Posted by Ancestry Team on April 12, 2016 in Website
Gilbert by Elena Seibert Photography
Allison Gilbert, author of “Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive.”

Bestselling author Jonathan Safran Foer convinced me a while ago that our relationship with food is important to understand because it represents so much more than sustenance. His grandmother’s chicken with carrots wasn’t delicious simply because she prepared it a certain way it was delicious because what the dish represented (continuity between generations). and what it prompted (conversation over the dinner table). “I came to learn that food serves two parallel purposes: it nourishes and it helps you remember,” Foer wrote in his groundbreaking book Eating Animals. “Eating and storytelling are inseparable.”

How, then, can we hold on to the specific tastes we’ve come to associate with our family and the stories they help us tell? The answer lies in preserving recipes so dishes can be replicated again and again. Here are two exciting ways to preserve recipes, and you can learn more ideas for celebrating the enduring legacy of family in my new book, Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive.

Create a jpeg of your loved one’s recipe and make it the focal point of a custom-made plate or platter. Beth Digman runs Prairie Hills Pottery from her home studio in Dodgeville, Wisconsin, about a one-hour drive from Madison. She receives your image and transfers it onto a fine ceramic piece from her shop – either a rectangle, oval, or square with smooth or scalloped edges. The entire process, including glazing and firing in her kiln, takes approximately 52 hours. The recipe transfer is permanent and the dish you receive in the mail is food safe and beautiful.
Recipe Plate with Handwritten Recipe

The platter in the above photo is what Prairie Hills Pottery created for me. It shows the handwritten recipe of my grandmother’s “famous” coffee cake. She always made it for my older brother and me. It was my absolute #1 childhood favorite. It’s the dessert I most associate with her, and now it’s become the perfect conversation prompt. When my children and other family members see it, I can seamlessly bring my grandmother up in conversation, ensuring she’s never forgotten.

If you have lots of cherished dishes and desserts to preserve, or need help remembering specific ingredients, begin a family recipe archive with a Google Doc. Invite relatives to include their favorites. Upload recipe cards so everyone can take pleasure in a loved one’s familiar handwriting. The project can stop right there, with the collection available to anyone who opens the document. But for more ambitious types, consider designing a professional-quality cookbook for relatives to order with a click of a mouse. Cookbooks can be further enhanced with family photographs.

Passed and PresentWhether you design a plate or launch a Google Doc (or choose to pursue both), I am certain you’ll bolster your family’s relationship with all those reminiscent recipes and stories they help you tell. And the best part? Each project has the potential to strengthen these connections in perpetuity.

Want more ideas on how to preserve your precious family memories? Pick up a copy of Allison’s newest book, Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive available April 12, 2016 by Seal Press.



  1. I thought for years I’d write a book of recipes and stories to go with them, but a) it was a daunting task, and b) I found I didn’t really have loads of actual recipes. What grew instead was my website Ancestors in Aprons, which talks about our own family recipes, but the foods and methods of preparing it that were current in a period I’m exploring. Food and its preparation tells us so much about those “hidden” lives of women ancestors.

  2. Linda S

    Before she died, my mother hand wrote out her recipes for my niece and my daughter and put them into loose-leaf recipes binders. I already had most of them because she had written them out for me over the years. I’m glad my daughter will be able to start her cooking life with some family favorites, one f which is a coffee cake remarkably similar to yours!

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