We Don't Hand Down Family Recipes Anymore, but Maybe We Should

CC BY 2.0. Phil! Gold

As more of us opt for locally grown, seasonal ingredients, we might find ourselves turning to Mom's and Grandma's recipes for pointers on how to use all those turnips.

When was the last time you made one of your mom’s recipes for dinner? Or have you purposely left behind the ‘old-fashioned’ cooking style of your parents’ generation and moved on to bigger and better things?

A recent article in The Guardian called “We don’t hand down family recipes anymore [and] that’s not a bad thing” suggests that our societal shift away from traditional family recipes to new cooking styles is due to the recent significant improvement in personal circumstances. We no longer need those traditional recipes to survive in the way that former generations did.

“You learned how to manage the whole pig when it came to slaughter so it would last through the year. You learned how to make one kind of bread from the newly ground flour and a different kind from the same flour months later when it had aged. You stayed home and cured pork belly for bacon like your mother and her mother before her,” writes author Jay Rayner.

I think Rayner is right that the incredible accessibility of ingredients that we now enjoy, including many exotic ones that our mothers and grandmothers never knew existed, makes many of those old recipes less appealing than they once were. Personally, I’m not interested in recreating my great-aunt Audrey’s macaroni-tomato-tuna casserole with Cornflakes topping when I can make my own four-cheese version with smoked ham and panko.

And yet, I wouldn’t be so quick to disregard the old cooking traditions. When groceries are running low and I really don’t know what to make for supper, the first place I look is the small binder containing handwritten family recipes, a.k.a. the foods I grew up eating in my mother’s excellent but fairly repetitive kitchen.

Other valuable resources are the older cookbooks in my collection, such as “The More-With-Less Cookbook,” first published in 1976, and “The Canadian Living Cookbook” from 1987. While some of the recipes are terribly dated, most are delicious basics that use simpler and cheaper ingredients and require fewer fancy preparations than recipes in my newer cookbooks.

There I can find instructions for how to roast a chicken with nothing more than lemon and salt, how to make a traditional stew to use up all those rutabagas and carrots, or – even better yet – how to turn a roast chicken into four meals for four people (yes, “More With Less” does explain that). Sometimes that’s just what I need, long after the green curry paste, coconut oil, and hoisin sauce have disappeared from the pantry.

As more people realize the importance of eating locally grown, seasonal food, the more closely our diets will start to resemble those of former generations. This will likely lead to renewed interest in how our grandparents cooked, but perhaps with a more modern twist. Miso-glazed turnips, anyone?