Genealogy of a recipe

By Leeanne Seaver

My kids started asking for family recipes as soon as they established their own kitchens. After the third time writing out the secrets to the perfect rhubarb pie (as I’d learned them from my mom) I decided to curate a cookbook of all our family faves. Dane, Dakota, and Makena all got one that Christmas. I imagined these tasty treasures being enjoyed by my (please-Dear-God-let-there-one-day-be) grandchildren and future generations to come.

These recipes were often scribbled on a scrap of paper, like the one shown here on a deposit envelope that was jotted down before my mom retired from Kalamazoo County State Bank. My kids never knew their Grandma Lee Gillespie when she was a professional woman with a job at a bank. As I went through my old recipe box, I was struck by how much information would be missing if I left out these little details that prompted more of the story of their family.

So I started taking pictures of the recipes instead of just copying them onto cards. That cookbook became a photo essay… a unique kind of genealogical record expressed through food and family. It includes my Grandma Ross’s handwritten recipe for the sugar cookies that came from her Grandma Hollingshead – and her Grandma Cummins before that. So that recipe goes back to the Civil War era. These sugar cookies feature an unusual ingredient and Grandma added little details in the margins like “Grandpa and Uncle Leroy like’em white – so don’t let’em stay too long in the oven.”

If you’re new to our family, you must learn how to make these cookies from a Ross woman who can help you with the mystery of “add enough flour to make a dough.” Such secrets remain in our family, but here’s how the finished product looked in the old pickle jar that was always brimming full of sweet memories in Grandma’s kitchen.

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