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    In every family, someone ends up with “the stuff.” It is the goal of The Family Curator to inspire, enlighten, and encourage other family curators in their efforts to preserve and share their own family treasures.

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    Entries in cookbook (9)


    Book Review: Finding Inspiration in "Sweet Home" Cooking

    I buy cookbooks for many reasons. The last reason I buy a cookbook is because I want to cook the recipes.

    First, I am attracted by an interesting title and cover, even better with a photograph. Next, I'm interested in the story line or theme. Is this a book about foreign cuisine with amusing travel anecdotes? Will I learn something about food customs or preparation technique?

    I buy cookbooks because a well-written recipe can be almost as satisfying as a slice of decadent death--by-chocolate cake (note: almost). We aren't a big dessert family, saving sweet treats for holidays and Sundays, but I love flipping though a cookbook and tasting the deliciousness of home-made goodness.

    I also buy cookbooks because they inspire me to try something new -- a new dish, a new technique, or maybe a new way to preserve my own recipes.

    Sweet Home: Over 100 Heritage Desserts and Ideas for Preserving Family Recipes is one of those cookbooks I bought because of the very last reason. More than just a collection of recipes or a coffee-table book of mouth-watering photographs, Sweet Home is filled with ideas for any family historian who has wondered about preserving old recipes or sharing memories of family meals. That I can't wait to try out most of the recipes is an added bonus.

    Who wouldn't love to taste

    • Cloudberry Krumkaker Cones
    • Mom's Banana Cake
    • Spiced Cider Doughnuts
    • Pumpkin Snack Bread
    • Dad's Chocolate Mudslide Cookies

    Author Rebecca Miller Ffrench grew up in a family of dessert lovers where evening dessert "was a sacred bonding time." She talks about the sad passing of weeknight desserts in most homes and reconnecting with the past through food. In the same way that Gena Philibert Ortega notes the importance of food and meals in family tradition (From the Family Kitchen), French writes about how recipes and cooking have always been a central part of family life.

    More Than Recipes

    Sweet Home is filled with more than recipes. The four chapters -- Preserving, Celebrating, Giving, Creating -- are anchored by dozens of ideas for preserving and sharing family recipes and favorite foods.

    Preserving focuses on recording food stories and memories and sharing favorites with tips from interviewing cooks to making an accordion fold recipe album.

    Celebrating showcases "10 Ways to Make Small Moments Big." I like the fun idea to make photo cake cards on a stick to use in decorating future birthday cakes! 

    Giving features ideas for personalizing food gifts in clever and unique packaging.

    Creating is for the family food historian in many of us with ten possibilities for Creating Your Own Food Story with activities, writing, and new traditions.

    As I read Sweet Home and enjoyed the beautiful photographs, I was inspired to think about how I could preserve my own family's food memories before they slip away. Some of the recipes reminded me of dishes I had forgotten or hadn't made in years. Sweet Home is a more than a cookbook, it's an inspiration for why we need to save family food memories and  a simple guide on how to get started.

    Sweet Home: Over 100 Heritage Desserts and Ideas for Preserving Family Recipes , by Rebecca Miller Ffrench (Maryland: Kyle Books, 2012). Available from


    Adding Context to a Family Keepsake

    Now that I've decided to reproduce my aunt's home economics notebook, I am looking for ways to make the book more interesting and uncover any other stories related to this little keepsake. My approach isn't strictly genealogical; it's more a blend of local and family history with a dose of literary criticism from my high school English Lit teacher past.

    My purpose is to add a "sense of place" to the notebook, not to overwhelm it with facts, figures, or history. I will probably need to select the most compelling information and save the other research for background. Here's my initial brainstorm list of possibilities; feel free to leave a comment if you can add to the list.

    I used MindNode for Mac (free) to brainstorm possible topics:

    I like using a mapping tool for brainstorming, but here it is in list format:

    Franny's Food Notebook

    Food Notebook

    • Part 1 Requirements
    • kitchen how-tos
    • 50's homemaking
    • food trends
    • Part 2 Personalized
    • recipes
    • clippings
    • comments

    Author: Frances Brown

    • age 13
    • family
    • parents Frank & Arline father working?
    • 1 sister Susie
    • home address frequent moves
    • friends

    Willard School

    • junior high
    • santa ana, ca
    • new school bldg 1931
    • home economics class semester or yr long?
    • teacher?
    • what was it like? girls only?


    • home ec
    • wartime
    • orange county

    With so many possibilities to make the story richer, it will be tough to choose the best. What have I missed?




    Lessons from the Archive: Finding Clues to Tell a Story


    Sometimes you have to do a bit of snooping on the way to sleuthing.

    By snooping, I mean that you just have to open your eyes to look at anything that comes along. Sleuthing seems to have a more defined goal and method, but snooping can pay off bigtime.

    My Sweet Aunt Frances saved a lot of stuff. The fact that her home contained only one tiny trashcan under the kitchen sink and an even smaller one in the bathroom are evidence that she didn't throw away much. She collected twisty-ties, rubber bands, and sugar packets, and crafted scratch paper from junk mail. Drawers were stuffed with old letters and cards, shirt boxes became repositories.

    Obviously, she was a saver. For the family historian and genealogist, that's all good news. People with the Saving Gene save most everything. If they saved paper clips, they probably saved photographs. If you need to tend to a Saver's home, you might be in the enviable position of curating a superabundance of stuff.

    My solution was to box it up, bring it home, and unwrap each box another time. So, when I have an extra few hours or especially miss Auntie I open a box and snoop around. I don't do any serious preservation of artifacts, scanning, or archiving, that comes next. For now, I just read old letters, look at picture, and leaf through books and journals.

    It might seem easy to separate the treasures from the trash, but it's not. Soon you come across the wedding guest book and wonder what to do with it. You get tired, and the old calendars and datebooks seem less important. The family photos are set aside to save, but what about the vacation albums and loose slides? Trash or treasure?

    A few weeks ago I came across Auntie's home economics notebook. It looked familiar because I was required to compile almost the same book when I was in high school home economics. Nothing changed very much. It was a school assignment, overall insignificant, but I set it aside and later decided it might be a fun project to create a reproduction copy. With budget cuts in California schools, home economics is becoming a dim memory. As I scanned the pages, I decided it would be even more interesting if I could add some kind of context to the book.

    Frances Louise Brown was 13 years old when she assembled the book. Her careful and beautiful penmanship testifies to a careful and good student. She carefully recorded the due dates for the book, noting extra credit points available for turning it in early. She included a Table of Contents and "My Half of Notebook" filled with recipes and clippings of foods, dishes, and products. I would say she was a bit of an overachiever!

    I learned all this from the notebook. To know more about teenage Franny, I had to go into my grandmother's photos and letters. Snooping led to sleuthing and now I am putting together the clues that tell the story of Franny's Foods Notebook.

    I'll be back with Part 2, and more photos to share.

    P.S. My inspiration for this project was planted by Denise Olson's eBook The Future of Memories. You are missing a treat, if you haven't read it yet.


    Black Friday Cooking

    It’s that time of year… while some families are watching football, shopping, or already trimming the tree, our is usually mixing up a batch of holiday LevNog that probably won’t last until the first day of Christmas.

    Our recipe came from a friend who made the mistake of gifting us with a glass snowman filled with the stuff. She probably got tired of refilling Frosty, and finally gave us the recipe.

    The recipe is traditionally brewed from dairy and distillery sometime during Thanksgiving weekend, and carefully stored in the basement for as long as you can stand it. About 24 hours. We give in to worries about food safety in Southern California and keep ours in the basement fridge. It is really cold in there.

    But things will be different this year. We are travelling in and around New York State and sampling the local specialties. Wonderful farm fresh eggs, delicious homemade bread, free-range fowl, this-season apples. Maybe we can find some nog somewhere to hold us until we get home and mix up our own.


    You Do Not Have to be Irish to Make Grand Corned Beef

    Every year my Irish friend hosts a huge bash in honor of this greenest of holidays and her very-Irish parents. Last year she cooked 15 corned beef roasts, and there wasn’t a speck of leftovers. We aren’t Irish (that I know of. . . yet), so our family ethnic celebration occurs in the Fall, in October to be exact. We host an Oktoberfest. This “divide-and-conquer” plan works pretty well. I’m around to help my Irish friend with her hoolie, and she helps out with ourfest.

    In case you are thinking of throwing your own party on March 17, here’s Mary Theresa’s traditional menu and recipe for The Best Corned Beef EVER! Our family contribution is a wicked-good Irish Coffee.



    Spinach Salad

    Glazed Corned Beef

    Irish Soda Bread


    Irish Coffee

    Bailey’s Ice Cream Torte


    Glazed Corned Beef

    1 large corned beef

    2 bottles beer of choice

    1 cup orange marmalade

    4 T Dijon mustard

    4 T brown sugar

    Place corned beef in slow cooker and add beer. Add boiling water to cover meat. Cover and cook on low 8 hours, or until very tender. OR cook in large pot on stovetop (or in 325 oven) about 3 hours at low simmer.  The meat should be firm, not falling apart, but the fork should go in fairly easily. Remove meat from liquid, cool, and trim all fat. Meat may be made ahead to this point.

    About one hour before serving, preheat oven to 350. Combine marmalade, mustard, and brown sugar in a small bowl. Place meat in baking dish and pour glaze over meat, coating all sides well. Bake in oven for about 20-30 minutes until glaze is crisp and brown. Slice and serve with colcannon and Irish Soda Bread.


    A Gift for You to Give Your Friends and Family, Merry Christmas Minestrone Soup Mix

    After years of cookie exchanges, jamfests, and baking extravaganzas, my friend Terry Jaurequi and I found a simple and delicious handmade gift for our friends and work colleagues. We get together to assemble an enormous batch of minestrone soup mix, which we then package for holiday delivery.

    Some years we have added a quick bread mix, or yummy crackers. Other times, we give the mix in a basket or tote bag with a  nice bottle of wine. We have found that our friends like the soup so well they start asking about it right after Thanksgiving.

    Since it is a little difficult to squeeze dried beans through the internet, here is a holiday gift to my genea-blogging friends -- the mix recipe and PDF package tag with cooking instructions ready for holiday gift-giving. Print the tag, assemble the mixes, and you are ready to go. It could be the ultimate re-gift! Stir up a batch of Merry Christmas Minestrone to cook while you make these gifts for your own friends, and enjoy. Bon Appetit!

    What You Need:

    • assorted dried beans, lentils, peas, etc. (1 1/2 cup per mix)
    • macaroni (1/2 cup per mix)
    • 2 sizes cellophane bags for packaging – small sucker size for macaroni, larger for mix
    • Merry Christmas Minestrone PDF cooking instructions to print and add to each mix

    A note on selecting beans – We try to use a nice variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. Nine pounds of beans will yield about 14 packages of mix. We like to use black beans, red kidney beans, small white beans, pink beans, green and yellow split peas, lentils, garbanzos, baby limas, pinto. We buy at least 1 pound bags.

    To Assemble:

    Find a huge pot. I use my canning kettle so there is plenty of room to mix things up. Dump in all the beans, peas, and legumes. Mix well using your hands.

    Use a glass 2-cup measuring cup to measure out about 1 1/2 cup of bean mixture and pour into the larger cello bag. A canning funnel is helpful for filling the bags. It’s also a good idea to set the bags in a roasting pan or some other container that will help them to stand upright.

    Pour 1/2 cup of macaroni to each of the smaller bags and fold the top over tightly. Staple closed if you like. Add the small bag of macaroni on top of the bean mixture in each bag.

    Fold the cooking instructions so that the name shows on the front with the recipe on the back and staple to the top of the bag. Add a ribbon or bow if you like; or place the bag inside a tote bag with colored tissue.

    Here is the recipe for each mix that is printed on the PDF, ready to cut and fold for your mixes.

    Merry Christmas Minestrone

    Cooking Instructions

    In addition to this mix, you will need

    7 cups water

    1 large can (28oz) ready-cut tomatoes, undrained

    1 small onion, chopped

    2 tsp. Italian seasoning

    4 cups assorted fresh vegetables, sliced

    1 can (8oz) tomato sauce

    1-2 cups water

    1 lb. cooked ground beef, Italian Sausage or chicken (optional)

    Put water in large pot and add bean portion of soup mix. Add 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer 1 to 1 ½ hours.

    Add canned tomatoes (undrained), onion, and Italian seasoning. Bring to a boil. Add vegetables, tomato sauce, additional water, and macaroni. Lower heat and cook until macaroni and vegetables are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Add meat if desired, and heat through.

    Makes 6 to 8 hearty servings.


    Free Slow Cooker Cookbook at the Kindle Store; Act Now, It May Not Last

    One of the nicest surprises about the Amazon Kindle project has been the steady release of titles priced at $0.00. Yep, that is FREE. In the past few months I have downloaded novels, sneak preview excerpts, nonfiction, and now a cookbook!

    Anyone who loves family history probably spends considerable holiday time at the family table. And from the interest in family cookbooks, heirloom recipes, and geneablogger cookbooks, I am probably not alone in looking for simple ways to get delicious meals on the table, especially during the holidays.

    Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker, Recipes for Entertaining by Julie Kaufman and Beth Hensberger was published in hardback and paperback in 2007, but it remains a popular 4-star reviewed slow cooker book. It is now available in Kindle format, which means that anyone with the Kindle for PC or Kindle for iPod Touch or iPhone app can read the book without additional hardware investment.

    I wondered how useful a cookbook would be in digital format and downloaded the book last night. Typically, these FREE titles don’t last long. I can only imagine that Amazon is testing the market publishing more cookbooks in Kindle format, or just trying to promote their e-reader device to the cooking market.

    As you might imagine, a cookbook doesn’t read exactly like a novel, even though they are one of my favorite bedtime genres. If a recipe is well-written I find that I can pretty well guess what it might taste like, and whether or not I want to make it. Of course, chocolate mousse on the page isn’t quite the same as the real thing, but it does save a lot of calories to stick to reading recipes rather than making them.

    Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker differs from many cookbooks because it has an extensive section on choosing and using a slow cooker, especially for entertaining. Because it is written in prose format (rather than recipe format), this section is easy to read on the Kindle. I have used a Crock Pot since its early days in the 70s, but still found some good ideas in this section. I especially liked the charts giving cooking times to convert conventional recipes to slow cooking. I think this section would be especially helpful for cooks just learning to use a slow cooker.

    Following this section, the book moves to more typical cookbook chapters on appetizers, hot drinks, vegetables and other sides, main dishes, and desserts. I found several dishes I would like to try soon, but realized I didn’t want to hand-copy the entire recipe to paper or use my Kindle reader in the kitchen.

    Here is my workaround – I opened the book in the Kindle for PC application, used Jing screen capture application to capture and save each page to my computer, then opened Word and pasted the images into a Word Doc. In Word, I could print the page to use for a grocery list and cooking. Granted, it isn’t as easy as flipping open a cookbook, but it works pretty well.


    I discovered that viewing the pages was even better on the Kindle for PC application than on the actual Kindle because the recipe displayed more like the actual book. This may change when my Kindle device receives the Amazon firmware update which will add features for adjustable margins.

    Easy cooking during the holidays is a Good Thing in my house. More time for research and for blogging!

    You can access the cookbook and application with these links --

    Kindle for PC Application (free) (Mac Version “coming soon”)

    Kindle for iPhone or iPod Touch (free)

    Kindle Wireless Reading Device (6  

    Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker, Recipes for Entertaining


    Preserving a Harvest of Cookbooks

    Today I have spent some time “putting up” my cookbook collection. Somehow, my lonely little shelf of bridal books has grown to fill more than twenty linear feet of bookshelves (yep, I just measured). That’s a lot of recipes!

    bjsSHOP I never thought much about this “collection” until last spring when I wandered into Bonnie Slotnik Cookbooks in Greenwich Village, New York City. I stepped into her cozy little shop filled to the brim with cookbooks and retro decorative cooking gear, and I felt like I had come home. Bonnie was scrunched into her corner desk chatting with a friend who had stopped by and they both stopped to welcome me.

    I was speechless as I looked around, but her response to my first question really made me stop and think.

    “I have a problem,” I confessed. “I have too many cookbooks.”

    The women looked at each other, then at me, “Why is that a problem?”

    And here I had been feeling pressured to down-size and whittle down my books. What freedom! It was the “Ah-ha” moment when the world shifts. Suddenly, I went from being the Owner of Too Many Cookbooks to rebirth as a Cookbook Collector. It was fabulous.

    Shifting gears to my new identify wasn’t hard at all. Bonnie queried me as to my interests – preserving, community cookbooks, Jello recipes, holidays – and helped me find a few new volumes to add to my Collection. As I browsed her shelves admiring the books and whimsical 60’s timers and gadgets, she told me that the set designers had come to her for props for the new film Julie and Julia. She was excited that she was able to purchase many of the set props when the filming was complete, hence the generous selection and great window display.

    I also noticed that her books were all carefully protected by clear book jackets, and made a note to put that task on my To Do List. When I came home, I ordered a package of assorted sized book jackets from Brodart Archival Supplies. The clear covers are easy to put on the books and provide support as well as protection for the paper dust jacket.

    My plans don’t include covering every book in my collection, but I am trying to preserve copies that are sentimental favorites or that have increased in value. No, I don’t have Julia Child’s first edition of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but I do have my mother-in-law’s gift to me at my bridal shower, Woman’s Glory, The Kitchen. If that’s not a keeper, I don’t know what is.


    A Holiday Tradition: Fire in the Kitchen!

    What is it about food and fire? Yes, fire gives us heat for succulent roasts and warm, fragrant bread. But it can do so much more. In our quest for deliciously unique sweet treat, our family's holiday meals often culminate with a Flaming Dessert.

    This tradition began over a decade ago when Crème Brulee was all the rage. Sure it's yummy, not too difficult to make, and (bonus) can be prepared ahead of time. We wanted drama, however, and decided to put the kids in charge of the presentation. They felt too old to give us a Christmas pageant, but the thought of using a blowtorch was acceptable.

    The formal Christmas Eve dinner was delicious, I am sure, although no one recalls the prime rib or Yorkshire pudding. What they all remember is the moment when 14-year-old Christian and 16-year-old Heather entered the dining room bearing a tray of custard desserts. Heather was dressed for the occasion in her dad's firefighting gear and thoughtfully carried a fire extinguisher. Christian pulled out his own dad's tool of the trade, a full-size construction blow torch.

    In less time than Santa could round up his reindeer, Christian ever so carefully, carmelized all 15 crème brulee desserts. Heather stood at the ready, but never needed to unlock her gear. The dessert was passed around, and received a round of applause. Success! Now, what about next year?


    Crème Brulee

    Serves 5

    2 cups whipping cream
    5 egg yolks
    ½ cup sugar
    1 tablespoon vanilla extract
    ½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
    Fresh raspberries and mint for garnish

    Combine first 4 ingredients, stirring with a wire whisk until sugar dissolves and mixture is smooth. Pour evenly into 5 (5x1-inch) round baking dishes; place dishes in a large roasting pan or a 15 x 11 x 1-inch jellyroll pan. Add hot water to a depth of ½-inch.

    Bake at 275 for 45 to 50 minutes or until almost set. Cool custards in water in pan on a wire rack. Remove from pan; cover and chill at least eight hours.

    Sprinkle about 1 ½ tablespoons brown sugar evenly over each custard; place custards on clean metal pan.

    Carmelize sugar with propane blow torch. Let stand a few minutes until sugar hardens. Garnish with fresh raspberries and sprigs of mint.

    Don't try this at home! The Family Curator accepts no responsibility for the actions described in this posting, and reminds the reader that fire is indeed very dangerous [see forthcoming post on "The Day Dede's Dress Caught Fire."]


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