The secrets behind 'secret' family recipes

Beloved family foods

The holiday season is upon us. Are you ready?

There was American Thanksgiving (on Thursday) and its groaning table of family favourite dishes, a plethora of snacks and treats made to give or share, and of course the various celebrations across the world with centuries of traditional meals prepared for a table of loved ones. Just think of all those secret family recipes.

The catch to a recipe becoming a family favourite is that it must be practical for it to survive. Recipes that are overly complicated or contain exotic ingredients end up not being made very often. Those recipes might be in a family cookbook, but they are often not passed down as regular dishes we remember.

I have a few secret family recipes I have shared with readers over the years, and I know everyone has something they remember fondly from their childhood. When we grew older and wanted to recreate these magical moments, that’s when we likely asked Mom or Grandma (or my Auntie Max, when it came to pickled beets).

How many of you had the same experience that I did? I’ll recount my version, and you can let me know if it sounds familiar.

It was my first Thanksgiving hosting guests for dinner. I wanted to make pumpkin pie, and I loved my mom’s recipe. My mom and my aunt shared many recipes in those days, and back then a long distance phone call was a big expense for a university student. I called my cousin who lived just down the road.

“Oh ya”, he said. “Mom told me the recipe last year. Gotta pen?” I was ready, recipe book and pen in hand.

“It’s tricky. The most important thing is to have the best ingredients. You’ll need to make a special trip to buy everything. She told me first to go to the grocery store and look for Libby’s Pumpkin purée. Not the pie filling, the pure pumpkin.”

“Pumpkin purée, got it”, I said as I scribbled. “What next?” I was trying desperately to remember how many eggs, if it was dark or light brown sugar, and what were all those spices?

“Are you ready?” he asked. Here was the real secret, I just knew it. “She told me to look on the back of the can. The recipe is right there.”

We both laughed. We already knew the amazing pie crust was the result of using the recipe on the Tenderflake box. This amazing holiday classic came down to a bit of grocery marketing. Part of me felt like I’d been duped. The other part – the one connected to my tummy - was happy to be in on the secret.

Over the years I have kicked the spices up a notch, and that’s the pumpkin pie recipe I have on my Happy Gourmand blog, recorded for posterity. I didn’t want to leave anyone hanging.

The rest of my family classics are there too, like Mom’s Shortbread (link: https://happygourmand.wordpress.com/recipe-archives/moms-shortbread-cookies/ ) (that one was on a calendar page from a flour company) and Tuna Casserole (link: https://happygourmand.wordpress.com/recipe-archives/tuna-casserole/ ) (a Campbell’s Mushroom Soup recipe).

There are a few recipes I wrote down once I figured them out. My Icelandic grandmother, also known as Amma, had a recipe for the traditional Vinertarta cake (link: https://happygourmand.wordpress.com/recipe-archives/vinarterta-icelandic-christmas-cake/ ), popular at this time of year. But it said, “use enough flour to make a soft cookie dough.” How soft, Amma? (She was not around for me to ask.)

Do you have family favourites? Do you know how to pass them on to future generations? If not, perhaps that could be a mission this holiday season.

All our timeworn favourites are no less classic if the recipe comes from a bottle or can or box. They were all made with love - an ingredient that makes everything taste better. And knowing the story of how the love was put on your family table will make them even more delectable.

That’s why I still love my mom’s pumpkin pie.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Kristin Peturson-Laprise is a customer experience specialist by trade, which means she is someone passionate about people having a good time. 

Her company, Wow Service Mentor, helps businesses enhance their customer experience through hands-on training, service programs, and special event coordination.

Kristin enjoys her own experiences too, and that is what she writes about in this column. She and her husband Martin Laprise (also known as Chef Martin, of The Chef Instead) love to share their passion for food and entertaining.  

Kristin says:

"Wikipedia lists a gourmand as a person who takes great pleasure in food. I have taken the concept of gourmandise, or enjoying something to the fullest, in all parts of my life. I love to grow and cook food, and I loved wine enough to become a Sommelier. I call a meal a success when I can convey that 'sense of place' from where the food has come . . . the French call that terroir, but I just call it the full experience. It might mean tasting the flavours of my own garden, or transporting everyone at the table to a faraway place, reminiscent of travels or dreams we have had."


E-mail Kristin at:  [email protected]

Check out her website here:  www.wowservicementor.com


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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