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Capturing Your Family's Food Memories

FoodMemories

I just finished reading actor Stanley Tuccis’ new book Taste - My Life Through Food. In it, he recounts his life and the role food played from his childhood to his young adult years, his marriages and children, to his most recent bout with cancer. It’s more than an autobiography, it is peppered with recipes that he fondly recalls. Readers are privy to simple recipes like his father’s Pasta con Aglio e Oilio (pasta with garlic and olive oil) and Tomato Salad to the more complex Timpano, a special Christmas recipe in the Tucci family.

Reading this memoir is like sitting down with Stanley Tucci and talking, eating, and laughing. He comes across as a “real person” and not a celebrity. His love for Italian food is infectious. I devoured the book in one day.

TucciFood-2

But this isn’t a book review.

As I read and enjoyed this book I thought about what a great family history book it was and how we  should all consider writing something similar. So often it’s difficult to write a family history because you may not feel like you’re a writer and it can seem like an overwhelming task. But you can write about memories of food! You start with your memories and what you know. Those memories might encompass several generations (in my case I knew one of my paternal great-grandmothers, a cook, very well). You can start with documenting your family (you, parents, grandparents, etc) and your food history. Possible writing prompts include:

  • What was a special occasion at your house and what did you eat? 
  • What foods did you eat for the holidays (Thanksgiving, Easter, etc)?
  • What did you eat for birthdays?
  • What did your parents or grandparents serve when you were sick?
  • What was an after-school snack when you were young?
  • What foods did you eat at your grandparents and how was that different than what you ate at home?
  • Did anyone in your family have a garden? What did they grow? How did they use that food?
  • Did your family hunt or fish? What recipes were cooked to incorporate that food?
  • What are foods that come from your ethnic/heritage background?
  • Where did you buy food? 
  • What food was considered a treat?
  • What rules did your family have around eating (clean plate, have to try everything, etc)?
  • What did you eat for school lunches?
  • What’s the “weirdest” food your family ate?

You get the picture. From those questions you can write up short stories, maybe just a page or two long. You can add recipes when appropriate and even images of you cooking those recipes, or photos of your family cooking, in the kitchen, at the table, etc. This isn't a cookbook, this is a family food history featuring a handful of recipes.

Tucci’s food memoir isn’t just about him. He introduces us to his parents, siblings, grandparents, and extended family. He then discusses his friends, wives, children and stepchildren. It’s not the story of one man’s obsession with food (although, that’s part of it) it’s the story of ancestry, a homeland, family past and present, and his memories of them. He writes of his mom:

"Food, its preparation, serving, and ingesting, was the primary activity and the main topic of conversation in my household growing up. My mother insists that she was capable of little more than boiling water when she married my father. If this is true, she has more than made up for this shortcoming over the last century. I can honestly say that on the four-burner electric stove she used throughout my childhood and on the gas hob that replaced it many years later, she has never cooked a bad meal. Not once. The focus of her cooking is Italian, pimply recipes from her family or my father’s family.” [1]

Genealogy can be an act of gathering solely names and dates to make generational connections. But a family history narrative that includes memories of food is appealing to family members who are not interested in genealogy.

Thanksgiving is approaching in the United States, but no matter wherever you are, this is a great time to ask your family about their food memories, swap recipes, and document you family’s food history. 

What precious memories will your family food memoir recount?

 

Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.

 

 

[1] Tucci, Stanley. Taste. My Life Through Food (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2021) p. 12-13.

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