Saturday, January 4, 2014

Cookbook Family History

As much as I try to remember that family history is really about the stories of our ancestors, I often get lost in the investigation of details. But thankfully, the stories still pop up in their own delightful ways.

This time it came as a family history Christmas gift from my second cousin who has been doing an astonishing job of collecting the stories of our Gillespie family. He has connected with a family member from our Canadian branch who shared a document with us that was written by our third cousin once removed, an 87-year-old woman still living. This 22-page document is, of all things, a cookbook of family recipes!

This cookbook is remarkable in several ways. First it starts with a one-page introduction to the author's maternal line, which contains a few details we had not heard before (more on that in another post). And then she proceeds to present FOUR generations of women starting with Mary Gillespie LeRossignol Henderson (1840-1935). Each section shows a picture of each female ancestor, gives a short but wonderfully detailed account of her life, and then follows with recipes that she was known for. Recipes included were: Dark Christmas or Wedding Cake, Christmas Pudding (recipe originated in Ireland), Orange Cake, Scotch Shortbread, Date Bread, Queen Elizabeth Cake, Shrimp Tuna Casserole, Tortiere (French Canadian pork pie, traditional on Christmas Eve before midnight), Pineapple Marshmallow Dessert, Salad Dressing, Walnut Applesauce Cake, Marschino Nut Cake (good for Valentine's Day cooked in heart-shaped pans), Curried Shrimp, Tomato Aspic, and Candy Cane Ice Cream. Of these, I can tell you that the Scotch Shortbread somehow made it down my branch of the family, as my sister has made that recipe at Christmastime, just as our mother did during our growing-up.

The thing that really moves me about this account is how well-educated and talented all these women were. We already know that Mary Gillespie Henderson was a prolific letter-writer. But I did not know that her oldest daughter, who had TB of the spine, was an early woman graduate of the University of Toronto. Another daughter was among the first class of women at McGill University, which would also become the alma mater of Mary's granddaughters. Her female descendants were not only mothers and homemakers; one became a doctor, one a lawyer, another a business owner. One played piano, two had an arts degree, one joined the Red Cross and traveled overseas, several were known for their gardens. All were loved and fondly remembered by their families.

I must admit all this makes me a little sniffly. In our modern western world where genealogy is defined patrilineally, and even the names of our female ancestors seem to fade as quickly as a sunset, this cookbook arrives as an especially precious gift. That it came from my male second cousin who got it from a male third cousin, both of whom clearly love this family history cookbook as much as I do fills my heart. These are the stories that round out our rich family history and give us some personal insights that we otherwise might never have imagined. And of course, now I have a couple of new/old recipes to try!

Happy New Year!

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