Someday, I will to put together a family cookbook of favorite and traditional recipes.   I plan to also include pictures, family stories and traditions to be handed down to the next generation. Wouldn’t it be cool if 50 years from now, my great grandson “little John” is using the cookbook to make something, looks at some old pictures and thinks of my generation?  But, is that realistic? Will anyone care? They will, only if the traditions are kept alive.

We live in a world where many traditions are fading away, especially in public view, such as the Christmas tree, Halloween and Easter Bunny being replaced by the Holiday tree, Fall Festival and the Spring Bunny.  Family traditions are fading away too, as families become dispersed across the country, split up from divorce, stress from overloaded schedules and a greater emphasis on “evolved” thinking verses “old school” thinking.  One type of tradition is related to food. Do family recipes and traditional food preparation matter anymore?

They do matter, and here is why:  

Traditional recipes are authentic when handed down through the generations, and are done so because they’re enjoyed by the family, are made for holidays or special occasions and are usually very tasty.  Family members take a lot of pride when making those dishes, and even within families, there can be a little competition over who makes the best version of the dish. Food prepared in the same way as it was a few generations ago is what defines  “authentic”. That is, if you have a recipe at all. Many dishes were made from memory, feel or simply tasting and adding a little salt here and a little garlic there. Authenticity matters.

When I eat traditional family food, I think about the many times I’ve had that same meal.  How many times have I had good homemade turkey soup on Thanksgiving? Every year since I can remember, that how many.  Holiday traditions are especially important. I’ve made and eaten the same Christmas meals that my parents and grandparents made, and that tradition was passed down from previous generations.  There is a sense of comfort knowing that those who came before me were enjoying the same food, and if the tradition is still alive, there is a connection to the past. I can remember family meals from many years ago.  The food is a reminder of the past and those people who were part of part of my life.

There is even a stronger connection while you are in the process of making the food.  For example, when I make homemade meatballs, I always think of watching my grandmother make them (without a recipe).   You know it will taste good and there is comfort in being able to count on something. Doesn’t is smell so good when you enter a house that has your favorite meal cooking on the stove?

It takes effort to make food like this.  And it takes effort and time to stay connected to your traditions. Cooking and eating traditional food keeps you connected to family, both when introducing the tradition to young ones or new family members, and to those no longer living. Preparing the traditional food is an expression of love and generosity.  If I make the effort to cook for you, especially time consuming traditional recipes, it means I care about you. That’s one way I show my affection. That’s why it matters.

Many things pass from generation to generation, such as money, houses, pictures and mementos.  But there are intangible things passed to the next generation too, such as memories, recipes and food traditions.  Of course, the good old days weren’t always that good but there is rarely a memory of bad food. It’s good food that I remember fondly, and those memories matter.

Traditions matter because it’s how we remember the past, it’s how we keep people alive forever, and it’s something that we can give to our children that is absolutely free and can be used over and over again.  And these meals taste good! Generations change, and over time the “young” generation becomes the “middle” generation, who eventually become the “old” generation, but the traditions connect them.

Included in the liner notes on John Cougar Mellencamp’s 1985 album, “Scarecrow”, is printed a quote from a family member:   “There is nothing more sad or glorious than generations changing hands.” How true. Time marches on.

PS:  For those of you too young to know what liner notes are, when you bought an album (a round vinyl disc that spun around and picked up the sound by way of a needle), it included physical packaging that would have the song titles, who wrote the song, lyrics and notes from the artist about the songs.