Sunday, September 19, 2021

Sunday Brunch: Recipes from Past Generations + 5 Book #Giveaway

PEG COCHRAN:  Welcome to Mystery Lovers Kitchen’s Sunday Brunch.  Pull up a chair and help yourself to a cup of tea or coffee and some coffee cake, a scone or a blueberry muffin. 

Do you have treasured recipes that have been handed down from past generations?  My Italian grandmother was known for her delicious tomato sauce and my Hungarian grandmother made the best sauerbraten and paprikash.  Unfortunately, neither of them ever wrote anything down!  Nor did they measure—it was a handful of this, a pinch of that.  Sadly, those recipes are now lost.

I do have a number of recipes from my late husband’s family, many passed down from his grandmother and great-grandmother.  My mother-in-law made the most wonderful Christmas cookies and I have a faded sheet with her recipe collection printed on it.  She also made delicious stuffed cabbage and peppers and she always used the leftover Easter ham in bean soup, which I shared here.  

His aunt Ann worked miracles with dough.  I once watched her take a lump of dough and stretch it until it was as thin as a sheet of paper and as large as her dining room table.  I have her recipe for strawberry sponge cake and I shared it here. 

What recipes do you have that came from past generations?   

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LESLIE KARST: I am so glad you raised this question today, Peg, because it made me pull out my maternal grandmother’s ancient recipe book (made from an old ledger), in which she hand-wrote out recipes, as well as cut-and-pasted ones from the Saturday Evening Post and Good Housekeeping.

I laughed out loud when I came to her entry for “Yummy Balls” (uncooked rice made into meatballs with ground meat, then simmered in tomato soup)—which has been a joke in my family since my mother and aunt (after having consumed several Martinis) cooked the dish for all us grandkids on a camping trip back in the 1960s. But her recipe for cream puffs is one of my favorites from the book. Not only has she scribbled “never fails, best I ever found,” next to the entry, but it also says “High School,” which puts the date of the recipe at some 100 years ago. (I also love that she’s later gone back in and corrected her spelling with a red pen, lol.)

I’ve included a high-resolution photo of the page, so you can enlarge it if you want to read the cream puff recipe (as well as the one at the bottom for Black Hawk Mine pancakes, which my grandfather apparently liked).

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VICKI DELANY: What a perfect topic for this week. As it happens I have been given a battleship-sinking amount of tomatoes. My freezer died in the spring and I decided not to get another one. The conundrum now is: how much to I spend to use my free vegetables?  So I asked my Mom for her family-famous tomato chili recipe that she used to make every year.  She gave me them, plus her canning jars, canning pot, and spices.  I intend to start tomorrow.  This will be my first venture into canning.  Wish me luck. 


MADDIE DAY: Good luck, Vicki! My main handed-down recipes are for Christmas cookies. My mother made the recipes both my grandmothers did. Mexican Bridecakes, English Butter Cookies, Red Sugar Cookies, what we fondly called Squeeze-Out Cookies - done with the Spritz device - Refrigerator cookies (usually made in a red and green spiral) and more. 

These are the recipe cards I wrote out before I left home and which I clearly still use! I had to rewrite the Bridecakes recipe a few years ago - the card was in shreds.

I also make gingerbread people, but that recipe comes out of Mommy's old Joy of Cooking.

It isn't Christmas without homemade cookies, preferably cut, decorated with colored sugars, and baked with help from one or more family members or younger children.


MOLLY MACRAE: My sister Jenny gave us one of the best wedding presents possible - an accordion folder full of her favorite recipes. She included a nice variety, from dill dip to Yorkshire pudding to pork steak with apples to bananas foster, and of course plenty of desserts! One of our favorites through all these years (43!) is her recipe for English toffee. It's sensational! 

My sister Cammy gave me an old stationery box full of handwritten and clipped recipes from our grandmother. What a treasure trove! The recipes and clippings seem to date from WWI through the early 60s, and there are a lot of cucumber recipes and fish recipes. Can you read what's written on the small envelope? "Suggestions" Isn't that intriguing? What suggestions would you put in a small envelope for a later generation to find? 

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LESLIE BUDEWITZ: The recipe Maddie refers to as Mexican Bridecakes is also known as Mexican Wedding Cakes, Snowballs, Pecan Sandies, and Russian Teacakes--the name my mother used. I used her recipe in AS THE CHRISTMAS COOKIE CRUMBLES, my 5th Food Lovers' Village mystery (set to be reissued in November), where Erin uses her familiarity with the cookie to recognize a clue to the timing of her friend Melody's murder and ultimately identify the killer. Even though I hardly needed to test the recipe to include it in the book and here on the blog, I happily did! 

And I totally agree that Christmas cookies taste even better when the recipe is handed down. I lack the manual dexterity--or maybe just the patience--to make the Candy Cane Cookies she excelled at or the Berlinkranzer, tiny wreaths trimmed with cut pieces of red and green candied fruit, but her Date Pinwheels, Spritz, Bourbon Balls, and more live on. Some of her recipes came from the Better Homes & Gardens cookbook, but others came from family friends in her childhood, a pair of sisters who lived together and were always called the Frank Girls. Probably the family recipe we use most often is a classic Banana Bread studded with walnuts, which my father always called Amba Bread--which kid mispronounced it and gave him the idea, I have no clue!    

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MAYA CORRIGAN: Like Leslie and Maddie, I have a hand-me-down Mexican wedding cake/Russian tea cake recipe, which came from my mother-in-law. Both she and my mother wrote their recipes on 4 X 6 index cards. I've inherited those recipe cards, most of them for holiday dinners and cookies. Though I've combined them into one card box, I have no trouble figuring out which recipes belong to each of them because they had such different writing (and cooking) styles.

My mother's penmanship has the classic Palmer-method slant to it, with letters in a word all connected. My mother-in-law wrote with a backward slant and sometimes left spaces between the letters in a word. Now that cursive is no longer taught in schools, no one two generations from now will be able to decipher these recipes. Also, you can tell from the recipe cards that my mother wasn't a neat cook. Her most often used recipes have blots of different ingredients on them. The same is true of my recipes and the cookbook pages with recipes I consult frequently. 

Both moms were great cooks. The holidays at our house still feature the cookies we loved every year when spending the holidays with them: my mother's nutmeg flats (recipe shown above) and pecan tassies, and my mother-in-law's Mexican wedding cakes. She also made wonderful sand tarts, rolled thinner than I could ever roll dough, so I don't even try to make them. However, my son carries on that tradition.  

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LUCY BURDETTE: I have three boxes containing a hodgepodge of recipes from my grandmothers and father and mother-in-law, and I'm so glad you reminded me to look through them! My favorite (which I couldn't find for the photo) was a recipe for rat poison--filed right in with the other food items...

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MARY JANE MAFFINI: I love this topic and I see that I am not alone in using yellowed recipe cards from decades past and hand-written recipes from mothers, aunties and grandmothers. My mother-in-law was a fabulous and very competitive cook. Her VERY elusive pizza recipe took years to get. I shared the story of that triumph on my first guest post at Mystery Lovers Kitchen in 2010! The story and recipe are here in the post: Nonna's pizza  We also snagged her ravioli recipe and if you're very good I'll share that near Christmas.  Recipes from my husband's Zia Lina showed up in several of our Book Collector Mysteries. 

My mother was also a terrific cook and versions of her chocolate birthday cake, chicken in wine and thyme, meringues and many others including my Scottish grandmother's shortbread (updated with lavender) have also appeared here: Lavender shortbread.  Dozens of other recipes appear regularly at our table and have been passed to later generations. My mum's little books have disintegrated over time but one year for Mother's Day, my daughter, Victoria (who many of you know!) took a few pages and put them behind glass in frames.  It was wonderful to see Mum's handwriting on the wall in the cottage kitchen. 

I have enjoyed reading everyone's stories and look forward to all your family recipes tales in the comments. Thanks, Peg, for this topic!

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CLEO COYLE: Wonderful topic, Peg! I’ll just add that my late Aunt Mary’s recipe file (and family photos she left behind) are among my most treasured possessions. 

Delicious Italian cookies like these and these (and many other dishes) that I now make were inspired by my years of cooking with Aunt Mary—and eating her cooking, of course! She and my mother were born in Italy and lost their own mother while still young, which is why my aunt was more of a grandmother to me. 

On the other side of the family, the Fresh Garden Tomato Sauce I make (and blogged about here) was inspired by my dad, a dedicated gardener all his life, who helped his own father plant, raise, and harvest 2,000 tomato plants every year to help his family survive the Great Depression. Meanwhile, his mother (my grandmother Grazia) baked fresh bread every day in an outdoor oven. Another fantastic inspiration from a past generation that I will always treasure. ~ Cleo 

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What recipes do you have that
came from past generations?   


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join us in the comments.

Include your email address,
so we can contact the winner!

Comments Open through
Wednesday, September 22

>> A FATAL FOOTNOTE by Margaret Loudon

by Maddie Day

>> A MEASURE OF MURDER by Leslie Karst

by Molly MacRae

 >> BREWED AWAKENING by Cleo Coyle

Comments Open through
Wednesday, September 22



  1. What a fun page. Really enjoyed the history. And the recipes. We don't have many older recipes. So much was lost to natural disasters, like out running a flood. But I remember, back in the 50's, my Mom telling us about 'painting' cookies with her Grandmother at Christmas time. Frosting wasn't used. It was evaporated milk with vegetable food coloring mixed in. Her Grandmother told her Her Mom would 'paint' sugar cookies for her husband on the front lines during the war in the 1855 time frame. Still have the sugar cookie recipe that's been handed down. Tried to substitute shortening once. Decided I stick to butter.

    deepotter at centurylink dot net

    1. Ooooo...sugar cookies are the best! And the recipe my family has always used was handed down through my grandmother, as well. Love the story about "painting" them back in the 19th century!

  2. We have many. Holubchi, grandma's green beans, lots of casseroles, cookies, and candies. I love making old family favorites.

  3. We have recipes from my grandma.
    Kitten143 (at) Verizon (dot) net

  4. I have many recipes handed down to me. I framed some of them and hung them in my kitchen. I have a lemon bar recipe from my grandma.
    bmedrano34 at yahoo dot com

    1. Love that you framed the recipes and hung them in the kitchen!

  5. After the sudden death of our daughter, I needed something to occupy my time and brain. It was a few months until Christmas, so I decide to do something I had always wanted to do but never found the time to do - make a tried and true family recipe.

    I got out all the boxes of recipe cards and cookbooks used through the years by my Granny and Mom and with Mom's help figured out which ones qualified for my cookbook. Then the work started.

    The woman in my family like most from the past only used written recipes as a guideline to go off on. Most of Mom's dishes were as described her dabs of this or measured in one's hand. It was a matter of Mom making the dish with me standing there with her to measure what she had in her hand or how much a dab was. Then the next time, I would make the dish using my written recipe and have Mom check it for accuracy tweaking what needed until it pasted the Mom test.

    As with all cookbooks, I wanted mine to cover all categories from appetizers to desserts. Plus I made it with all the standard conversion charts added spice details and then included canning hints and old wife's tails passed down through the generations all in the miscellaneous section. There is a dedication page in the front of the book where I dedicated the cookbook in memory of our daughter. I typed it all up and printed everything out. Wanting it to last, the sheets were put in protective sleeves to protect it from finger marks or spells. My cookbook is in a large 3 ring binder and is about 2 1/2 inches thick when closed. I don't think it could hold any more. I made three copies - one for Mom so she could have all recipes in one book, one for hubby's Mom because I thought she would enjoy it and one copy for me.

    I do know that they have been used on a regular basis for all the years since the Christmas of 1988. At the time, I didn't realize that they would take on an extra reason to be special to me until some 20 years later when Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer. If I had waiting, so many details and recipes would have been lost forever. After Mom's passing, I gave her copy to my BFF who treasures it and now makes a lot of my families tried and true recipes too.

    The oldest passed down recipe that I make on a very regular bases is my Granny's Old Fashion Tea Cake Cookie recipe. It's one of hubby's favorites. Each time I make them they bring back sweet memories of both my Granny and my Mom as well as the great times when we shared the cookies together.

    My advice - don't put off getting your families tried and true recipes written down or you may wait to long. Your taste buds and your memories will thank you.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. I'm so sorry for your loss Kay. What a wonderful project you took on--I am sure it will be treasured for generations to come.

  6. Thanks for sharing your loved ones recipe legacies!

  7. thanks for sharing! thanks for the chance to win! amandasmother(at)aol(dot)com

  8. Past generations of my family didn’t measure anything so they never wrote down recipes.
    sgiden at verizon(.)net

  9. Thanks for sharing. cheetahthecat1986ATgmailDOTcom

  10. Loved reading about the family recipes . My maternal grandma and my dad were the big cooks in the family and I cherish their recipes. The ones I make most often are my Grandma’s stuffed peppers using bacon instead of ground beef, sweet spaghetti and my Dad’s jam cakes and loaf breads, potato candy and mincemeat hermits.

  11. Thanks for such a wonderful question and fun on this page as always!! Unfortunately my mother did not like to share any recipes. After repeated requests from myself, my husband and even my children, she wouldn’t share. On my husband’s side, his family has been very open and one recipe is always a hit. We are always asked to bring the dessert called Carmelitas. They’re amazing and have a yummy chocolate deliciousness that is hard to resist!! Thank you for this great opportunity to win so many great books!!

  12. What a delightful post this has been to read!!!

  13. Hot milk cake! One of the recipes that has been passed down many generations and I hope the love for it will continue for many more to come.

  14. I have recipes from my mom, my great aunt, ladies from our church, and I cherish all of them. A lot are handwritten with notes while some are in a cookbook of favorites. I love to pull them out for special meals. I also have made recipes that were shared by favorite authors. Love this group! 3labsmom(at)gmail(dot)com

  15. I love this post!!! I have recipes past down from both sets of grandmothers and my mother. How I treasure those hand written recipes! So special. Thanks for the chance!


  16. I have my grandmother's pound cake recipe and her cake pan. I also have several of my mom's recipes.

  17. I would of loved if my grandma liked to cook but she didn't so her sister got all of the recipes. Although there was one my grandma liked to make during the holidays and it was spritz cookies and she had the recipe memorized so she never wrote it down. I grew up in a foster home and of course even though I was the main cook starting at 6 there were no recipes given to me when they shut the foster home down. peggy clayton

  18. Wow! What a fun post to read! I was just going through some recipes the other day from my grandmother. My mom grew up on a farm, so she has many many recipes handed down to her from her mom and aunts. Many are from the 1920s! It is interesting to try and interpret some of the abbreviations lol.

  19. Great recollections!
    My parents loved to cook. When The Art of French Cooking came out they dove into it. All those cream sauces ended up getting our dog put on a diet! We faired better and suffered not at all!
    I started cooking, at least this is my memory, as soon as I could see the top of the stove. I have a vague recollection of a veal roast with some sort of coffee in the coating. I made it for my parent's least that's what I remember. Memories are tricky things.
    libbydodd at comcast dot net

  20. What fun to see your treasured recipes on cards and notes that look just like the ones I have. I have some from my grandmother and so many from my mom. I obviously got the recipe collecting gene from her. I have her old spiral notebooks with handwritten (Palmer-style!) recipes and newspaper and magazine clippings taped in, folders of clippings and of course the index cards, both 3x5 and 4x6. I still make goulash, BBQ spareribs, stuffed peppers. The spaghetti sauce is a hit and claimed by my aunt to be stolen from her by my mother. My grandmother made an amazing applesauce cake we love. The Toscanno Style Pizza is a weekly menu item and has been my entire marriage (52 years), found in the Chicago Tribune by another aunt. I've been making it since I was 9 ;-). Has anyone else noticed that while these old recipes may have ingredient amounts, the directions are often more like mix it, cook or bake it, eat it.

  21. Unfortunately, I do not have any recipes from my grandmother or mom. I have collected my own recipes that I hope to pass down to my children. It mostly food, but not desserts. 😘

  22. I have my maternal grandmother's 1930's Delimiter cookbook, a church cookbook that included a batch of recipes from my paternal grandmother, and my mom's whole cookbook collection, stuffed with recipes on scraps of paper. And I'm happy to report that our schools are still teaching cursive.

  23. My grandmother lived with us for 7 years. She was a very talented and creative cook and baker but everything was from her memory and she just did it with ease. I have no recipes since she didn't have to write nor record anything. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

  24. OMG, Lucy, there's a recipe for rat poison (arsenic and something else...) in my grandmother's recipe book, as well! Ha!

  25. What wonderful memories! Loving hearing from all of you.

  26. All of my cooking and recipes are handed down from my mother but since times have changed I modify them in order to incorporate new flavors. elliotbencan(at)hotmail(dot)com

  27. I have a few of my Grandma's recipes that I love. Broccoli and corn casserole and the best oatmeal walnut cookies I've ever had. The only problem is that she didn't write very specific instructions, over the years I've perfected them though.

  28. My grandmother's Mac and cheese

  29. I was compiling a recipe book for one of my son’s for Christmas and my aunt sent some of my grandmother’s recipes up. She sent one that was written in shorthand and wanted my other son the chef to make it. He got it mostly deciphered and made it…never challenge him!! I still make her macaroni and cheese.

    1. My daughter's fiance's aunt is putting together a notebook of his grandmother's recipe for both of them. They love to cook together.

  30. I love history and reading about the recipes from your family generation is fun. I don't have one that's been passed down. My mom has hers from her grandmother that she wrote down but most of them is seasoning by taste and smell. I could never learn that I have to have a recipe to follow. My mom said all her family and my dad's all cooked by taste and smell so more has-been lost than wwritten.

  31. We have my great great grandmothers blue ribbon Mexican wedding cake recipe. They are divine.

    I thoroughly enjoyed this post and it got me thinking about how I didn’t appreciate all the recipes passed down until
    I married my husband. He is the chef in the family and uses them regularly. I am thankful for that and the ability we have to pass them on to our children along with them
    Memories we make with them when in the kitchen. Absolutely priceless.

    Jessica Lancaster