fish from the sea or rivers; wheat almost entirely throughout Europe; other grains were cultivated; root vegetables also from all over; naturally growing herbs, nuts and berries; and the domesticated land animals of pigs, cattle and chickens (not from Europe but I think from in and around India), not to mention the hunted animals of rabbit, deer, pheasants, pigeons, and other wild game.

But then came the need for preserving food for the winter, so meats were smoked, cured and salted; vegetables were pickled; fruits were candied, and grains were bagged up and stored with cats being brought in to act as mousers and keep the critter population down.

Of course, trade also affected what was available too – for example, historically exotic ingredients like lemons, limes and oranges, were rarer outside of the Italian and Spanish lands unless you could afford the costs of them being transported, so it tended to be that the rich would have these in their dinners but not the poor.  Heck, even within the Italian lands then lemons were a rich-man’s commodity, when you compare the different kinds of Tuscan bean soup recipes out there, the one with lemons, basil and good pancetta are from the rich-man’s table, whereas the ones with just tomatoes, potatoes, scraps of bacon and any other vegetable you can add to it will be the peasant’s version (see Marcella Hazan’s excellent “The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking”).

Then, we cannot forget how the spoils of war also changed what was assimilated into culture – for example, although coffee was available in Europe, it wasn’t until after the second Austro-Turkish War that coffee became particularly popular and the major coffee houses in Vienna sprung up.  The trade of coffee beans then swept through the rest of Europe, making it more readily available than before, and each region began to develop their own versions of it based around their tastes, either with ingredients like water, milk, cream and sugars, or in presentation – such as Viennese, with cold milk and a glass of water on the side; Parisian, in a tall glass, and so on.

All of these elements are completely intermingled nowadays – you’ll be offered a glass of water with your coffee throughout Austria and parts of Italy, and many cafés serve a latte in a glass, and all kinds of foods are widely available at low enough prices for the public to afford (although this is now somewhat coming under fire in our current economic climate).

But you can still see the original fingerprints in the traditional recipes of a region, and to me, each of these recipes is like seeing an elusive first edition of a classic novel.

And this is where reason number 2 comes into play:

Family recipes to me are like a second edition of a classic novel – edited and changed or developed to their own tastes and preferences.  

These are then passed down from one generation to the next, usually (but not always) by mothers to their children.  When done en masse, such as within a region, it fast becomes “traditional to that area”.

 Family recipes are

 family legacies or

 heirlooms, as precious

 as any jewellery,

 silverware or

 telescopes Twitter logo

(Do people leave telescopes for future generations?  Admittedly I’ve never heard of that one, but someone should!  That’d be awesome!)

Family recipes bind people through time, and that is more treasurable than you might first think: cooking a recipe that your great-great-grandmother used to make connects you to her, and likewise, very far into the future, your own great-great-grandchildren can connect with you and the kind of world you lived in by cooking a recipe that you have passed down to your own children, and hopefully they’ve passed down again, and again, and again.

Do you think there is something magical about that?

Because I sure do.

Next week, I’d like to bring these ideas to life by showing you how these fit in reality.  Bring wine.  Or great coffee.  *wink*



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