Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Generational Meals

While we still order out often, we've made a conscious effort to try and cook more of our meals.  A few days ago, while preparing a stew for the family, I thought about how I was going about it.  Our meals have a couple points of origin including magazine clippings and google searches.  A good number of the routinely used recipes are family recipes inherited from family and hometowns.  It were these routinely used recipes that got me thinking about creating a lineage of a dish.

Now from a culinary perspective,  our homes have created an interesting blend of food.  It's rural Midwestern meat and potatoes kinds of dishes meets eastern European immigrant. We have a pancake recipe, a recipe for kolache, pirogue, stew, vegetable soup, a bean and rice dish, and a number of other desserts just to name a few.  These are not necessarily award winning dishes that make you cry when you eat them, but they are pretty good.

My mom's oven stew
Lately, I've been less concerned with why people do certain things and more around how they do them.  I'm interested in how I and the people around me create the world in which we live.  From this perspective, a lot of what constitutes your reality, my reality, and everyone else's is somewhat unique.  It's unique because our lives are each made up of specific sets of memories and experiences.  These memories and experiences shape who we are.  Hence, to a point we create our own custom reality.

Maintaining a recipe box with an assortment of recipe cards, scrap pieces of paper, magazine articles, etc. becomes one of these ways food is created in my reality.  It contributes to the reality created when you start cooking many of your own meals.  This reality can push family interaction to the forefront of your time spent preparing meals and that's not a bad thing, if you're doing it right, no?  When we've taken a recipe from our past and made it our own, it triggers memories about places and people.  I remember the old kitchen from the farm house, the yellow and white chairs and the layout of the house before my parents expanded the floor plan.  Or, when I'm making pancakes using my father-in-law's recipe, it evokes memories from my wife of her, as a child, sitting with her sister in the kitchen with their dad preparing breakfast.  It's little mundane memories like this that I enjoy and cherish.  Looking at a recipe card from my mother and eating said recipe in my own kitchen with my own family creates a sense connectedness between past and present.  Essentially re-creating the breakfast dynamic with my kids that my wife and her sister experienced creates additional meaning to the act of making pancakes.

So, go out and make a conscious effort to change your reality around food.  Learn a family dish or meal.  Keep the lineage of your family alive, whatever form it is.  Can't cook or don't have time to cook?  Even better, learn to do this one family or friend dish well.  If it's a recipe from an older family member, be conscious enough to look at it and know if you need to make it healthier.  Regardless, think of a time and place in your past where you ate this meal.  Reflect on who else has eaten this meal in the past.  It can be a fruitful experience. Plus, you'll be eating carry-out one less night a week.

This beauty here is about 30 years old and contains quite a few artery clogging, yet delicious  rural Indiana fare


  1. Jon,
    As descendants of the Shatto Chicken Hatchery of Dunkirk, how can my sister and I get a copy of one of these books??? I would love to see if any of our relatives contributed! What a hoot!
    Holly Hokanson

    1. This is a good question. Let me ask around. Email me at jonwillford at gmail.com so I have your contact info. Good to hear from you!