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|Our mother's recipes were a celebration of life.
Our lives, our families, our very history's are defined by the foods we
eat. Recipes are passed on from mother to child and the knowledge
of foodstuffs handed down through generations, of delicious edible
fares, bind our families and even our nation together as one.
And with that I give you...........
Food and Genealogy
By Robin L. Wallace
The Fourth of July is coming, and I guess I must be spoiled. When I was growing up the
time between the Fourth of July and Labor Day signaled the height of their reunion
season. My Grandmother Irwin was an inveterate attender of family reunions, church
picnics, or celebrations there were sponsored by the civic organizations that she belonged
to. And as you've read on other parts of this site, while she was alive her husband's family
reunion was always a big event to be attended in something which I looked forward to well
into my teens.
Unlike other people, my family situation tends to be a little bit odd. My mom's real mother
and father were dead by the time she was nine years of age, so as a result, she and her
brothers and sisters who were young enough were separated by the county's child welfare
system and placed in foster care. I never knew either my Grandmother or Grandfather
Smith, her parents. As the family history goes, Grandmother Smith was too sick to care
for her children (depending on who you listen to, there were between 11 and 13 children
in total). When she could no longer care for them, she surrendered them to foster care,
but because of the size of her brood, they could not be placed all-in-one home.
I will not go into the horrid details here, but suffice it to say that due to my mother's is
family's beginning in life, I grew up in a family where there were relatives who I'd never
gotten to know. By the time my mother was nine years old, she was lucky enough that
she was being raised by my Grandmother Irwin, who also had enough room to take in her
and her younger sister, and for a short time an older sister. Knowing my mother's family,
the fact that her older sister had to be re-housed in the nearby city was not a fault of my
Grandmother Irwin . The older half of her brothers and sisters were just too used to living
in an urban setting and could not survive the farm life that my grandmother and some of
the other foster families afforded.
In spite of this beginning, my Grandmother Irwin did her best to be a mother to the
children she fostered. In her lifetime, I am told she opened her home to 23 children who
otherwise might not have had any kind of stability in their lives. Of all the foster children it
was just my mother, and later my mother and father after they had married, who stayed
around to care for my grandparents when they needed it. Due to oddities in the State
foster system, not to mention a scheme on the part of a pair of my mother's older
siblings to hide the death of my Grandmother Smith by moving her to another state.
When she finally passed away the State of New York was not aware of this and therefore,
could not legally put up those siblings left in foster care for adoption. I know that if given
the chance, Grandma Irwin would have adopted my mother and her younger sister in a
While my mother was growing up, she was lucky enough to have two of her brothers
being fostered by another family who lived nearby and which allowed her, her sister, and
her two brothers to attend the same schools in the same school district. Grandma Irwin
and Grandma Gertie (the lady who took in my uncles) were kind enough to allow the
children to visit as often as they wanted, and Grandma Irwin often allowed my mother's
youngest sister (a heart defect suffered from birth necessitated that she be placed in the
nearby city, almost 35 miles away from or my mother was, to necessitate rapid medical
care if needed) to visit her on the farm and later in the house owned by my grandmother
after they had given up farming.
As the years progressed, much of the family information from her side of the family and
passed to my mother and younger children was incorrectly remembered by her older
siblings. For countless years at the rare family gathering, thrown whenever all of them
could be found in New York State, they would regale the younger generation (me and all
of my cousins) with, as it turned out, highly improbable tales of the exploits of my
Grandfather Smith, a man known to us only as the man in the poor quality, fuzzy
photographs taken of him in his World War One Canadian Army uniform. Completely
confounded at how they could give such reverence and almost hero worship to a man who
passed away around 1948, I was never able to understand why they could so easily forget
the foster families who took them in and raised them to the age of majority. Even after
my mother passed the golden age of majority, my Grandmother Irwin did her best to help
see that my mother made it through nurse's training, and even after she married opened
her home to both of my parents. She was there for us from the day I was born until the
day she died, and will always be my Grandma. She was the one who accepted me as if I
were her own naturally born grandchild, and lovingly taught me the lessons that would
later form the cornerstones of my belief system.
Although I was luckier when it came to my dad's side of the family, they, in their own way,
were just as dysfunctional as my mother's family. My Great-Grandmother Wallace
separated from her husband when my grandfather was only three years of age (possibly
earlier -- it was a taboo subject never to be spoken of, so I never did find out if she legally
divorced him since she kept his name after their separation. The family papers which
might've confirmed this disappeared when an unscrupulous antiques dealer made off with
several boxes of period documents when my uncle sold the homestead), and after my
grandmother committed suicide when my younger sister was only three or four weeks old,
we never associated with my Grandmother Renaâ€™s side of the family until I was well
into my teens. My Grandfather Wallace passed in 1981, and his second wife, Grandma
Alberta has shared my grandfather's prejudices to this day, whether out of loyalty to her
husband, or a genuine dispute with them, I never have been able to find out.
I can look back now as an adult to realize that I didn't share in these sentiments, and
whatever their arguments were, they were in the past and had nothing to do with me. It
wasn't until I was 16 years old that my father reconnected with my Aunt Helen and Uncle
Sok who were my Grandma Rena's brother and sister-in-law. Unfortunately, my time with
them was short, as they both passed away before I was 20 years of age, and their only
daughter, Little Helen was gone before I was 30. Through them, I reconnected with my
Aunt Ruth (Grandma Rena's little sister) and my Aunt Lucy who was Grandma Rena's
aunt. All of them were delightful people and I really regret that the squabbles of the older
generation robbed me of their company and knowledge of family history while I was
The very first time the we went to see Uncle Sok and Aunt Helen, they were so delighted
and surprised that my dad would want to contact them (let alone bring his entire family to
meet them) that they put on a feast of family favorites that would've done any King
proud. Unfortunately, my love at that time was more along the lines of writing than
cooking, so I never did get copies of the family recipes before they passed away. I regret
that oversight to this day since Aunt Helen obviously had some of the early family recipes
that had been passed down both through the Wallace side, as well as the
Duryea/Sherwood side which I had never been privy to. She made a salad of fresh
cranberries, walnuts, flaked coconut, and whipped cream, the likes of which I have never
been able to reproduce or find directions for to this day. The same is true for some of the
other delectables that she served us on that and other occasions until the time she and
Uncle Sok passed away. If it had not been for the trades that my Grandmother Irwin made
with my Great-Grandmother Wallace, all of the recipes from both sides of the family would
have been forever lost.
Again, due to some of the dysfunctions that operated in my dad's side of the family, I am
now in touch with cousins who never had access to the recipes that I have shared on the
site, and despite the fact that they had pictures of Great Grandma Wallace and her
siblings, they were too little to know them before they were gone, and consequently never
shared in the wonderful family recipes or knew the characters that I grew up with. My
cousin recently sent me pictures of the four, and the first time I was able to put names to
the faces, and the approximate times and places the photos were taken for them. Sadly,
they never got to experience life on the homestead, but will now have to rely on those
places where life in the Victorian era is re-created for tourists and schoolchildren.
While we no longer have reunions on my father's side, I have tried to take steps to fill in those gaps in
the family history that were never made apparent to me. The same has been true on my mother's side
of the family, although strides have been taken in recent years to correct this oversight. After so many
years of staring at that stranger in the picture, I decided to take matters into my own hands and try and
find some information on the young man pictured there. Knowing that my Grandfather Smith served in
the Canadian Army, I contacted the Department of the Royal Canadian Army to see if any of his service
records still existed, especially since members of the family were suffering from medical problems that
could not be traced due to lack of information. After all these years of moping and crying, not ONE of my
mother's siblings had ever done a thing to take this step. (Even earlier than this I had contacted a
penpal who was living in Belgium at the time, and through her kindness obtained from her pictures of my
Uncle Herbert's (an older brother of my mother) grave. He died in the Battle of the Bulge in 1945. Up
until that point no one had ever seen his grave, and my mother was more than delighted to immediately
make copies of the photos and pass them out like peppermints to her family.) According to the official I
contacted, I was the very first member of his family to contact them regarding his service records, and
the packet of information I got back from them was quite an eye-opener. It was an important key in
merrily skewering the vast majority of the sacred cows of family recollection.
It turns out that my Grandfather Smith was NOT an American citizen who was so eager to fight in the
war that he lied about his age and joined the Canadian forces at the tender age of 15. In truth, he was a
Canadian citizen born in Bellevue, Ontario who was called into service with the Royal Canadian Army at
the age of 21. Despite the articles he wrote for a regional newspaper, and the legends handed down by
my mother's older siblings, he never saw military action (much less was bayonetted in the chest by an
enemy German soldier as he crested a hill) but developed a near fatal case of tuberculosis which was
with them for the rest of his life and was returned to a tuberculosis sanitarium in Saskatchewan, Canada
well before the war ended. I now have a very good idea where my talent for writing probably originated.
Like many others seeking easy US citizenship at the time, he exploited a loophole that many immigrants
were aware of to make it seem that he was born in the United States. In 1898 there was a major fire in
the facility located in our state's capitol where the birth and death records are stored. All of the records
from little towns reporting in from across the state up until that point and which had been sent to the
capital department of vital statistics were destroyed, so rather than obtaining a birth certificate from his
adopted town, he received a certificate from the state which said that his birth records had been
searched for and most likely were destroyed in the fire of 1898. Ta dah! Grandpa Smith was now a
citizen of the United States and entitled to American social services. Due to the laws operating in Canada
up until recently, it means that my mother, her siblings, and me and my cousins all had dual citizenship
until 1972 when Canadian law demanded that a choice of country be made.
On my dad's side, I have only recently made strides in filling in family history concerning my Great-
Grandfather Wallace and his family. I always remember my Uncle Clayton, his wife, Aunt Barbry, and his
sisters Ida and Leona, but it was never able to figure out just how they fit into the family tree. My dad,
as it turns out, was one quarter Native American through his father, and now I understand why Uncle
Clayton had long hair and rarely spoke English around me. Most of the time he spoke Gaelic, or from
time to time what I believe was Seneca, and when I was around him or the others, I grew up speaking
these tongues along with him. Great Grandma Wallace either spoke a dialect of German or Gaelic, so
again I grew up speaking something other than English when I was visiting with them. (Uncle Harry
would frequently take a great delight in teaching me swear words in any of these languages, and then
sent me off to ask my dad what the words meant just to see if he can get a rise out of my dad.) To this
day I believe firmly that this is where I picked up my love and ear for foreign languages.
If you're like me and have decided that you want to delve into your family's history, don't wait and do it
now while some of the older members are still around to provide stories and information. There are
plenty of inexpensive family tree software programs around (the one I use cost me a whole $9.95 at
Wal-Mart), but if you don't have the opportunity to use one of these, I suggest you start with 3 x 5
cards and a notebook. Because you know the most about your own circumstances, make the first card
you do for yourself. Include your birthday, pertinent details like when and where you were born or
baptized (in my family I was the very first child to be born in a hospital and not at home like both my
parents), when and where you graduated from high school, and if old enough, who you married, when
and where. You can also include such information as memories of the houses that you lived in as a child,
schools that you attended, childhood friends, etc. Next do one which has as much as the same kind of
information possible for your husband/wife. Now do the same thing for each of your children, your
siblings and their spouses, children, etc..
If you find 3 x 5 cards too small to contain this information, you can do the same thing on pages
punched for a three-ring notebook if you don't want to use the cards.. Page protectors make fine
holders for things like graduation announcements, napkins or announcements obtained at the weddings
of family members, copies of birth, death, or marriage certificates, or other information you might find
for any given person. Be sure to group these pages together by family.
Now start a page for each member of your family that you're interested in learning the history of. One of
the fastest ways to fill out these pages is to take this notebook with you to your next family reunion.
Explain to the relatives what you trying to accomplish and ask them to look at their own page to see
whether or not the information you have on them is correct. At the same time, if they bring a dish to
pass that is a family heirloom, ask them if they'll write down the recipe for it so you can keep it with their
information. Ask them where they got it, and how might it changed over the years as they made it for
If there are older members of your family who might find it difficult to write up their story or
recollections, take a small tape recorder with you and ask them if you can record them as they talk. I
wish I had such a device back when my Grandmother Irwin and my Great-Grandmother Wallace were still
alive. It certainly would've caught and preserved many of the stories I had heard from both sides of the
family, possibly filling in some of the gaps I am faced with now in doing my research on both families . If
at all possible, you might even want to take time to make several appointments and visit with them in
order to keep from losing their memories due to disease and loss and later be able to accurately write
down their recollections. These stories will be invaluable for future generations and prove to be a good
jumping off point for you to begin your genealogical searches. If possible while you're there, ask them if
you can see any documents they might have in their possession like birth certificates, baptismal
certificates, old wedding invitations, graduation announcements, or even any obituary clippings they
might have. Since they might be reluctant to let these things go to make copies of, be prepared to
either copy down the information by hand, or record it for later transcription.
Although now rare, the old family Bibles can be a good source of information concerning such things as
births, weddings and deaths. During my grandmother's generation all of these details were usually
lovingly recorded in special sections made just for this purpose (usually contained in the center of the
large Bibles) kept by the family. In Scotland for example, it was not uncommon for a new groom or bride
to write in their information to the family Bible just prior to or on the morning of their wedding day. As
in my case, sometimes it's also possible to find old copies of family recipes along with other such things
as a flower pressed from a wedding bouquet or other special arrangement.
Examples from my own family history are as follows:
When my Aunt Claire growing up, she was a member of the choir at the high school she attended. She
never has been known to be a cook, but for one particular end of the year picnic put on for chorus
members, she was insistent that she was going to prepare a dish to pass by herself, without help from
my mother, grandmother and or anyone else.
Having grown up with my Grandmother Irwin from about the time she was five years old, she no doubt
was more than familiar with the range of dishes that Grandma often prepared for the myriad of socials
and picnics that her busy social life required of her. She even had the benefit of knowing my Great-
Grandmother Black (Grandma Irwin's mother), and no doubt was aware of the dishes passed in that
social circle as well. Like Grandma Irwin, Great Grandma Black was active in such organizations as the
Home Relief Corps (they knitted and rolled bandages which they sent overseas for use by the soldiers in
World War I), the Farmers' Home Bureau, the Grange, the Co-Operative Extension and the Eastern
Star. This of course did not include the variety of church groups that she was a member of. Like
Grandma Irwin she was always doing something for anyone who needed a hand.
I don't know why Aunt Claire made the choice she did, but she decided to make the two grandmother's
version of tuna macaroni salad. Completely eschewing any kind of help, my aunt cooked the macaroni
into a semi-glutinous mush. I don't know if he panicked due to some kind of time restraint, or just was
clueless as to how the dish should turn out, but she threw in the remainder of the ingredients, then
took a hand mixer and blended the entire mess into a gray, lumpy paste. I was told by the chorus
teacher (I had her myself, during my own high school years, since the school district was small enough
that most of the teachers held their position until they passed away) that she made everyone take some
of the tuna macaroni salad until it was gone.
|Bertha Black's Cabbage Salad
1 small head green cabbage, finely shredded
1 cup red cabbage, finely shredded (optional)
5 scallions, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 can (8 oz.) crushed pineapple, drained (reserve
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1 tablespoon sugar
2 McIntosh apples, cored and finely diced
1/4 to 1/2 cup black walnuts or pecans, medium
2 tablespoons stone ground mustard (such as
Miracle Whip salad dressing
In a bowl, mix cabbage, celery, scallions, apples, nuts and crushed pineapple. Toss well.
In a small mixing bowl, mix reserved pineapple juice, mustard and enough Miracle Whip to form a
creamy dressing. Add sugar. Mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix until well blended. Pour over
cabbage mixture and toss until all ingredients are well coated. Serve immediately.
Note: Although I have never tried this recipe personally, I have tried Grandma Irwin's recipe for
cabbage salad with a packaged cole slaw mix, but the result is not the same. It's best to do the
shredding yourself with the green and red cabbage, although it requires more work.
There also seems to be a notation that hickory nuts or English walnuts may be substituted for the
nuts in the recipe if that's all you have on hand.
As with Grandma's other recipe if you don't have crushed pineapple, rings or chunks may be
substituted, Just dice them up a little more finely. I started using crushed pineapple in Grandma's
recipe after it became available to save time. When I was a kid, it was my job to cut up pineapple rings
or chunks smaller for the salad.
I suspect that as with the other cabbage salad recipe one small shredded carrot may be added if
desired, on occasion, for church suppers and dish-to-pass dinners to pad the amounts.
You can decrease the amounts of sugar, salt and pepper to taste, if desired, as well as omitting the
red cabbage and mustard.
Cook macaroni according to package directions, drain, and rinse with cold water. Set macaroni aside to thoroughly drain. In a large
bowl finely chop hard-boiled eggs, add diced scallions, celery, garlic, and flaked tuna. Add the macaroni and mix ingredients well.
Add Miracle Whip and toss until all ingredients are well coated. (If onion powder and celery seed are substituted, they can be mixed
with the Miracle Whip prior to adding to the other salad ingredients.) Use right away, or refrigerate until needed. Be sure to
refrigerate any unused leftovers.
When my Grandmother Irwin was growing up, she lived a couple miles from school she attended, so from about the time that she
was eight years old, she would hitch up the family horse to their buggy and drive the two or three miles to the local school. There is
an old stone trough that up until recently was located near the Temple Hill Cemetery in town and still filled with water. All of the kids
who had horses frequently stopped there on their way to and from the school to water their horses and socialize. I am told that it
was at the school where my grandmother met my grandfather. Living closer to the school than my grandmother did, he walked to
school everyday. She would often offer him a ride in her buggy and accompany him back to his house before driving back to her own
In the winter, living in the northern United States, it was not unusual for impromptu hockey games to be played by the children at the
school. Never mind that hockey equipment, per se, did not exist. Being the ever resourceful farm kids they were, they would often
find sticks or appropriately-shaped branches to be used as hockey sticks to bat around a ball made of horse manure (Gram always
insisted that it made a fine and dandy hockey puck until such time as it melted a little and started stinking, at which time they would
simply choose another frozen ball of manure to continue the game). The area was always famous for its fox hunts conducted from
thoroughbreds, so between those and the animals which came to school there was never any shortage of material to be used as
Of course, not being raised on a farm all the time, but rather was merely a visitor, my sensibilities were a little bit different when it
came to some of the things encountered as a part of their daily living. Although my grandmother insisted all her life that every person
had to eat a peck of dirt before they died, I was always convinced that MY peck was going to be a heck of a lot cleaner than hers.
Another story that I remember with great fondness was the time that Grandma Irwin and Aunt Agnes (one of grandpa's sisters that
you can read about in the Fourth of July piece on this site) were doing some spring cleaning at the farmhouse Grandma and Grandpa
owned. While the two of them were cleaning, they came across a mysterious clear liquid housed in a jug that normally carried water
for the farm hands.
The day was hot, and not wanting to go back to the kitchen to get water, the two of them decided to sample what was in the jug,
thinking it was a leftover from when one of the men was out working in the field. They both decided that whatever it was tasted
pretty good, so after a little bit, giggling, they went back and had another sample. More and more as the morning progressed they
found themselves giggling and going back time after time for just a little more of whatever was in that jug. By the time my
grandfather got home to have his lunch, he found the two of them sitting on the floor in the kitchen, laughing their heads off. As it
turns out, Grandma's father had hidden a jug of homemade dandelion wine from his wife in a jug they usually used to send out in the
field with water for my grandfather, and the two of them, not being drinkers nor realizing what they had gotten into, had managed to
get themselves completely drunk on the dandelion wine. Without realizing it, the two of them had managed to polish off almost three
gallons between the two of them. Needless to say, very little cleaning, or anything else for that matter, was accomplished that day.
My grandmother told me that she had such a hangover from this occasion, that she never touched a drop of alcohol again the rest of
While doing the research for this piece, I found an old yellowed sheet written in my grandmother's hand. It appears to be a version of
the cabbage salad that my grandmother always used to make which I believe to be the version favored by my Great-Grandmother
Black and she was alive. I don't know if Grandma just never liked this particular version, if Grandpa Irwin would never eat it (he was
the fussiest thing at times), or what, but I never remember having tried it. On the paper Grandma attributed it to her mother (it was
titled "Mother's Cabbage Salad"), and I have to say although I've never had it, it sounds very tasty. I offer it here in the hope that
this or any of the other recipes that I have cited and shared on this site will help you get started on your very own journey to finding
the history of your family's treasured vintage dishes, as well as a good way to start recording your own family's story for your future
generations to come.
|The correct recipe is as follows:
Bertha Black/Leona Irwin's Tuna Macaroni Salad
1 pound box elbow macaroni, cooked according to
2 (6 ounce) cans white albacore tuna, well drained and
3 stalks celery, finely diced (if you don't have the celery, 1
teaspoon of celery seed may be substituted
6 scallions, finely diced (1 teaspoon of onion powder may
6 hard-boiled eggs, shelled and chopped finely
2 cloves of garlic, minced finely
½ cup Miracle Whip salad dressing (or enough to
thoroughly coat salad mixture)