From my Grandmother’s cookbook to a family collection

December 17, 2012 at 4:48 pm 4 comments

Ardena and William Herlick

Years after my maternal grandmother died, I found myself in the middle of a project—organizing a family cookbook. The initial spark came from a family Christmas gathering in late November 2009.

We cousins put our heads together and shared ideas for a cookbook.  We’d talked about it before, but now with fewer members of William and Ardena’s adult children remaining, we didn’t want to let this idea go. One thing was sure, we would gather our family favourites—the particular dishes that our mothers made for family gatherings and at home. We decided to do more than that. Family stories and photos would make an interesting book a keepsake for future generations.

After gathering information on cookbook publishers, we settled on a Canadian company and the contract was signed. The call went out for recipes, photographs and stories too. The recipes proved easiest to get, photos came gradually, but the stories had to be teased out, sometimes by email and often through a conversation in person or on the telephone.

That was the reason my cousin Marlene loaned me the cookbook that my grandmother had used for most of her adult life. What a treasure!

a page from Grandma’s cookbook

My Grandmother’s Cookbook

I hadn’t remember seeing this book before though it may have been tucked away in a drawer out of sight by the time company came. I would have been a little young to care about such a thing at that time.

The cookbook is a small inauspicious notebook with lined paper, stapled together as most of those school notebooks were. Its pages have yellowed edges, splotches of ingredients spilled over from the mixing bowl. Some of the pages have come loose from the staples that once held everything together.

My grandmother had written in pencil or blue-ink pen—likely whatever she could find in a busy home. Recipes had been taped in, the cellophane tape having become yellow and brittle with age. Most of the recipes she had hand written directly into the little dime-store notebook— recipes from her sisters, daughters and daughters-in-law, as well as from friends and neighbours.

My grandmother was a good cook. My mother said that if a thing could be done fast, her mother could do it, but if it took too much time, she didn’t make it. Details are slim in this cookbook; it’s no literary or glossy work of photography as some of the present day store-bought cookbooks appear. Much is assumed—that women knew how to mix and measure, that once they had the list of ingredients, maybe a few verbal instructions from the person sharing the recipe, that they could go home and make it.

Many of the recipes are desserts, but occasionally there’s a main course casserole. There;s one exception to the usual recipes, and that’s for wallpaper cleaner. Surely such a recipe would be useful in homes where wallpaper was the norm for decorating walls as it was in my Grandmother’s home.

Recipes may have been shared after a Sunday dinner, over coffee, or after a community dinner. Women cooked to feed their families and knew how to use the meat and produce they bought at market or the grocery store. Perhaps that’s the reason there were so few main course dishes listed. And perhaps there were some women who did not prefer to cook, but I haven’t known that to occur within my mother’s or my father’s families.

As I leafed through the fragile little notebook, I came across a recipe for Banana Butter used for cake filling. Evidently Grandma had tried this recipe and found it not to her liking. She drew an “X” across the recipe and wrote beside it, “No good.”

One of Grandma’s all-time favourites was tea biscuits. Mom shared that same recipe from her own hand-written cookbook and says that her mother was responsible for raising a bunch of good cooks.

Building the New Cookbook

As it turned out, we used few of the recipes from my grandmother’s little notebook. Instead recipes came from aunts and cousins, both male and female, which was interesting in itself since most men of my grandmother’s generation would not have known how to cook.

Cousins sent recipes they remembered their mothers making, but one family that had all boys had no recipes to share.

Determined to find some of her recipes, I asked around and found some of her recipes in our collections and gathered what we had, collectively, from years of recipe sharing, while two of the boys supplied the stories.

We learned later the fate of their mother’s cookbook. It had been packed in a box with other things for their farm sale. My only remaining aunt found out that the woman who bought that box turned over the cookbook to the Doon Heritage Crossroads archives.

More, Please! The Herlick Family Cookbook was indeed completed the fall of 2010 in time for our annual Christmas gathering.

One thing is guaranteed, that future generations of the family will know that their ancestors liked to cook, the dishes they made, and a little bit of family history to go along with it.

Photo from family collection, used by permission.

Cookbook page © Carolyn Wilker

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Entry filed under: books, family, writing family stories. Tags: , , , , , , .

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. lisakwalker  |  December 17, 2012 at 5:13 pm

    I think we should have a sequel its such an awesome cook book and I am sure there are alot more recipes out there 🙂

    Reply
    • 2. storygal  |  December 17, 2012 at 5:28 pm

      Hi Lisa,

      Thanks for your post. I think that perhaps someone else should do the next one. It’s a huge project, but I’m glad we did it and that you and many others in the family are enjoying the book.

      Reply
  • 3. Vinny Grette  |  December 17, 2012 at 5:13 pm

    I’m thrilled to hear that you are documenting your family history through recipes. What better way than by remembering good times around the table – congrats! I have a little story based on this theme in my book on healthy eating for kids and their families.

    Reply
    • 4. storygal  |  December 17, 2012 at 5:33 pm

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Vinny. My cousin thinks we should do it again. Perhaps in time it will happen again. Meanwhile we have a good collection.

      Reply

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