Anyone tired of fruitless searches for female ancestors may want to consider looking for the books women read, and often wrote -- community cookbooks.
Gena Philibert Ortega is a genealogist with a cause. She wants to help researchers find women's stories. Her new book, From the Family Kitchen: Discover Your Food Heritage and Preserve Favorite Recipes, is more than a heritage cookbook or food history. From the Family Kitchen offers something for anyone who enjoys food and family history.
This attractive hardbound book presents readers with a basic introduction to American food and cooking traditions followed by ideas for finding your ancestor's recipes and how to decipher and use historical recipes. The book also includes a section for you to include your own heritage recipes with a ribbon bookmark to note your favorites.
Gena's interest in women's history began with stories about her great grandmother's polygamous marriage. She wanted to learn more about women's experiences, "the history we don't hear about," she notes.
As Gena notes, "women's history is so much different than the history we hear about in school" and women don't appear in recorded works to the extent that men are remembered.
Genealogists are taught to use government sources, we don't use sources specific to women because many aren't indexed or easily found. I started asking, 'If you were a historian, what resources would you use to recreate women's lives?'
Gena found the answer in signature quilts, journals, diaries, and community cookbooks, all places where women more comfortably could leave their mark. She sees community cookbooks as a rich resource that is largely ignored by researchers.
They not only show ethnic roots, histories, and advertising, they are the voice of women. In an age when women didn't publish as much as men, community cookbooks offer so much information about women's lives. They tell what real people ate.
I only wish From the Family Kitchen had been around a few years ago. One of the highlights of my teaching years was the opportunity to design and teach a course on women's literature. Besides the usual fiction by Mary Shelley, Jane Austen, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the course included a unit on women's personal writing -- diaries, journals, letters, and community cookbooks. The section on cookbooks was a huge hit the high school students at the all-girls school where I taught, and From the Family Kitchen would have been a helpful text to include as a resource.
The girls "read" a community cookbook to develop a portrait of the women, the organization, and the community and the information they gleaned showed the books to be a rich source of information. As Gena says, "Community cookbooks are social history at its best."
From the Family Kitchen: Discover Your Food Heritage and Preserve Favorite Recipes,
by Gena Philibert Ortega, (Family Tree Books, 2012) 203 pages.
Part 1 Discover Your Family's Food Heritage
1 - Food Heritage
2 - They Brought Their Food With Them
3 - Oysters, Peacocks, and Green Jell-O
4 - Food Throughout Time
5 - Cookbooks and Menus
6 - How to Find Your Ancestors' Recipes
Part 2 A Look Back at Historical Recipes
7 - Decipher Old Cooking Terms
8 - The Arts of Dining and Cleaning
9 - Historical Recipes
Part 3 Recipe Journal
Record your own family recipes in this journal section.
Gena Philibert Ortega is a popular genealogy speaker and writer specializing in researching women's history. She holds Master of Arts Degrees in Interdisciplinary Studies (Psychology and Women's Studies) and in Religion.
Gena was a featured Celebrity Genealogist in the Canejo Valley Genealogical Society Cookbook, A Dash of Thyme where she contributed the recipe for her Great Grandma's Fudge. She has kindly shared the recipe with readers of The Family Curator --
Great Grandma's Fudge
3 (6 oz) pkgs. chocolate chips
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup nuts, chopped
In a saucepan, over low heat, melt chocolate with milk. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and nuts. Line 8-inch square pan with wax paper and spread mixture evenly over wax paper. Chill 2-3 hours until firm. Remove fudge from the pan onto a cutting board and throw away the wax paper. Cut into pieces. Store at room temperature.
This recipe was passed on to Gena by her paternal great-grandmother, Mary Bell Chatham Philibert (1904-1988).
WIN A FREE COPY of From the Family Kitchen courtesy of Family Tree Books.
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