Culinary Heritage – What does it mean to you?

About a month ago I was dining with a friend when our discussion turned to heritage family recipes, and how many of those recipes and the traditions that go with them have been lost to our generation.

My friend shared a great story about visiting her husband’s family in small town Appalachia. She was so excited to visit these people who in her mind lived off the land, sourcing what was in season and serving up a delightful array of heritage recipes passed down from generation to generation. To her complete shock, when dinner was served, out came the boxes of KFC.

What ensued was fabulously long conversation about the foods we grew up on, the recipes our mothers and grandmothers taught us and the stories told over many a family meal. We discussed how people today, ourselves included, are losing touch with our past and our connection with family history and the meals that brought us together. Every great family recipe has a story behind it, stories that bond and connect us with our past.

Wikipedia defines “heritage” as “something inherited from the past.” To me it’s what connects us to the special people and special events that have shaped our lives. It’s the preservation of memories and traditions through old family recipes and the communal meals shared around them.

Therefore “heritage recipes” could be defined as the sharing of old family recipes and traditions; the recipe cards stuffed in a kitchen box somewhere, written recipes on old scraps of paper tucked away in a kitchen drawer, or old cookbooks with smudged notes written in the margins. Timeless and treasured recipes, passed down from one generation to the next, reconnecting us to our culinary heritage.

Thinking about this from the perspective of living here in the South, the culinary history around me fascinates me. What are the culinary traditions and stories of the Appalachian Mountains, the Deep Creole/Cajun South or the Low-Country? How has Southern food been influenced by the Spanish, African Americans, Indians and French?

My next quest is to research, read and cook up the South. I want to understand the culinary history of  where I live now and how it has influenced me.

Two great articles I recently read include; “Reclaiming the Soul of Southern Food” and “Talk With Your Mouth Full – What is Southern Food?”

Or if you want to test out some great Southern recipes, I suggest the recently published Lee Brother’s “Simple Fresh Southern” and the “SFA Community Cookbook”  both of which I recently purchased and plan to cook through.

What I really want to know is what the idea of a culinary history means to you? Do you have a recipe that is a constant reminder of a childhood memory? Do you have an old family recipe that you want to share?

I know I have several memories of sitting around the dinner table eating my Nana’s chicken casserole followed by one of her chocolate chip cookies or my Grandmother’s Christmas dinner of German rouladen with green kale, red cabbage and green beans. I have none of the recipes but am working to get them so I can share them with you.

Let’s get the conversation and dialogue going.


2 thoughts on “Culinary Heritage – What does it mean to you?

  1. Interesting you should bring up the heritage recipes concept. Molly O’Neill just put out a cookbook/story book called One Big Table. She traveled all over the country collecting stories of families and the recipes that go along with them. Great stuff. Similar to what you were thinking. Haven’t seen one that’s just focused on the South.

  2. It’s funny that you mentioned it because I just did a little blog post about our Thanksgiving dinner. It wasn’t the “typical” turkey & gravy, but a version of pork backbones that my Grandma has been making for such a long time. It involves salting down pork backbones (in this case it was riblets) then soaking them back out & boiling. Served, of course with collards, cornmeal dumplings, baked sweet potatoes, etc.
    When I went to college I was so tired of “heritage” cooking that I welcomed any change & didn’t want to cook what has now come to be known as “soul food”. I wanted to cook Mexican & Italian & French…anything but country ham & cabbage. Now, things have changed. I still love cooking all kinds of food, but now appreciate fried pickled herrings & stewed potatoes.
    I think heritage cooking is something that evokes memories of childhood. It may not even be regional but something that takes you back to feelings of comfort.


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