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The Value of Family Recipes

Editor’s Note: When my grandmother passed away, her children stumbled upon her assorted collection of recipes, which she had delighted friends and family with for years. I would go on to transcribe many of these family recipes, updating and adding a few of my own personal recipes (many of which you can now find on this very website) to create a family cookbook titled “Ricette dalla Cucina di Giuseppina” (“Recipes from Giuseppina’s Kitchen”) in my grandmother’s honor. This process would later repeat when my wife’s grandmother passed, and we found a treasure trove of previously guarded recipes, though these have yet to be added to a cookbook. After over 120 recipes for snacks, drinks, full meals, and family-favorite desserts, I learned innumerable lessons about cooking, my family, and my heritage. I hope you’re able to do the same!

Family recipes are a time machine to one of the most unifying experiences we can share — a family meal. Today, we’re not providing recipes. Instead, we’re making an impassioned plea to protect and use the family recipes you have. So, we’re examining the value in a family cookbook!

Learn Techniques and New Recipes

Whether you’re able to whip up any number of impressive dishes at a whim or you can’t seem to turn on a stove without burning something, you can always learn a lesson from a new recipe. It may be as simple as a new way to cook chicken, or it could be the right temperature at which to properly braise an ingredient. Every meal is a chance to grow in your cooking skills, a prominent benefit of cooking for yourself.

With family recipes, it can be even easier to learn as you go! There’s a good chance you’re already familiar with many of these dishes, having had them for lunches, dinners, breakfasts, etc. As a result, you should know what the final dish should look, smell, and taste like. You should also be able to better train your senses to help guide you through cooking, an important skill to nurture if you want to become a better cook.

Nobody cooks like grandma.

No matter your skill level with cooking, preserving your family’s recipes adds more options that you can turn to when you need a meal. After all, these are tried and true meals that have stood the test of time through countless family dinners! It’s tough to beat the scrutiny of picky eaters and large families with different tastes. If you’re ever in a crunch for time and need a meal you know will be well-received, having these options available to you is priceless. Besides, there’s a certain authoritative quality to saying that a dish is your grandmother’s recipe. Nobody cooks like grandma.

Reconnect with Your Family

The lessons you learn from collecting family recipes don’t just have to be about the food. You can learn a lot about the family members that saved and made those recipes, too. For example, despite your grandmother being extremely Italian, you may learn she loved Asian cuisine or had a serious sweet tooth.

You can learn a lot about the family members that saved and made those recipes, too.

This all points to the best way to collect your family recipes — as a family. As you work to decipher quickly written recipes that don’t always include measurements, talk to your family for references. You may just hear stories about how one recipe was a regular meal growing up or a funny story about someone’s pickiness over ingredients. You could be shocked at the memories that come flooding back to as you sift through recipe cards and photos.

Make Your Own Modifications

Of course, (most) family recipes aren’t sacred texts. Just like how you influence the dynamic of your family, you can put your own personal spin on some of the classics you grew up loving. Not only is this a way to tweak these classics to your own individual tastes, but it also puts your own stamp on your family heritage. In this sense, the recipe ceases to be your grandmother’s or uncle’s recipe, and it truly becomes a shared family recipe.

Just like how you influence the dynamic of your family, you can put your own personal spin on some of the classics you grew up loving.

In a more culinary sense, your family recipes give you a foundation to build off. If you didn’t have that foundation, you wouldn’t be able to tweak and experiment with recipes as quickly. You’d be flying blind and coming up with something entirely new, which isn’t exactly objectionable but maybe not what you’re looking for. If you’re somebody that likes experimenting or trying new things in the kitchen, family recipes are an essential starting point with an emotional and personal element attached.

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Family recipes are part of our heritage. By finding and sharing these meals, you aren’t just eating well — you’re keeping the memories of those family meals alive! In this way, we keep those who have left us alive as well, whether that’s by making their personal favorite meal or by sharing the memories those meals conjure up. If you’re not sure if your family has any recipes they’ve passed down, just ask! You may be surprised at what you find and learn about your own family in the process.