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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 cooking (8)


    R.I.P. Family Recipe Cards

    Are Family Recipe Cards
    Becoming Orphan Heirlooms?


    Stop by any estate sale and you will likely find a stash of stained and smudged handwritten recipe cards once carefully written and exchanged between cooks.

    In my own family, I've found loose cards crammed in kitchen drawers and tucked between pages of cookbooks, but we weren't big on maintaining a tidy little box of three-by-fives. My harvest gold recipe box (a wedding shower gift) met an early demise when left at the back of our old range -- it melted into a disfigured blob. I rescued the cards and threw them in a drawer.

    I could never find enough room to write an entire recipe on those tiny cards, so I graduated to full size sheets of 8 1/2 x 11 paper and left the cards in the drawer. I've tried, but I can't throw those cards away.

    I've never made Rhubarb Freezer Jam and probably never will. But every time I see that card with a big grease stain it reminds me of the three years we lived in Moscow, Idaho and all the nice women I met who shared recipes and advice with a young newlywed from Southern California.

    Recipe card nostalgia might be the salvation for the family heirloom. An article in Slate highlights the emotional value of old cookbooks and "family traditions rendered in 3-by-5-inch index cards." The author shared my pain. When her great-grandmother died, all she wanted from her possessions was her old recipe file.

    Was is it about those little cards that carry even more sentiment than a well-loved cookbook? Maybe it's the handwriting, beautiful flowing cursive growing shaky over time. Maybe it's the food stains and notes that create a kind of living history of the recipe. Maybe it's just knowing that someone you love held that card, wrote those words, and kept it just for you.

    Technology has made it so convenient to keep our recipes on ever-handy tools like Evernote or printed and organized in tidy binders that we might be tempted to throw those cards in the trash.

    Or not.

    A surprising number of cooks are turning back the clock determined that their children will inherit their own set of stained, dog-eared, marked family recipe cards. I was surprised to see a ripple here, here, and here from modern cooks determined to keep three-by-fives alive.

    It's inspired me to dig out those cards one more time; what about you?

    You might also enjoy --

    3 Recipes for Preserving Family Recipe Cards


    3 Recipes for Preserving Family Recipe Cards


    You don't need any special equipment to preserve your heritage recipe cards, although I usually want to pull out the canning jars when I start reading old recipes. Preserving a collection of family recipe cards is similar to preserving any paper document: use archival quality materials and store in a clean, temperate environment.

    Choose a storage container that suits your purpose and budget. If you want to use the cards in your everyday cooking, select a storage method that will protect the cards but allow them to be viewed. If your main goal is to preserve the cards, plan to scan and place in archival boxes with your other family documents.

    Standard recipe cards are typically 3 x 5-inch or 4 x 6-inch file cards made of medium weight card stock. The paper itself is moderately acidic; not as unstable as newsprint, but not as long-lasting as 100% rag paper. Test the pH content of your cards with an inexpensive pH testing pen (available at scrapbook and art supply stores). If a swipe of the pen shows yellow ink, the card is highly acidic and you will want to give it extra care.

    Use archival quality plastic protectors that have passed the Photographic Activity Test (P.A.T.) to store cards individually, or in a three-ring binder page. Look for archival sleeves and pocket page protectors at a photo supply shop or office supply store. Avery brand sheet protectors Avery Horizontal Photo Pages, Acid Free, 4 x 6 Inches, Pack of 10 (13406)  made of polypropylene are an economical option.

    Here are three easy recipes for preserving those family treasures:

    Filebox Delight

    1 standard metal or archival filebox (size for your cards)
    1 set file card dividers 
    archival plastic card protectors

    When selecting a storage box for your recipe cards avoid wood (which is highly acidic) or cardboard. Instead, choose a metal or archival box. Keep cards standing upright in the box to avoid bending and curling; use a cardboard support at the back of the box if needed.

    Place each recipe in a protective plastic sleeve and file in your file box of choice. If you want to use file card dividers, use standard dividers or archival quality cut from acid-fee card stock.

    If you plan to store the recipe cards in your family archive instead of your kitchen, skip the plastic sleeves and card dividers but do place the cards firmly upright in an archival file box.

    Cookbook Casserole

    1 3-ring binder
    1 set page dividers
    archival plastic photo-insert pages

    You may not want to invest in an archival binder and page dividers, but acid-free plastic pages will give a good first-defense for your family recipe cards. Arrange the cards on each page and keep them clean and available in a 3-ring notebook.

    Photobook Smorgasbord

    1 archival photobook

    A family recipe album is probably the fastest solution for storing your heirloom recipe cards. Some books feature a space to make notes about pictures; adapt this to record special comments about the recipe or cook.

    Use a book sized for 4 x 6-inch size photos and you will be able to accommodate more than one size recipe card. Look for a book that will allow you to see both sides of the cards.

    Bon Appetit!


    Preserving Old Cookbooks

    Do you collect old cookbooks, vintage Jell-O brochures, or comb-bound community cookbooks? I do. My kitchen shelves are filled with books instead of trendy decorative objects, but I like it that way. It feels a bit like a library that allows food and drink.

    (You can read about my cookbook collecting in this post. And if you like cookbooks and heritage recipes, you might like to read my review of Gena Philibert Ortega's new book From the Family Kitchen, too).

    The only problem (well, not really a problem) with old cookbooks in the kitchen is that they are handled more often than books stashed away in archival boxes in a closet. I like to read and use my old cookbooks, but I also want to protect them from the usual "environmental hazards" like dust, etc. in the kitchen. I've been collecting old cookbooks for decades, and some were costly, so I want to protect my investment too.

    How to Store Old Cookbooks

    1. Look for cooking clues. The first thing I do when I bring home a new old cookbook is to examine the book for loose paper scraps and any items that may have been left between the pages. If they are damaging the page I remove the item or enclose it in rag paper and leave it where it was. I throw away any paper clips or metal.

    Cooks often use whatever is at hand to mark a recipe in a book, and I like to see what pages other people might have found interesting. I also look for food stains, comments, and corrections that might indicate the popularity (or not) of a recipe.

    2. Protect the cover. Next, I cover the book with an archival book cover. I first ordered an assortment of various sizes, 35 Brodart Just-A-Fold III Archival Book Covers - Sampler Pack , and have since purchased more covers in the sizes I use most often. I like the way the clear mylar covers keep the paper dust jackets clean and protect them from rips and tears. I also cover books that have lost their jackets to keep the cover clean.

    3. Add to my catalog. I like to know what books I have in my cookbook collection so I can fill in the gaps with new treasures. I've used everything from a spreadsheet to a simple book collection database to list titles and subjects, but I'm now working on moving my catalog to an App I can view on my iPad and iPhone. After years of general cookbook collecting, I'm finding it's even more fun to build up a special niche of old cookbooks.

    4. Find a place on the shelf. Books are best stored upright on a shelf with other books of about the same size. They should be supported by books (or bookends) on either side so they don't slump, slant, or lean and cause the binding to become stressed and bent. Avoid cramming so many books on the shelf that they are tight and difficult to remove. The spine of old books is often loose and weak, so it's best to pull out a single volume by pushing back the books on either side until you can grasp the book by both front and back covers and then remove it from the shelf.

    My kitchen bookshelves are located over a small built-in desk and away from direct sunlight, an important consideration for minimizing fading and light damage. Although I wouldn't store my collection in a smoking zone, I'm not so conscientious about cooking odors. I burn the occasional piece of toast or over-crisp the bacon, but I figure my kitchen exhaust fan takes care of the bulk of the fumes.

    I do have a few very special cookbooks that I keep on my living room shelves where they are better protected from light, odors, and handling. And, my small collection of Jell-O recipe pamphlets is housed in a suitably-sized archival box on the kitchen bookshelf. You never know when you might need a spectacular Jell-O recipe!

    For more information on caring for old books see the Northeast Document Conservation Center:

    NEDCC Preservation Leaflet 7.2 Surface Cleaning of Paper (including book pages).

    NEDCC Preservation Leaflet 4.1 Storage Methods and Handling Practices (including books)


    Book Review: From the Family Kitchen Offers Food for Thought; Win a Free Copy



    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
    dash salt

    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. 

    All you have to do to enter the giveaway is leave a comment after the review or Like the review on the Facebook post (one entry per name, please). I will include names from both places and one name will be randomly selected to win the book. Your name will stay in the hopper from week to week, so you will have more chances to win in the weeks to follow. The winner will be announced the following week on Facebook and on The Family Curator so you can send me your name and address to receive the book.

    If you've read the featured book, please add your thoughts or other recommendations.


    Turn the Page for The Family Curator's Summer Book Review Series

    It's Official -- Summer is Here!

    Children reading 1940

    Do you remember the public library summer reading club? For a nerdy girl who loved to read, it was the best part of summer vacation. My biggest problem was the ten book limit on how many books could be checked out at one time. Ten books is hardly enough when you are whipping through the Bobbsey Twins, Cherry Ames, and Nancy Drew series.

    This summer, The Family Curator blog is trying something new: weekly reviews to lure you off to the chaise, the hammock, or the beach blanket with a good book, many with a genealogical or family history twist.

    Weekly Book Review

    Every Wednesday, I'll be posting a short book review and often hosting a free book giveaway, beginning today, the First Day of Summer Wednesday 20 June, and running through the month of August.

    Win a Free Book

    All you have to do to enter the giveaway is either leave a comment after the review or Like the review on the Facebook post (one entry per name, please). I will pull names from both places and one name will be randomly selected to win the book.

    Your name will stay in the hopper from week to week, so you will have more chances to win in the weeks to follow. The winner will be announced on Facebook and on The Family Curator so you can send me your name and address to receive the book.

    If you've read the featured book, please add your thoughts or other recommendations.

    First Featured Book: From the Family Kitchen

    Gena Philibert-Ortega's new book on discovering your family food heritage will be the featured review, posting later today. Stay tuned!

    Image: Russell Lee [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


    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.


    COG Food for Thought: The Day Herman Came to Visit

    COG108 Food

    Mom had a reputation as a very good cook, but she also had a strange fondness for bizarre and offbeat recipes. Actually, more like weird recipes that tasted good. She was the first Mom I knew to wink and serve the fad dessert, "Better Than Sex Cake." I was too young to know if that was true, but the cake was delicious.

    I especially remember a cooking fever for all things made with a fermented starter. Regular sourdough starter was too tame, and Mom soon graduated to something called the Herman Cake. This was a sweet dough mixture that bubbled and burped in a glass jar, growing gray and slimey as it grew in power. The recipes were clipped from newspaper columns and carefully copied to little decorated index cards to be traded with other church ladies.

    Herman Cake was one of those miracle foods that could expand Biblically to feed multitudes of starving people. The only problem was that after the meal, Herman didn't know when to go home. He continued to hang around in the refrigerator, demanding attention every few days. If neglected, his open face started to form a dry crust, and the bulk of his body started to separate into a watery sludge and a grainy brine. Opening the Frigidaire door to grab a glass of milk became a game. Don't look, don't look. Pretend Herman isn't there begging for milk, sugar, flour, stirring.

    Herman's greatest virtue was his downfall. The sweet sourdough base could be used to make almost any kind of bread or cake -- pancakes, waffles, rolls, bread, apple coffee cake, cookies, even Devil's Food Cake and Upside-Down Cake. All you needed was Herman, and ten days. Never mind that everything tasted uniquely, well, like Herman.

    Herman was a demanding guest with strict dietary regulations. On the day Herman arrived, he needed to be fed 1 cup flour, 1 cup milk and 1/2 cup sugar. Five days later, he had to be fed again. Finally, on the tenth day, one cup of the mixture was removed for baking, and the remainder reserved to grow. It was an endless cycle. After two or three rounds of feeding, baking, feeding, Mom would remove the extra cup of batter and pass it on with a recipe and a smile, "Here's Herman. What fun." But, at home, in the Frigidaire, Herman lurked behind the pickles and milk, a reminder of parental responsibility, "Don't forget to feed Herman." "Oops, how many days has it been since we fed Herman?"

    Mom's original recipe for Herman Cake is a typed version with handwritten reminders.

    6/22 Tues. Feed Herman
    Thur  Feed
    6/26 Sat 5th Day! Feed

    Typically, Mom seems to have added an interim feeding every-other day. She never could stand to see anyone hungry. Or maybe, she just wanted to speed things along and have more wonderful Herman starter to share with her friends.

    Eventually, Herman outgrew his welcome, and moved on to other refrigerators. I thought he was a relic of the past until almost twenty years later when I was married and the mother of two always-hungry sons. I wondered, What ever happened to Herman? Mom still had the recipe, but the directions only covered care and feeding, not how to create the spark of life that was Herman.

    Twenty years must be some kind of life-cycle for food fads and recipes. Suddenly, in 1982 Herman was splashed across the newspaper food section, "Sweet Herman's Fans Growing and Growing." Herman was back with not only one original starter recipe, but three versions: one to create a five-day starter and two for ten-day mixes. It was Herman Heaven.

    Excited to recreate this memory from my childhood, I dutifully stirred together flour, sugar, milk, and yeast. As promised, and as remembered, the soft mass came to life, bubbling, burping, and and growing. We ate Herman pancakes, Herman Cake, Herman bread. And then, one day, Herman was pushed to the back of the sleek double door fridge and lost behind the orange juice and olives. By the time an unpleasant and unnatural odor led to the discovery of his jar, it was too late for Herman. May he Rest In Peace.

    HermanCake001 web





    Feeling Adventurous? Mom's Recipe for Fish Eye Salad

    If you looking for the recipe for Fish Eye Salad, look no further. It's here! My blogging platform offers nicely organized statistics and search engine queries to show what kinds of web searches bring folks here, but this one was truly a surprise, especially since I'd forgotten all about Mom's promise to share this dish.

    Sweet fruit salads have always been a hallmark of our family gatherings, so I shouldn't have been surprised when Mom came up with a variation on the theme. Instead of the usual jello with cottage cheese and fruit, however, Mom contributed Fish Eye Salad, made with teeny-mini pasta, whipped topping, and pineapple. Some people have mistaken the pasta for tapioca, but the little round pasta holds the sauce and adds a certain substance to the dish.

    Mom must have known the recipe by heart because I couldn't find it with her other favorites. Fortunately, my sister had a copy, and even adds that it is really a good summer salad for a buffet. Maybe it will be a new favorite at  your house too!

    Suzanne's Fish Eye Salad

    1-1/3 cup "Acini di pepe" pasta – uncooked
    20 oz. pineapple tidbits – drain saving 1/4 cup of the juice
    1-3/4 cup milk
    1/4 cup sugar
    1 sm pkg instant vanilla pudding
    8 oz. can crushed pineapple – drained
    22 oz. mandarin oranges – drained
    2 cup cool whip
    3 cup mini marshmellows
    1/2 cup flaked coconut

    Cook pasta 11 minutes.  Rinse with cold water & drain.
    Beat together milk, sugar, pudding and jthe reserved 1/4 cup of pineapple juice for 2 minutes.
    Add & mix all remaining ingredients together.
    Cover & refrigerate at least 5 hours


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