Capturing family recipes can be tricky business. If your family is anything like mine, meals were often prepared without measurements; sauces tasted on the back of hands, spices eye-balled. The recipes I’d try to meticulously recreate often ended up tasting nothing like the original. My family also had very few recipes that were passed down; when someone passed away, their recipes and memories went with them. For the few recipes that were kept, most were written in faded ink on a torn index card or remembered and shared orally.
Many family stories are created in the kitchen or over a table. For years, kitchens were the heart and center of a home. As times change though, the memories that accompany food and cooking are often overlooked or forgotten.
This doesn’t need to be the case though. Even if someone has passed away, their stories can still be remembered and honored. Memories can connect us to family, both past and present; we should protect those that are most at risk of being lost. So, today we’re sharing how Storyhouse founder Kathryn Gonzales captured her grandma’s recipe for Mexican Rice and providing tips for how you can preserve your own family recipes.
My grandma Millie passed away when I was a teenager, but her legacy lives on, especially in the food our large family shares. She was often praised for her Mexican Rice recipe which many of her daughters have since adapted and made their own. Her youngest daughter, my Tia Lizzy spent the most time with my grandmother and therefore her rice tasted most like the original recipe. So, I asked Lizzy if I could spend an afternoon watching her make the rice.
First, I gathered my materials—a notepad, pen and a camera (my phone). As is often the case with heirloom recipes, Tia Lizzy never measured anything so I asked her to go as slow as possible through the process as I shadowed her. I wrote down exact amounts for everything and when something was “a dash of this” or “two handfuls of that,” I would have her grab the dash/handful in her hand and place it into a measuring cup/spoon before tossing it into the pan, so that I could record the approximate amount.
I wrote down every nuance I observed — for example, when it was time to add water to the pan, she’d used the mortar and pestle so she could ensure that she got every ounce of flavor from the garlic she crushed. I took pictures along the way, especially for moments I might forget like what the contents of the pan should look like before covering it to let it simmer. This way, I could find a way to articulate this subtle, but important step.
I then typed up all of my notes that evening into a Google doc and included the photos I had taken. I suggest typing your notes as soon as possible, while your memory is still fresh, and keeping your chef on call in case you miss any steps or need clarification. From my master document I extracted a recipe and tested it to ensure that I had captured it accurately before creating the final Heirloom Recipe Print to gift to my family. I got a little misty-eyed when my mother said the rice was indeed very similar to Grandma Millie’s!
After Kathryn captured her family recipe, the Storyhouse team turned it into a set of heirloom recipe prints so that it could be displayed in a kitchen or home. After you have documented your own family recipe, consider the creative ways you can preserve and memorialize it.
Storyhouse is a Texas-based business that preserves family stories, recipes, photos, and documents through videos, books and websites so these stories can be shared now and for generations to come.