This post was originally published on The Lunch Tray on April 9, 2012.
My paternal grandmother passed away yesterday. She was 96, a truly remarkable woman, and I was lucky to have had her in my life for so long.
My cousin was with my grandmother shortly before her death and told me that, amidst recounting snippets of her past (sometimes in Ladino, the Hebreo-Spanish spoken by Sephardic Jews and the language of her childhood), she also fretted about cooking. She worried aloud over who was going to soak the beans for a Sephardic dish that all of us, her children and grandchildren, grew up eating: “fijones,” the Castillian Spanish version of “frijoles,” or beans.
It was interesting to me that even in those last hours she was thinking about preparing a meal – maybe a reflection of the centrality of food and cooking to women of her generation, and to all of us, even now, who are responsible for nourishing loved ones on a regular basis.
Hearing this story reminded me of the family cookbook project I told you about in December 2010 (“Preserving My Kids’ Culinary Heritage“). You might recall that I’d been sifting through a recipe box from my maternal grandmother (who passed away in the 90s), and decided to compile those recipes, along with those of the other women on that side of the family, into a keepsake book for all of their descendants.
Well, in the end, it took me over a year to finish the project, not because it was so time-consuming but because it was harder than expected to find uninterrupted blocks of time to work on it. But I finally did finish it last month and realized yesterday that I never showed you the results as I’d promised to.
Here are a few photos just to give you an idea of what it looks like:
In the end, the recipes in the book were almost superfluous. What made it such a meaningful project to work on (and, hopefully, a meaningful keepsake for the recipients) was the wealth of memories each contributor shared. In the end I wound up devoting the first half the book just to those narratives, and the other half to the recipes. I learned so much about my mother’s heritage — culinary and otherwise — and was drawn closer to family members whom I didn’t know very well before I started.
If anyone is interested in taking on a similar project for their family, I did a fair amount of research on the various book publishing websites, including those which specialize in cookbooks. (In the end, I chose Blurb, a site for self-publishing all kinds of books, for the formatting flexibility it offered.) Feel free to contact me and I’ll be happy to share what I learned.
Before signing off, here’s a picture of my paternal grandmother, looking stylish in the 1960s. She’ll be sorely missed.
Bettina Elias Siegel is a former lawyer, freelance magazine writer and the parent of two children in Houston public schools. She blogs daily about “kids and food, in school and out” on The Lunch Tray, which has been recognized by Rachel Ray’s Yum-O! Foundation and as a Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution “Blog of the Month.” She is also actively involved in efforts to improve school food in her own district and reports specifically on Houston ISD school food news on her new blog, The Spork Report.