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!

Your house is burning! What family heirlooms or keepsakes — if any — are you going to grab?

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Publishing Marketing Director

A quick post this week asking our readers a very simple question: If your house was burning, what would you take with you? It’s not my question. Rather, it comes from The Burning House blog. It’s kind of my latest obsession, as it allows you to examine — in a very personal way — the lives of people who choose to respond to the query. Would you choose a family heirloom or keepsake with sentimental value — helping to document family stories and precious memories — or that Gucci handbag?

Answers are posted from around the world, and are succinct: photos, with a brief explanation of the chosen content.

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What would you take with you? — Posted from The Burning House blog

There is also a book for sale with the same name.

“Of all the things you own, what is most important to you?” says the book description at Amazon.com. “The practical? Your laptop, your smartphone, what you need to keep working and stay in touch? The valuable? Your money, your jewelry, the limited edition signed poster in the living room? The sentimental? The watch your late grandfather gave you, the diary you kept as a teenager? What you choose to bring with you speaks volumes about who you are and what you believe in—your interests, your background, your view of life.”

What would you take with you? Does anything come to mind immediately? If you had to choose between the designer shoes purchased two months ago and that heirloom quilt handed down from grandma, what are you snagging? We’d love to know what you have to say!

Houstory® Publishing is the creator of The Heirloom Registry™ and the Home History Book™ archival journal.  If you have knowledge in a topic our readers may be interested in — such as historical preservation, family heirlooms, antiques, home genealogy or homes in general — and are interested in writing a guest column for us, please let us know! Contact us at info @ houstory.com.