Heirloom Recipes

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Rustic Pots & PansI have to admit that between working a day job full-time, writing full-time, and running Mom’s taxi service, I purchase dinner as often as I make it at home. OK, maybe more often than I make it at home. However, with the holidays approaching, I have big plans for getting back into the kitchen. I’ll be hosting Thanksgiving and have already purchased the turkey, red garnet yams for my mom’s candied yams recipe, and plenty of granny smith apples for the apple cobbler I’ll be baking.

As you think about the holidays, I image you can picture certain dishes that you grew up eating–dishes that you adopted into your own holiday repertoire because it was a tradition you wanted to continue. Perhaps you have recipes handed down from a grandmother or great-grandmother. What’s even more precious is having a recipe written in that loved one’s handwriting.

Recipe2I have a recipe for zucchini bread that my grandma gave to me after my father died. I was only 16 when he passed away, and after I was married and had started setting up house on my own, my grandma sent me the recipe. Not only do I LOVE zucchini bread, but this recipe is written in my dad’s handwriting. He had given a copy to my mom’s mother, and my grandma had preserved it by wrapping the paper in plastic wrap. Today, I keep it tucked away in my recipe box. It only comes out on special occasions, but when I do pull it out, memories of my dad always come with it.

We owned a few acres growing up, and he and my mom tried to teach me how to garden. I’m afraid I never got past my dislike of pulling weeds to truly appreciate the skill. But I have vivid memories of the year we planted far too many squash plants. We had zucchini coming out of our ears. And many of them were the size of a small child and had to be carried cradled in our arms. We gave away bags of them to friends at church and to neighbors and still had more than we knew what to do with. We ate sautéed zucchini, fried zucchini, baked stuffed zucchini, and my favorite – zucchini bread. It’s amazing that I didn’t lose my taste for it, but I still love zucchini to this day.

PersimmonsAnother heirloom recipe that I treasure is my grandma’s persimmon cookies. I’ve never heard of these anywhere else, but she would make them for me every time we came to visit, just because she knew I liked them. They were small drop cookies with persimmon moistening the batter much like pumpkin does in pumpkin bread. Add some sugar, cinnamon, and raisins and they became a delicious treat. I just saw persimmons in the grocery store this past Sunday, and I immediately thought of my grandma and those cookies.

  • What heirloom recipes do you have that mean the most to you?
  • Do you have any recipes handed down in a relative’s handwritting?
Karen Witemeyer
For those who love to smile as they read, bestselling author Karen Witemeyer offers warmhearted historical romance with a flair for humor, feisty heroines, and swoon-worthy Texas heroes. Karen is a firm believer in the power of happy endings. . . and ice cream. She is an avid cross-stitcher, and makes her home in Abilene, TX with her husband and three children. Learn more about Karen and her books at: www.karenwitemeyer.com.

33 Comments

  1. Karen, I love your post today. Recipes are some of my favorite things. I have a dressing recipe in the hand writing of my favorite aunt, as well as her chocolate eclair pie recipe. Both were delicious! She was a wonderful cook. A recipe that is a must at my house during the holidays is my sweet potato casserole recipe. My husband loves it dearly and would not think of having the meal without it. Recipes, traditions , memories……they are the best!

  2. I was never allowed in the kitchen when I was growing up, so I never got the interest in learning how to cook. When I got married to my first husband, he was the one who taught me how to cook. So, I don’t have any heirloom recipes. Everything is fairly new that I have picked up along the way or what he showed me.

  3. Would love to have the recipe for persimmon cookies. My son makes persimmon pudding and persimmon wine from recipes that have been passed down in his wife’s family.

  4. What wonderful memories those old recipes can have on us. My grandma always used to give us a bowl of carob chips as a snack. They taste completely different than chocolate chips, but I can still taste them when I think about it. She also made the best banket in the world. I have tried many a banket, but nothing has come close yet to hers. Thankfully, I spent a day with her showing me how to make it and she gave me her recipe! She died two years later, so I now treasure that famous recipe and the time she spent showing me with all my heart.

  5. Melanie – Isn’t it interesting how memories of family are so often tied to the food we share? Those traditions are priceless. When I pull out a special recipe handed down from my mom or grandma, I am immediately flooded with memories of times spent together. Such a treasure.

    And your husband is absolutely right – you can’t have Thanksgiving without the sweet potatoes! 🙂

  6. Janine – Every once in a while, my husband will surprise me by making dinner. There’s something so romantic about a man who cooks. I’m glad you and your husband got to spend time together in the kitchen.

  7. Sue Nell – I couldn’t find my grandma’s recipe for persimmon cookies, but I did a search online and found one that produced cookies that look just like ones I remember. I don’t think my grandma put nuts in them, just raisens, but the fat little cookies look just the same. I think I might have to print this one out and try it for myself and see if it tastes like I remember.

    http://pinchmysalt.com/persimmon-cookies-recipe/

  8. Susan – I remember those carob chips! As a kid I remember always being disappointed that they weren’t the chocolate I was expecting. Ha!

    What a treasure that you have those memories and preserved that banket recipe. Perhaps you can pass it down to another family member in the future.

  9. Wonderful post! My favorite heirloom recipe is the bread recipe from my Great Aunt Alyce. I used the recipe in my first book 🙂

  10. Hi Karen – Oh, I hear you with zucchini coming out of your ears. We had three plants and it was so prolific, I ran out of people to gift them to. We became experts at finding zucchini recipes and discovered some great bread/muffin recipes. Everyone loves them. But as far as heirloom recipes. My mom made traditional S cookies for years. We have her handwritten recipe and last Christmas, we made them for the first time since she passed. They were delicious and brought back so many wonderful memories.

  11. Sherri – Mmmm . . . I love bread. There’s a lady (in her 80’s) at our church who makes loaves of homemade bread for all the teachers, elders, and deacons every year for Christmas. We’ve been on the receiving end of this gift several years in a row and it is one of my favorite Christmas gifts. So yummy! I bet your Great Aunt Alyce’s bread is just as delicious.

  12. Charlene – We’ll have to have a zucchini party someday. Ha!

    I’m so glad you had a chance to take out your mom’s cookie recipe and stir up some warm memories. What a blessing!

  13. Karen, I have several recipes that are in my mom’s handwriting and I zealously protect them. They’re invaluable to me. She passed away nine years ago. Every time I pull them out I can feel her presence. One is for a Coca Cola cake that is out of this world. She made that for us back in the 60’s. I still remember coming home from home from school and smelling that cake when I hit the door. Another one is for banana bread. And there’s one for the best chicken soup you’ll ever eat. Thanks for the memories. Excellent blog.

    I can’t imagine persimmon cookies but I’ll bet they’re out of this world. 🙂

  14. Linda – What a treasure! It’s amazing how the smell of certain foods can bring back so many powerful memories. I’m getting hungry just thinking about that chicken soup. 🙂

  15. My grandparents have an old pomegranate tree that produces the richest juiciest seeds. Seriously, the juice is a super dark ruby red, almost black. Every season my grandma makes pomegranate jelly to give away throughout the year. It will be one of my cherished memories with her- picking out the seeds and canning the jelly. She always has the funniest little sayings and comments 🙂

  16. I love zucchini, too, Karen. There’s just something about the taste of it. My grandmother used to make a delicious jello salad…very easy with just four ingredients: cottage cheese, lime jello (used dry from the box), crushed pineapple, and whipped cream. She made it every year. Now that she’s gone, I make sure we still have it. I even have the special dish she served it in. It makes me think of her every time I pull it out.

  17. Heidi – It must have taken a lot of work to get the juice out of all those seeds. A lot of times to make memories with your grandma. I’ve never tried pomegranate jelly, but I bet it is delicious. Thanks for sharing!

  18. Saundra – What a lovely way to keep your grandmother’s spirit alive at the holidays. Not only with her recipe but with the dish she always used to serve it in. That’s perfect!

  19. My mother has some recipes from my grandmother. My all time fav is her pumpkin pie recipe… we make it a few times a year… I always think of her when I smell it cooking!

  20. Colleen – Nothing smells like fall more than a baking pumkin pie. How fun that you have a recipe that has survived multiple generations!

  21. When I was first married, we all exchanged recipes on regular recipe cards. So, I have many written by my Mother in law and mother. I was never around grandparents, (they all lived on the east coat). I have preserved the ones I got by re-writing the cards and putting the other cards away with the name of the person and the date I got it. I do have a funny persimmon story, though. I had found 2 very large persimmons in the store and set them on my sink to ripen. My brother and wife came to visit around Thanksgiving and as he was ‘cleaning the kitchen’ he threw away the persimmons I had been guarding for a week or so. I asked him what happened to them and he said, “Oh, they were rotten and soft, so I threw them away.” I really laid into him. I think I even had tears. That was 20 years ago and I still get pissed just thinking about it.

  22. Mary – You are so smart to set aside the handwritten cards for safe keeping. And your story about your brother made me laugh. I’m sure he thought he was being helpful, but he really should have asked first, shouldn’t he?

  23. Every time we went to visit my Grandma, she had sugar cookies for us. I have her recipe written by her. Actually, I have 2 versions of it, because she didn’t use a recipe when she cooked and she wrote it out because my aunt wanted to have her recipe. It gives the amounts of sugar and flavorings and calls for “enough flour to make a soft dough”. I may not use it to make cookies very often, but I keep it because it is hers.

  24. Hi, Susan. That’s exactly why these recipes are heirlooms to us. It’s not so much the tasty goodness of the food, but the memories they evoke that make them so precious. Thanks for sharing!

  25. Karen, My mother in law was a world class cook. We really are a poorer universe without her in it. She could make an apple pie that was an absolute treasure. Nothing magic about it, just every single facet of it was perfect, the filling, the crust, everything was perfect. I make a fine apple pie but I just can’t touch hers.

  26. And my grandma always made cranberry relish using her old cast iron hand grinder. Grinding up the cranberries and oranges and apples. So delicious. So much sugar.
    It’s just nothing like the cranberry ‘relish’ that comes out of a can. And you know what? That stuff tastes pretty good. It’s just not the same. My daughter knows how to make that good, hand ground cranberry relish. I never have made it. It skipped two generations. Though I do own a classic hand grinder and use it to make sweet pickle relish.

  27. Karen,

    Loved the post today. Recipes can bring back such wonderful memories. My mom was the first of her family who really enjoyed cooking, so most of my recipes are directly from her. Our Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner have looked the same for years. But this year she’s turning Christmas over to me and I’m going a little against tradition. A few new memories. 🙂

    Kirsten

  28. I’ve been gone all day but I enjoyed your post. I love recipes. It’s a big part of my history. I come from a long line of “recipe sharers”. I have many that are hand written and they are very special to me. They bring back memories to me just looking at them!

  29. My heirloom recipes include a chocolate angel food cake recipe with chocolate whipped cream frosting that was “secret” until the early 1970’s.

    I also have my M-I-L’s strudel recipe and spritz cookie recipe. I especially like the cheese strudel. Apple strudel is my second choice. She also gave me a recipe for making sweet yeast dough. I use this to make apple cake and cinnamon rolls. I’ve also adapted it to make dinner rolls. YUMMY!

  30. I love old recipes and cookbooks because they bring back wonderful memories of my childhood. As a former Homemaking teacher, I had access to lots of good recipes. However, my favorites are from my grandmother, Mammy. She set me on a stool in her kitchen when I was a little girl and taught me how to bake cookies, make pie crusts, and bake cakes and quick breads. I’m compiling those into a cookbook to give to my cousins at our next cousin reunion.

    I have two iron skillets that were passed down to me from my other grandmother, Mimi. Couldn’t make cornbread or fry chicken without them. She also taught me to make cornbread dressing that I still make every Thanksgiving. Since Grandpa was German, Mimi made a lot of German foods, and my favorite is her German Fruitcake that uses preserves instead of candied fruit.

    The only things I never really mastered are Mammy’s yeast rolls and her biscuits. Mine are like hockey pucks. 🙂 She told me I beat the dough to death.

  31. Such wonderful stories!

    Mary – That apple pie sounds divine. I never mastered the art of the perfect crust, so I cheat and make apple cobbler with only a top crumb crust.

    Kirsten – We need new memories, too. You are so right. That’s how we create our own traditions to pass on.

    Laurie – I love that your recipe was “secret” for so long. Somehow that just makes it seem even more speicial. 🙂

    Martha – I envy your time with your grandmother. What a wonderful memory. And I LOVE that you still fry chicken and bake cornbread in your grandmother’s skillet. That’s perfect!

  32. Aunt Maye’s Spiced Apples BUT her recipe doesn’t give me enough explanation. I’m gonna experment though for this holiday and see how it goes…I need it for the 2nd recipe book I’m writing!

  33. Melody – You’ll have to let us know how those spiced apples come out!

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