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Tamale, Pierogi, Pecan Pie: Celebrate Your Family's Culinary History

Photo by Cherish Bryck / Stocksy United
Photo by Cherish Bryck / Stocksy

Did your grandparents emigrate from another country but keep making pierogies, tamales, or bánh tét? Can you remember the smell of your Texan grandmother’s famous pecan pie?

Research shows that it’s important to share family history with our children. Here in America, where so many generational stories have been lost over the expanse of the oceans—or the painful legacy of slavery—food can be an especially powerful way to honor the people, places, and events that made our families what they are today.

Even if you don’t  know about your family's country of origin, you can explore America’s regional cuisines. Did your family settle in Texas and come to love fried okra and creamed corn? Were they Mainers who became adept at cooking things from the sea?

Here are five great ideas for putting history on the table:

  1. Visit, email, or call family members with your child and ask for their favorite recipes. Even better? Ask them to share a special memory connected to the recipe.
  2. If a relative doesn’t have a recipe to share or has passed away, you can include an online recipe for their favorite food. For example, if your father loved green bean casserole, you can find a recipe online and make it at home to share with your child.
  3. Prepare a family history meal featuring the dishes your parents and grandparents grew up with. You can even update the old flavors for health reasons, like this list for substitutions if necessary. (Understandably, lard may not be on your want-to-eat list.) This is a great reason to talk to children about how food cultures and ideas of “healthy food” have changed over time.
  4. Make a culinary family tree. One fun visual way to organize recipes is to paste them on a family tree. You can find many family tree templates online or draw your own. Then, if you mark a recipe with the name of your great aunt or cousin, your child will be able to see how that relative is related to him or her.
  5. You can also make a simple recipe book, using pictures of your relatives next to the recipe they shared. That is one memento that will keep your children thinking about their past—and cooking well into the future.
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