Food connects us.
Not just as we gather around the table to eat. Food also connects generations through traditions and recipes that are passed down and shared. Family recipes offer the tremendous gift of tasting the same food as our ancestors. And showing someone how to create a beloved family recipe is a powerful way to graft in-laws into our family tree.
This year my family celebrated Christmas in Idaho with Ryan’s family. We played in the snow, went ice-skating, took a night-time walk on snow-shoes (well, I actually stayed in the house sipping hot tea while the men partook in that adventure), and our two youngest sons enjoyed some extreme-sledding, aka “hookie-bobbin”. City folks would describe this activity as tying a plastic sled to the back of a pick-up truck.
But my favorite part of the trip was learning how to make Knephla (pronounced k-nep-fla) – a German, dumpling stew – with my mother-in-law, Nancy.
My husband comes from a long line of German Mennonites. Most of their food traditions are borne from needing to satisfy the appetites of hard-working people who believe in the value of manual labor and eating as a community. Thus, Knephla is a hearty dish, made from a few simple ingredients, that Ryan’s grandma learned from her mom.
During our Idaho visit, my mother-in-law made this German stew. It was a great way to feed 13 hungry people and use up leftover Christmas ham. She prepared this dish by referring to a weathered page of a 1950’s community cookbook, as well as her memory of watching her mother-in-law (Rosella) prepare it.
I looked through my cookbooks after we returned home, and discovered that I have Rosella’s original copy of this cookbook published in 1959 by the Harvey (North Dakota) Mennonite Brethren Church – the church my father-in-law attended as a boy.
Reading through the recipes in this book is like discovering a time capsule. All of the recipes were submitted by women, and very few have their personal name printed – most of the submissions are credited to Mrs. (insert husband’s name). Many of the recipes include ingredients, but very few cooking instructions. I think there was an assumption that everyone using the book would know what to do. And the book includes a large section on salads, but almost all of them include Jello.
Many of the recipes included were provided by immediate family members and distant relatives of my husband. When I read through the recipe submissions I recognize so many of the last names because they were written on my wedding invitations. And even though I didn’t personally know most of the women who contributed to this collaborative effort, I feel a connection to them when I make the same foods in my kitchen that they prepared in theirs over half a century ago.
Family recipes are a treasure. I hope you have the opportunity to cook a dish that has deep roots into your family’s history sometime soon.