Legacy through the stomach: Family cookbooks and family recipes as family heirlooms

This post originally ran Aug. 1, 2012. It details the importance that family cookbooks play as family heirlooms — and in turn as vital parts of family history.

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Publishing Marketing Director

For the better part of two decades, my grandparents lived in paradise. To find this “Eden,” pull out a map of the contiguous United States, and let your fingers inch up, up, north to the Canadian border; then left, left, west to the Pacific.

You’ll know you’re in the right place when you reach the part of Washington state that isn’t there. Or rather, only bits of land are visible  — tiny dots amid the cold, salty waters of the Puget Sound. It was on one of these specks, among the San Juan Islands on a place called Lopez Island, that I spent some of my most memorable childhood days.

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Gommy in the garden on Lopez Island.

Lopez is a little less than 30 square miles in area, and is a biker’s paradise because of its relatively flat landscape. During the ’70s and ’80s, when my grandparents Tom and Gerri Walsh lived there, it was still a relatively unknown place compared to the vacation home-laden landscape of today — a retirees’ paradise where everyone (quite literally) waved to everyone they might pass on the road.

For me, what defined paradise as a kid was simple: spending summer days skipping glacier-flattened rocks on Fisherman’s Bay; upturning boulders to search for scurrying rock crabs; sailing to town for warm french fries and cold cokes with my brothers; hot dogs by the fire on the beach…you get the picture.  

Food, of course, was a centerpiece of my memories. I suppose that’s what having fresh Northwest berries with nearly every breakfast (picked straight out of my grandparent’s garden), or dining on crab caught just an hour earlier will do.

I still remember, very clearly, Gommy (“grandma,” for our audience) baking bread in the kitchen, and Gompy (grandpa) picking long, fresh green beans for the night’s dinner.

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What brought all this up for me was a video I recently watched over at the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel. In the piece, genealogist Lisa Louise Cooke interviewed Gena Philibert-Ortega, who authors the blog “Food.Family.Ephemera,”which looks at how food history and family history intertwine. You can hear the full interview at the Genealogy Gem’s podcast page (episode 137).

As Gena and Lisa discussed, knowing what past generations incorporated into their meals brings a family’s history alive in a way other bits of data (such as census records and obituaries) simply cannot. The “Rhubarb Torte” recipe that Gommy submitted to The Lopez Island Cookbook — a 189-page community effort flowered with the dishes of the island’s citizens — is now my “Rhubarb Torte.” Anytime I want to take my taste buds back to the driftwood-lined beaches of Fisherman’s Bay, I’m but a few ingredients away.

Through her palate and her cookbook, a vital part of my grandma’s legacy is alive. Now, it’s up to me to make sure my heirs receive this message.

It’s been more than 20 years since Gommy and Gompy sold their house on the island, and the Lopez of today has a much different feel than the one I grew up with. I think it simply doesn’t feel quite as small as it once did.  I’m glad I have my grandmother’s cookbook to remember it the way I want to.

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The back page of my Lopez Island Cookbook.

For Gommy’s “Lopez Island Cookbook” Rhubarb Torte recipe, as well as some more photos, please visit our Facebook page. Do you have any family cookbooks that have been passed down, or you plan on passing down to your heirs? How about any family recipes? Please share it with our readers, and let us know what you think of our blog. Thanks!

New Year’s Resolution: Take Ten Minutes (and Two Bucks) to Preserve Family History Forever

By Mike Hiestand, Houstory Publishing Founder

I’ve always loved radio. While I missed the so-called Golden Age of Radio in the 1930s and ‘40s, I’ve still always had the radio bug in me. From listening to the CBS Radio Mystery Theater with E.G. Marshall on my pocket transistor in my bedroom as a young boy to still enjoying “appointment radio” most Saturday evenings with Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion, the medium has always called my name in a way television never has.
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The large floor-model radio operated for several decades in the family-run hardware store in East Chicago.

I think that’s why my in-laws thought about me about 25 years ago when they acquired a 1930s-era radio from my mother-in-law’s grandfather. The large floor-model radio operated for several decades in the family-run hardware store in East Chicago, Indiana where it would have certainly played hundreds of Chicago Cub games, broadcast war news from Edward R. Murrow through Chicago’s CBS affiliate WBBM and alerted shoppers looking for a particular nut or bolt of the death of John F. Kennedy. My mother-in-law, now in her late 70s, says she remembers the radio well from when she was a young girl visiting the store.

The radio completed its service in the mid-1980s and was removed by my in-laws shortly before the old store was torn down.

The radio still works, but since it only plays AM radio well — which I have reason to listen to less and less — I don’t turn it on too often. Still, it is an attractive piece and it has been in our house since before both of our daughters were born.

For my daughters – who I’m not sure even know AM radio exists – it’s simply been a part of their day-to-day lives. It’s a place to drop their books, or to store our outgoing mail as they walk past it every day on their way out the front door.

I’ve touched on the story of the radio a few times, but let’s be honest, when you’re a teenager, family genealogy and stories about relatives — most of whom are now gone and they’ll never met — isn’t a high priority.

But, if they’re like most of us, someday it will be.

And our radio, like all family heirlooms, is a tangible, real — and touchable — piece of family history that brings to life a story in a way that simply looking at a family tree and seeing their great-great grandfather’s name “Joseph Wadas” never will.

Joseph was a first-generation immigrant from Poland who arrived in his late teens.  He is my daughter’s link to a big part of their family’s start in the “New Country,” and this radio came from the store that truly was part of his American Dream.  While I don’t know the exact date the radio was acquired, I presume his fingers worked the well-worn dials and permanent radio presets (it looks like radio station WLS was a particular favorite, as you can barely just make those call letters out.) Over the years, those same dials were definitely much-used by Joseph’s son, Walter, who took over the store when Joseph died and probably touched by their great grandpa and their much-loved grandma as well.

So, for them, it’s not just another old radio. But without its story, that’s exactly what it would be.

Fortunately, I know the story (or at least the parts I’ve been told). So this morning I permanently recorded that story at The Heirloom Registry. First, I attached a durable, permanent sticker to the backside of the radio, which includes a unique registration number and the Registry’s Web address. (You can purchase stickers from the THR Web site or even make your own if you just want to purchase a registration number and save a buck.)

I then spent about ten minutes writing its history — its provenance as they say in fancier circles — and uploaded a couple of photos of the radio showing it in its present location (because that is certainly also part of its story.) I also made a mental note to try and get a copy of a photo of Joseph (and perhaps even the hardware store) the next time we visit my wife’s parents so that I can upload as well.

And, truly, that was that. Once I acquired a registration number and recorded the radio’s story, there was nothing more that I ever had to do and there’s nothing more that I ever have to pay. As long as the sticker (or metal plate, which you can also purchase) is attached to the radio, its story will travel with it for anyone to pull up and see. I actually felt some relief when I finished. I’ve always felt a modest sense of obligation, as the owner of the radio — and keeper of its story — to make sure it was preserved and shared with future generations. And now, with an investment of ten minutes and two bucks, it is.

To see the Heirloom Registry entry, including photos, for the radio, visit www.heirloomregistry.com and enter registration number: SNTS-256-996-3497-2012

 

In 2013, Houstory’s goal is to tell your stories – the stories of home. Do you have family heirlooms with a story? We want to share your family history with our readers. And make sure to follow us at Facebook, where we will be posting your “Houstories” all year long.  And please comment and share if you like what we have written!

Rowhouse Tour: ‘Four Homes for the Holidays’

This week, The Houstory Hearth welcomes a holiday-themed guest post from DIY Del Ray.

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Photo courtesy of DIY Del Ray

According to their Web site: “DIY Del Ray, a blog founded by Leslie, Katie and Sara, celebrates the art of small-space living and the creative spirit. We talk about interior design, unique storage solutions, living with kids, home improvement and craft projects, entertaining, and all the charming features of Del Ray, a neighborhood in Alexandria, VA.”

We first came across the blog a few weeks ago, when we found this great story they penned on using family heirlooms to tell your family’s story.

This week, DIY Del Ray takes a peak inside four, holiday-decorated rowhouses in the Del Ray community, and we wanted you all to come along. It’s title: “Four Homes for the Holidays.

“Living on a street of typical 1950s identical rowhouses, it’s always interesting to see how people decorate the inside of their homes — their paint choices, furniture arrangements and at this time of year, how they decorate for the holidays,” they write. “There isn’t much wiggle room in these houses – every last inch serves a purpose for something – but that hasn’t quelled the festiveness or desire to create a warm and cozy haven at home.”

To take the tour, read on. Thank you to DIY Del Ray for sharing your story with Houstory. Speaking of Houstory, Mike and Dan wish all of our readers a happy and safe holiday!

 

Do you use any holiday heirlooms to decorate your home? Do you decorate your home in a unique way? Share your photos at our Facebook page — we’d love to see them!

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Photo courtesy of DIY Del Ray

Can something be considered an heirloom without a story?

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Publishing Marketing Director

As we head into the “lazy days” of summer, some questions for you to ponder in the hammock…

Do you have anything in your home that has a story behind it? Maybe it’s a quilt handed down from mom; a clock given to you by a favorite uncle; a coffee table received as a wedding gift; or a set of dishes passed down through the years?

In my living room, I have a simple fountain lamp that was purchased for me just a few years ago. It’s not old (in fact it was new when I received it), and it’s not monetarily that valuable. If you saw the lamp, you may think it was nice — but probably not much more.

The Heirloom Registry

The story of my lamp is now safe and accessible in The Heirloom Registry

You wouldn’t know where or when it was purchased, or by whom — or that it has traveled with me around the world since it was acquired. In other words, you would not know why this lamp is much more than just a ‘thing’ to me, and is one of my most precious belongings.

I think it’s safe to say that without its story, my little lamp would just be more “stuff” in my home.

With this example in mind, how can we make sure the stories and provenance  behind the things we truly care about — those relatively few, irreplaceable belongings you would want to grab if there was a fire in the house — will always remain with the items?

Or, in my case, how can I make sure that my son, daughter or relative in the year 2075 will know that my lamp purchased in 2005 was not just a piece of junk — but was something of great sentimental value that marked an important period in my life?

Enter The Heirloom Registry (www.heirloomregistry.com), the latest offering from Houstory Publishing, creator of the Home History Book archival journal.

What is The Heirloom Registry? The Registry allows you to pass on the story of your treasured belongings to future generations using high-quality labels and brass plates in conjunction with registration codes and a secure online database.

In other words, it will help make sure that if someone sees my little lamp decades from now, they will have very easy access to the story behind it.

To learn how it works, please watch the short video accompanying this post. If you’d like to test out the site for free, please sign up for a free account at www.heirloomregistry.com