USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘recipe’

Family Recipe

“My dad taught me this recipe, it’s not even an ethnic recipe, just a family recipe for this cool dipping sauce.  You combine paprika and garlic powder and a little water and then this other ingredient I’m forgetting, but it makes for this really good, kind of dry sauce that goes really well on a hamburger or something.  My dad said he picked it up from a diner he worked at, so I guess that means this recipe went from some unimportant condiment at a diner to a staple ingredient at all our family’s meals, which is pretty cool.  But I’m not sure he’s telling the truth about picking up the recipe from a diner, I feel like that doesn’t make enough sense for it to be true, because I’ve worked in restaurants before and no such recipe exchanging has happened around me, but nonetheless, now that sauce recipe is a staple of our family.”


This origin story of a family recipe is super cool because it subverts two common tropes of family recipes: that they are long traditions passed down from the ancestors of the family, and that they are secrets.  Not only did this family recipe start in a diner that the father of the informant just happened to work at of all places, but the informant clearly has no regard for who hears the ingredients, and they are listed very clearly above.  Still, the recipe has quickly managed to become an important part of the family, so it makes me think that maybe this is the beginning of what will become a long family tradition with this family.


Matzo Ball Soup Recipe

Informant is grandmother, currently living in Florida having lived most of her life in New Jersey. The following is a family recipe for Matzo Ball Soup which is a traditionally jewish dish served at Passover.


Ingredients (taken down from a handwritten note in the recipe book):

4 large eggs

•¼ cup “schmaltz” rendered chicken fat or coconut oil

•¼ cup chicken stock

•1 cup matzo meal

•¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

•1 to 2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger

•2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

•1 teaspoon Allspice


Directions (spoken to me in the kitchen as she prepares to make the soup):

“In a big bowl, put the eggs, schmaltz, chicken stock, matzo, nutmeg, ginger and parsley. Put in 1 teaspoon salt and Allspice. Mix a little with a spoon, and cover. And refrigerate until chilled. I do it overnight.”

“Put the matzo balls in a pan like this (she holds up a medium sized, deep pan) with salted water and boil. With wet hands— they have to be wet— take some of the mix and mold it into the size of a golfball. Put them in boiling water and leave it for about 40 minutes. Then you put them in the soup, that’s it!”


Mexican Recipe

Main Piece: Beer Battered Fish Tacos


For this piece, I asked my nanny of 18 years, Mirna, for a recipe, and being native to Mexico, she delivered. She prepared beer battered fish tacos, which consists of frying a white fish meat in a batter made from bread crumbs and beer (Corona, of course). It is put into a taco with a chipotle sauce, cabbage, and salsa. I asked if there was a set recipe she followed but there was not, she just cooked based off how she had done it in the past. The entire time she was cooking she was adding little bits of ingredients here and there according to taste, and nothing was perfectly measured. Once the fish was battered it was fried in a pan with vegetable oil, not a traditional deep fryer. There was no set time to cook or anything of the sort, just judging based on the look of the food and feel based on the cook.




This is a traditional recipe from my nanny’s home in Mexico, and she has been using it for as long as I can remember at home. It was a traditional recipe used when a successful fishing trip returned and would be cooked right away.

She learned it from her mother, who would generally cook for all of her brothers and sisters, of which there were 6 of them. She had many recipes she could’ve chosen from, having grown up in this large family and also having cooking as a big part of life for them. There was never really much take out or dinners out, so it was typically home cooked meals from her mother.




This time she cooked the meal for me, it was just one night for dinner, and did not have much contextual meaning. I used to fish a lot during the summer, and fresh fish was my favorite food for that span of time. I used to call my nanny as we were unloading the boat telling her what we had caught and she would prepare to cook it for me, and this became one of my favorite preparations of fish. She cooked a very large portion as it would serve as our family dinner that night, and had a sort of system going where she would be constantly breading the fish, frying it, warming the tortillas, and prepping the plates. She said that’s what it was like at home when her mother would cook for everyone, needing to feed many mouths.

When this dish was being prepared, my dad had a few different beers at home but none were a Mexican beer, so my nanny actually went out and bought Coronas to cook this recipe, which I think is interesting in that even though I’m sure other types would have worked, it is more traditional to the recipe that she used a Mexican beer for the recipe.


My Thoughts:


I had always thought this was just a random recipe my nanny had found and cooked for our family, but it turned out this was a recipe she had learned from her mother and brought here to cook for us. There are many more dishes my nanny knows how to cook from home and makes them constantly, but this one is hands down my favorite that she does.


English Recipe

Main Piece: English Recipe


This was told to me by my friend Liv, who’s grandmother was born and raised in England.


“My grandmother was born in Wimbledon, England and grew up during WWII. Her father worked for the British Army putting out incendiary bombs with sand and her mother did not work, so they did not have a lot of money. Because of this, my grandmother and her siblings would often eat mashed turnips or rutabaga to fill up their stomach as they were growing children. On special occasions though, their mother would make them Shepards Pie, a recipe that is still his favorite many years later. The recipe has been passed down from her mother to my grandmother, to my mother, and finally to me. It is pretty simple as it just uses the ingredients for mashed potatoes for the top, and a lot of different fresh spices, vegetables, and ground beef for the filling.”




Liv’s grandmother passed this recipe down to her, and it is one of their families favorites. Liv likes this recipe because not only is it delicious, but has a cultural connection to where her family came from and their heritage.

This was passed to Liv’s grandmother by her mother, and it continues to be passed down through the generations, and gets brought out for family gatherings and holiday celebrations.




The present day context of this recipe is not the same as what it was used for back when Liv’s grandmother first had it, but it is still used in the same sense. It is brought out at family gatherings because they all have the same ties to the culture and heritage of England, and her family’s recipe is something she holds close to her.

This is a common recipe found with microwave options and even variations at restaurants that put a modern spin on a classic dish. The origins though are English, and the traditional recipe is something unique to different families from the region.


My Thoughts:


I’m personally a fan of Shephards Pie, and remember my favorite being sold by a street vendor I passed after surfing one day. I’ve never had a traditional Shepherd’s pie, but I hope some day to try the recipe Liv has been taught by her grandmother.


Agarita Jelly

Agarita is a Texas bush with sweet red berries protected by spiny leaves. The informant describes the family procedure for collecting and using the berries:

“To get enough berries to make jelly, you lay a blanket around the base, then hit the bush with a stick so that all the berries fall off. Old ladies used to then put all the collected berries in an apron, then toss them up to let the wind blow away all the debris, while the berries fall back down into the apron. My mom at some point decided to set up a fan on our porch, so we could just pour the berries from one bucket to another and not have to worry about tossing them. The fan worked much better.”

The recipe:

5 1/2 pounds agarita berries (late May)

1 1/2 cups of water

1 box of Sure-Jel

7 cups of sugar

Crush fruit with a potato masher, add water, cover, simmer for 10 minutes, and crush again. Strain, measure out 5 cups of juice, add 1 box of Sure-Jel, and bring to full rolling boil. Add 7 cups of sugar, bring to full rolling boil for 1 minute, then pour into jars.   Use water bath to sterilize jars and seal lids.  Yields around 4 pints.

Agarita berry collecting May 2010-2395 Agarita collecting 5-31-10-2381

This folk recipe is made from a plant which grows in a very specific geographic area, mostly in Texas, and it’s interesting that throughout time the practice has evolved with new technology available (the fan), allowing for more jelly to be produced. Even living in Texas I’ve never seen agarita jelly sold at the store, so it’s interesting that it’s mostly a small family process passed down, and was never commercialized.


Tomato Soup

The informant is a Film Production and Biochemistry major at the University of Southern California, where he is in his third year. He is originally from Washington state, and his family moved there from North Dakota. Before North Dakota, his family lived in various parts of Eastern Europe. The informant says that is very much influenced by his grandfather, who is a professional storyteller.

In this piece, the informant describes how his family sees tomato soup—they have very particular thoughts on how it should be made and why.

“Both of my grandparents come from European places, and they’re very particular about their recipes and stuff. Like if you look at the way they care about their recipes, it’s just like equally the way that they would care about their folk tales. Like, we have the same borscht recipe that has been used since like my great grandparents. It’s passed down, you know, and it’s an old piece of paper and you can tell it’s been recopied over the years, but the most recent copy is in an old 1940s, it’s like an Eastern European cooking book that a bunch of the grandparent women, my family’s from North Dakota, so it was a bunch of North Dakotan Czech and German and Austrian, you know women and Russian and they all came together and they sat down at a typewriter and made, typed up all their family recipes from whatever cards or whatever.

So it’s kind of like, a little encyclopedia of like, a lot of family recipes, and my family’s borscht recipe, which is like a Russian soup, is in there. And it’s like, that’s like a very important thing to pass on, that recipe. And, you know, in like, I wish I had like a story I could say that they took from Europe, but that same preservation, like in a sense the recipe is its own like thing, and there’s a dill, like a dill tomato soup.

There’s like a little story about, like it’s like you know those grandparent sort of rant things about like “you don’t realize how important this is” but it like really changed, like, it’s like, they have this rant about tomato soup, and how like, how like Russia kind of invented tomato soup, and like how important, it’s like… Cause their version of tomato soup is um, there’s tomatoes, there’s dill, there’s sour cream, and like rice, and more like, substantial than just a regular soup.

And they kinda just like, this is like the original soup because you have grains for the soup that wouldn’t last because of mold and other stuff, you have tomatoes, which is like, were kinda hard to come by, so when you got those you just, cause it’s acidic and it’ll go bad, and like, they just talked, I don’t know, like, it’s just kinda a thing that they’re like, and you wouldn’t have tomato soup like this today, cause it’s just tomato soup in a modern sense. And this is another one of those recipes that they put into this book. I wish I had more of that rant off the top of my head.”


This piece brings up the question of ownership—when the grandparents talk about tomato soup, it’s to imply that Russian tomato soup is the “original” and most important tomato soup. The recipe itself is also interesting; though the informant did not remember the exact recipe, he remembered the specific reasons why ingredients were chosen, which gives the recipe much more context. To an outside listener, tomato, dill, and rice may seem like an arbitrary combination, but with the context that the tomatoes and grains would go bad unless made into soup, the reasons become clear. The way that the older women recorded these recipes for their descendants was also interesting, and it helped reinforce the importance that these recipes hold for them.


Hickory Nut Tea and How We Used to Make It

The informant is my grandmother, a Cherokee woman born in 1932. She worked as a nurse for her entire career, though has been retired for some time.

In this piece, my grandmother gives an explanation of how she used to make hickory nut tea during her childhood and talks briefly about who taught her the recipe.

M: I’m going to teach you how to make hickory nut tea.

Me: Okay [laughs]

M: You have to get a stump. You drill a hole into the stump.

Me: How big is the stump?

M: About to your waist.

Me: Okay, so waist high.

M: Yes. You drill a hole into the stump. Not all the way through, though. Then, you go and get hickory nut. You put the hickory nuts into the hole. Then, you take a mallet, which was a stick kind of thing. Then you start smashing the hickory nuts with the mallet.

Me: Okay.

M: Do you have this so far?

Me: Yes, ma’am.

M: Okay. Then you take the hickory nut out of the stump and put it into a cup of water, and then boil the water. You drink hickory nut tea in the fall. It’s a fall drink.

Me: Okay.

M: That’s how you make hickory nut tea.

Me: Where did you learn this?

M: My father. He would make it every year in the fall using this process.

In researching this, I found the small lump my grandmother is talking about is called “kenuche”. You place the kenuche in the water and boil it, according to her. Here is a website that mainly focuses on showing you how to make hickory nut soup, but still shows the process of how to make a “kenuche ball” in a more modern way:

There’s a lot to do in the process of making hickory nut tree. My grandmother describes it as a hard process: one that takes a lot of strength, patience, and perseverance. This recipe is probably something our great ancestors would make. My grandmother describes hickory nut tea as being a “fall drink”, meaning it relates to today’s “pumpkin spice latte”. It warms you up as the weather is starting to get cold, and was used by my ancestors for this specific reason. I don’t see my grandmother going out and making hickory nut tea through this process, but perhaps even knowing about it makes her feel connected to her past. She passes down the information not in hopes that we make hickory nut tea, but that we keep the knowledge alive, and so we don’t forget something our ancestors considered very important.


Smothered Steak Recipe


“Basically, you take a piece of meat that’s probably pretty tough, but thinly sliced, you salt and pepper it, coat it with flour, brown it in a little bit of oil in the skillet. Um, you do this with as much meat as you’re going to cook. You put all the meat back in the skillet, barely cover it with water, and simmer it for as long as you have, an hour or two, ideally. Um, and the long simmering helps tenderize the meat and the flour forms its own gravy around the meat without any other extra work. And in Southern cooking gravy is always required. So, the classic recipe is kind of a hand-sized steak that, you know, is a serving for, you know, for each person. Um, by the time I knew about it, um, my mom had taken that recipe and changed it quite a bit. Uh, or in subtle ways, I guess. Uh, the salt and pepper became a classic, a family recipe of seasoned salt. So a special mix of, you know, herbs and spices, um, and the beef that was traditionally used for this, uh, we were hunters in our family and, uh, we started to use venison instead. And the deer in Texas are white-tailed deer that are smaller and so it’s hard to actually get many, um, large even hand-sized steaks out of a deer. Uh, so the pieces of meat became much smaller. Often bite-size pieces of meat. And often we would use the tenderest of the deer, what we call the backstrap which is the tenderloin of the deer, um, to, uh, make this recipe. Uh, and it was always one of the favorite recipes that my mom would cook for anyone, so, um, as I grew up and got married and started trying to cook this for myself, S and I would make our own modifications to it and the seasoned salt didn’t set well so we went back to salt and pepper and added some thyme in. Um, we didn’t have as much access to venison, being in California, so we moved back to either beef or lamb or, you know, that was pretty much it, but it works with just about anything. Um, and, uh, I guess that’s, that’s about the changes we’ve made. The other, you know, so that’s the basic recipe and evolution of it.”


The informant was my father, a 49-year-old engineer who currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, but who grew up in the area surrounding Austin, Texas. He is extremely interested in grilling and cooking and often cooks for large groups of people recreationally. His parents have owned various pieces of rural Texas land over the years, ending with a cattle ranch an hour outside of Austin. His mother grew up in Louisiana and East Texas, meaning “there’s a lot of both Southern and Cajun roots in what I learned from my parents.” The informant calls this a “class Southern recipe” that he used to make when he would help his mother in the kitchen. This is a recipe the informant learned from his mother and that he thinks she learned from her mother. He describes it as “an any-meal dish,” that he often has for dinner now. One of the biggest “three or four holidays” for his family growing up was “opening day of hunting season,” when they would go out hunting early in the morning. When they returned to the house, his mother would have smothered steak, biscuits, and eggs cooked for everyone. He describes this as a “traditional, kind of, fancy winter breakfast” for them. Of this experience, he says, “You just can’t imagine coming in out of the extreme cold, being out for several hours in 25 degree weather and coming in and having this meal.” He makes it because “it tastes really good” and it’s a dish that he has never seen anyone else cook the way his mom taught him to cook it, and when he cooks it for other people they are impressed by it. It “typically gets eaten until it’s gone.”


This recipe was collected while I was home for Spring Break and was told to me while I was having a drink with my father in our living room. I have had this dish many times throughout my life and it is one that is often requested by other families when my father is cooking a meal for them. I think one of the main reasons it is such a hit is that it really is amazingly tasty when it is done right, but it also appears startlingly simple to the casual observer. This is especially true in Northern California, where the emphasis in cuisine is on bright, fresh, and organic meals that are presented beautifully. Placing a large skillet of smothered steak next to these things can provide quite a contrast. I think all aspects of it appeal to people’s “rustic sensibilities,” by which I mean they feel they can indulge themselves and be Southern for a meal. I think the informant cooks it so much because it is fairly simple and because it reminds him of the ranch where most of his family still lives, 1700 miles away.


Hong Shao Yu – Ginger Fish

My informant is a 22 year old Chinese-American young woman studying communications. She heard this recipe or fish cooking strategy from her mother, who passed it to her and her sister. She likes it partly because she’s used to the flavor but partly because it’s hygienic, and also reminds her of her family. It means a lot to her because of this connection with her family.

This interview was conducted in the informant’s living room.

“So when Asian people cook, or I guess specifically like Chinese people, they make this thing called hong shao yu, it’s a type of fish that you kind of like, that you, I guess you pan-fry? and Asian people don’t eat like, old seafood, like they hate the old fishy taste, and so what you do, and like plus eating like dead seafood is like… dead shellfish is like bad luck, like you don’t eat dead crabs and stuff, yeah. Just read like Amy Tan. Um. But like fish is okay, of course cause a lot of times it’s dead before you get it, and so when you make fish, you have to stuff it with like, green onions and ginger. Like, TONS of ginger, because it gets… ugh gosh I don’t even remember what they call it, but if you translate it it’s like the fishy taste from old fish, but ginger’s so fresh that it’s kind of antibacterial, so it kills the bacteria and stuff. Now whenever I make fish or any type of seafood I’m like ‘Oh I want it to taste as fresh as possible, so I always put in like, tons of ginger. Something I learned from my mom.” “So is this something you do with your mom a lot, or just something you saw her do? When did you learn it from her?” “I’ve watched her do it a lot, like growing up I was just next to her whenever she made food, and so I’d always seen her do it. She cuts slices almost where, if fish had ribs, where the ribs would be, and she just puts in slices of ginger into the fish. I’d always seen her do that and I never thought about why… I always thought it was more for flavor and not for like, health reasons. She taught my sister and I how to make it about a year ago, and since my sister’s always been better than me I usually just let her do it, but I know how to do it now.”

My informant enjoys the taste of this ginger-y, onion-y method of preparing fish, as well as the supposed antibacterial functions this method has; the two seem to be connected by a cultural dislike of the “old fish flavor” she mentions here. This method connects her to her Chinese cultural roots as well as her mother and sister.


Kimchi Recipe

Kimchi Recipe

Most women made their own kimchi (cabbage side dish) for their respective families. With the onset of contemporary times, kimchi is now mass produced and rarely homemade. This recipe was taken from my mother who had been given her mother’s (my grandmother’s) recipe and so on. She added her own addition to it (the shrimp) years after making the kimchi for our family. There is a different taste from this homemade side dish to the mass produced one, and between my mother’s kimchi and other families’ kimchi tastes. Each family has their respective recipe that they follow, which can vary for the amount of time the cabbage is soaked to the individual ingredients used. Creating kimchi for your family was also a sign of a girl learning ownership of her household and family, as it takes a while to make and families tend to make a lot to last through the winter in one sitting.

The Recipe:

배추를 사서 반으로 쪼개고 그리고 그걸 또 반 살짝 자르는거야 중도까지.

그렇게해서 물에다가 소금을넣어서 풀으는거야. 소금을 녹을때까지 배추를 당거.

그렇게해서 2시간후에 뒤집어. 그리고 총4시간후에 싯어.

싯어서 소쿠리 에다가 나.

양염은: 무 하나, 양파 반, 파 한단, 마늘 6족, 생강( ginger) 조금, 새우 조금 (1/2 cup), sweet rice죽, 미나리, 갓. 다 썰어서 고추가루랑 양염하는거야.

Sweet rice죽에다가 새우를넣고 그냥나둬.

죽에다가 예쁘게 만들어 빨갛게. 무 하고 야채를 따로 고추장을 양염해.

그 후에 배추에다가 죽 양염한걸 섞어. 섞은후에 배추의 잎 사이에다가 썰은 무 양염한걸 뿌려, 빨갛게. 다해서 냉장고에 2주동안 나두면 맛있게 익을거야. 겨울에는 4주.


The first step is the buy the cabbage. Wash it and cut it in half. Take these halves and cut it again to the midway point. Prepare a tub of water and sprinkle a lot of salt in it. After doing this, soak the cabbage in the mixture until the salt melts in the water. After 2 hours flip the cabbage and soak the other side. Take them all out after a total of four hours. Leave them to dry. 

Sauce ingredients: 1 Radish, half an onion, one bushel of green onion, 1 clove of garlic, a little bit of ginger, half cup of mini shrimp, sweet rice porridge, parsley, and leaf mustard. 

Place the shrimp aside. Cut the rest into small slices and marinate them with gochugaru (chili powder).

Put the shrimp in the sweet ridge porridge and stir. Mix in the gochugaru until it’s a pretty red color. After this, spread the porridge mixture across the cabbage. After this, spread the other mixture with the radish and other ingredients in chili powder in between the cabbage leaves. Do this until the cabbage is red. After finishing, put the cabbage in a glass jar or store it and place it in the refrigerator for around 2 weeks to ripen. It can take up to 4 weeks in the winter.