Family Recipes: Keeping the Memories Alive

I never knew my husband’s grandmother.  I never knew her like he did because by the time we started dating, Grandma N. was in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s. I only knew the shell that remained of this wonderful woman after the disease had robbed her of most of her memory.  What I do have though is what was so special about her and one of the things that my husband and his family remembers most fondly of her, her recipes.

Years after Grandma N passed away, Grandpa N. decided to go into an assisted living center.  My husband helped clean out his home in preparation for it’s sale.  My husband asked me if I might want anything.  The first thing that came to mind was Grandma’s recipes.  I had heard the stories of her talents in the kitchen.  My husband spoke of Grandma N’s skill at making homemade tortellini, raviolis, gnocchi and other specialties that were taught to her by her Italian -born  mom. When he came home with a black binder overflowing with her handwritten recipes, you would have thought I had hit the mother lode!  Gold, pure gold!

Smells and aromas trigger some of our deepest memories.   This is why we feel a deep stirring when we enjoy those comfort foods from our childhood.  Mine are the browned pot roast, potatoes and carrots my Great Gram made and my husband’s brother raves on every time my mother-in-law makes Italian cookies like her mom (Grandma N. ) taught her.  Whatever they are, those recipes aren’t just pieces of papers.  They are part of your past, part of YOUR memories, keys to unlocking some of our deepest and more fond moments in childhood (or adulthood for that matter).

My mom gave me the gift of both my maternal and paternal grandmother’s most loved recipes.  Many I learned from cooking with them, but a few like my great memere’s (grandmother in French) creto  recipe (a French Canadian meat spread-oh so good on thick toast or crackers) were lost to me until my mom got her recipe from one of her aunts.  I couldn’t wait to make my first batch.  The moment I bit into the first bite, I was brought back to my great memere’s house with the 50’s blue tile, the steep steps into the upper bedrooms, and the game that had the popper that I always played while I was at her home.  Oh, the memories!

So first I say to you, write down those recipes that mean so much to your family.  Give them as a gift to your children.  Perhaps in a nice scrapbook form, but if you aren’t that motivated or gifted (I speak from experience here!) then simply writing them down in your own writing and placing them in acid free, clear protective pockets will still mean a lot when you’re gone.  After you’ve written down your recipes, search out and save the older family recipes and do the same thing.  Perhaps your children won’t appreciate what you’ve given them until you’re gone, hopefully they will before then and you can get THEM to make your favorites for you!

As for Grandma N’s recipes?  Well, this past Christmas was our first Christmas without Grandpa N.  He passed away in April of 2006.  All three of his children were together at Christmas so I decided to make one of Grandma’s recipes.  I picked out the Ricotta Cake recipe.  As all of the “kids” (all adults) enjoyed the ricotta cake, they talked about how they remembered the flavor of the cake from childhood.  Thinking of their childhood brought us to talking about Grandma and Grandpa N. and the time they all spent on Grandma’s apron strings watching her make homemade tortellini and other classic Italian dishes.  I think that the cake and the resurrection of those great memories was one of the best gifts I ever gave or received.

Grandma N’s Ricotta Cake Recipe

4 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 TBS water
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit

Separate the egg yolks from the white-keep both.  Beat the egg whites and baking powder together until stiff.  In another bowl, beat the yolks and add the sugar a bit at a time until thick.  Add water and vanilla to the egg yolk mixture and mix to blend.  Fold the flour into the yolk mixture.  Fold the yolk/flour mixture into the beaten egg whites.  Place mixture into two ungreased 9” cake pans.  Bake for 20-25 minutes.  Turn pans upside down immediately after baking and allow cakes to cool.

While the cakes bake, make the filling:

1 lb of WHOLE milk ricotta cheese (whole milk ricotta is much thicker, otherwise your filling will be runny)
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
3 TBS of white crème de cocoa (optional but VERY good! )

Beat all of these ingredients together and keep cold.

Once cakes are cool, cut each one to create two more layers.  You’ll have 4 layers total.  To assemble, place your first layer down on your cake plate.  Spread with the ricotta mix and then place another cake layer.  Continue with more ricotta and layers, ending with a cake layer on top.  Sprinkle with confectioner sugar to finish.

The cake has an angel food texture and the filling is not overly sweet.  A relatively light end to a special evening.

Tammy Paquin is a work from home mom of 3 boys.  She is the publisher of <a href=””>Frugal-Families</a>, a site devoted to frugality, budgeting, simple and thrifty living, homesteading and helping everyone stretch their hard-earned dollars. For another one of Grandma N’s classic Italian recipes visit, <a href=””>

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About Tammy Paquin

Tammy Paquin is a work from home mom of 3 boys and wife to a great guy and the owner and publisher of Frugal-Families, a website devoted to frugality, budgeting, simple living, homesteading and helping everyone, families and singles alike, stretch their hard-earned dollars. She and her family live in New England and love hiking, camping, kayaking and gardening.

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