Family Food Traditions

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Family Food Traditions -- Boundless GenealogyFood. We all need to partake of it to sustain life. But food is so much more than utilitarian sustenance. Families have gathered for millennia to eat together, to socialize, to celebrate. And as they gather, they pass along recipes and food traditions to the next generation. Food is part of our cultural identities and one of the ties that bind us together. So, whether we realize it or not, our family food traditions are part of our family history.

Family Food Traditions -- Boundless Genealogy
“The kitchen is the heart of every home, for the most part. It evokes memories of your family history.” ~Debi Mazar

Because food is so integral to everyday life, our family food traditions may be one of the easiest and most natural parts of our family history to pass down to the next generation. Here are three simple ways to pass your family food traditions on to your children:

Make It Together

When my husband was a young boy, his Grandma Neitha made peanut brittle and glass candy for the holidays. If the grandkids were lucky, they could get her to make peanut butter balls dipped in chocolate, too. When the grandkids got older, they asked Grandma Neitha to make candy and she said, “I will teach you how to make it.” So, they learned all the recipes as the cooked with Grandma. They especially liked making the glass candy because they got to choose the extract flavor and food coloring for their own batch. Now my husband makes these recipes with our children around the holidays, passing the tradition and recipes to them.

Family Food Traditions -- Boundless Genealogy

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In the modern generation, we tend to eat on the run, and often eat prepared food more than homemade. Even so, do we take the time to invite our children (young or grown) to come into the kitchen with us and cook with us as we prepare those traditional family foods? Family gatherings, including the holidays and birthdays, are an especially appropriate time to make these foods together. Even with our busy lives, it is good to slow down, cook, eat and connect with each other.

Share the Stories Behind the Recipe

Our children may ask for their favorite family recipes, but do they know the story behind that recipe? For example, one dish my husband brought to our marriage, and requests for every special meal is a fruity gelatin salad we call “Jello Fluff.” That food tradition comes from his Grandma Neitha. Every time they visited her when he was growing up, she made them roast beef and Jello Fluff. But, do our children know where that recipe came from? Have we taken the time to share some of the memorable visits my husband had with his grandparents where they might have shared this dish during the meal?

In another example, my husband always salts his grapefruit before he eats it. When our children recently asked his why he does that, he was able to share that the habit came from his grandfather, Frank. Frank had a salted grapefruit and crushed cornflakes with milk every morning for breakfast without fail. Our children now also enjoy salt on their grapefruit and think it is fun that they are the third generation to eat it that way. It is a simple thing, and a simple story, but it has created a connection between my children and a past generation.

I personally enjoy seafood a lot, and contribute that to my food memories with my Grandma Billee. I have written and shared about my food memories of Billee in a previous article. Many of the dinners I regularly cook for the family come from Billee’s recipes and I try to let the children know that when we eat those meals. Ultimately, it is important that we share not only the recipes and family food favorites, but share the oral tradition behind those foods with the rising generation.

Record the Recipes and Distribute Them

Besides cooking our special family recipes together and talking about the stories behind them, we should consider how we will preserve those family food traditions long term. I currently have collections of recipes from both of my grandmas, one of my husband’s grandmas and one of my great-grandmas. These collections are a mishmash of formats… some digital, some old papers or recipe cards, and one big smashbook style cookbook. Although I am sharing the recipes one at a time on our family history blog, and making them with my children, I would like to make a printed cookbook for each of the grandmas. These physical printed books will be a good way to pass the food legacy to future generations. My children can take those cookbooks with them as they establish their own homes and make those recipes for their future children. This will be a big undertaking, and I am not quite ready to tackle this project yet, although I am working on the collection part.

In the meantime, I continue to share recipes one by one online. I could also easily photocopy some of these recipes and place them in a simple binder to share with family members now.

No matter how simple or elaborate you want to get, passing on physical copies of the recipes and stories is an important part of preserving your food traditions for future generations.

What kind of family food traditions do you have in your family? How are you passing this food legacy down to the younger generations?

Cordial Genealogy Wishes,


Read more about family recipes and the younger generation in these posts, too.

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  1. Such an important concept to pass on the oral tradition as we’re making food together! I love the story of the salted grapefruit. Such a simple thing, but it made a connection.

    • Yes, I think we have to remind ourselves how simple it is to share connections to our ancestors with the younger generation… a salted grapefruit “tradition”, a simple story told while making a recipe, pulling out a photo and talking about the people in it. Everyday sharing can be so powerful.

  2. Delicious post, Melissa. How about the cinnamon rolls … is that a family tradition? They look beautiful.

    • I and two of my children have several food allergies and so the cinnamon rolls are a new family tradition. Our oldest daughter is a whiz at making over regular baking recipes into allergen-free deliciousness, including the cinnamon rolls, cookies, cupcakes, etc!

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