Toronto Metropolitan University's Independent Student Newspaper Since 1967

All Arts & Culture The Print Issue

Served with love: Preservation of family recipes

Words by Khushy Vashisht

Visuals by Michelle Menezes

The light brown cover of my mother’s cookbook protects the generational treasures inside. It’s soft to the touch, yet simultaneously rough around the edges. Its suede material has slowly but surely become worn out—undoubtedly from the dozens of times, I’ve followed along to the secrets it holds and the many years my mom has used it before me. 

When she first immigrated to Canada in 2001, my mother brought a family recipe book, filled with traditional Indian meals with her. She hoped it would help her stay in touch with her roots as she moved to a whole new world with only my father.

She hoped to pass it down to her future children.

Andrea Moraes, assistant professor at the Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) School of Nutrition, said that in itself, cuisine is ultimately a social construct—a concept explored in her class titled FND 401: Social and Cultural Dimensions of Food

“Food is central to identity; not only [to] individual identity, but social identity [too]. Our cuisines are socially constructed,” said Moraes. “Which means they are constructed through interactions with people. Our families, our colleagues, our institutions as well, not only with people but our environments [as well].”

In my house, my mother and I make Kheer—often referred to as rice pudding in English—on any auspicious occasion. From birthday parties to Diwali, the Indian dessert and family staple was bound to be present at every event. Recently, I’ve taken the initiative to learn how to make the treat myself and often reference my mother’s handwriting in her 20-something-year-old book.

That is a tradition known all too well by families, communities and cultures across the globe.

Alana Naraine, a Guyanese third-year English student at TMU, shared that the recipe for the Caribbean dish Bake has been in her family for as long as she can remember. She described it as a “batter-fried dish” that’s often served during breakfast in her home.

Naraine’s family recipes are recorded in loose leafs of paper rather than a traditional book, tucked away with either her mother or her maternal grandmother. Yet, the steps to prepare each meal are completely ingrained in the hearts of her loved ones.

“It brings [the family] together. It’s like that Sunday morning, get-together breakfast, which is rare sometimes [because] you don’t always get to see them,” Naraine explained. “When you do, you know you’re having Bake.”

She equated the “warm and fluffy” nature of the dish with her family, representing their “welcoming, inviting and loving [nature] towards each other.”

Naraine said that food is a prominent part of her connection to her family as the younger generation, including her brother and cousins, aren’t as involved in other aspects of their background—something exacerbated due to being born in Canada. 

“It keeps us connected to our past and the history and [previous] generations of Guyana,” said Naraine. “My cousins, brother, and I are not super religious [or] super cultural, but it’s the food that keeps us [connected].”

Moraes said many researchers and anthropologists refer to cuisines as being simultaneously normative and expressive. Normative describes the set of rules children are brought up with including “how to eat, what to eat, what is a taboo food” and more. Meanwhile, expressive speaks to building both individual and collective identity through food.

“Creating culture is very human,” said Moraes. “We create systems of representations, of meanings…it’s emotional for a lot of people.”

Nazha Syriani, a half-Palestinian and half-Canadian third-year fashion student at TMU, enjoys a diverse range of written family recipes from each side of her heritage.

From her mother’s Newfoundland—or as Syriani liked to put it, “Newfie”— background, Partridgeberry Pudding is a classic dish made in her household, first documented by her maternal grandmother. The multiple rips and crinkles of the page containing the pudding recipe all show signs of the family’s love for the meal and the page that is sometimes “thrown around the house,” she cheekily added. 

From her father’s Palestinian side, Syriani loves to eat Koussa Warak—a savoury dish also popular in Lebanon, consisting of stuffed zucchini and grape leaves. 

Roughly around the time of the Nakba in 1948, which saw a mass amount of Palestinians displaced from their homes, Syriani’s paternal grandparents emigrated to Lebanon where they stayed in a refugee camp* before moving to Kuwait and then back to Lebanon.

Many Palestinian and Arabic dishes go unwritten in Syriani’s household, as she shared that recipes are taught by family members cooking together. However, on Syriani’s maternal side, her mother often pulls recipes from a yellow cookbook adorned with flowers and a blue edge on the spine. In it, there are several recipes from Newfoundlanders, which Syriani’s mother adapts and also adds to with her own ideas.

Syriani finds documenting recipes important in both a practical and sentimental way.

“Culturally, I think it’s just something that will always stay with you, and you’ll know it’s something you grew up with, something that has been passed down generations,” said Syriani. “And then it’s also like, I tend to be forgetful.”

Syriani also added, “I love my cultural food. Even though I can’t go back to [Palestine] or experience being there for myself, in a way, it brings me closer to there.”

However, many cultures and families do not keep physical records of family recipes but pass down these customs orally. This is the way things are in the home of Victor Ola-Matthew, a third-year international student from Nigeria studying medical physics at TMU.

Ola-Matthew explained that Nigeria consists of hundreds of tribes. His father belongs to the Yoruba tribe in Ekiti, while his mother is a part of the Ika tribe in Edo.

One of his favourite dishes, passed down orally and through the physical process of cooking together, is Palm Oil Beans—usually honey or brown beans cooked in palm oil. 

Moraes spoke on the translation of oral to written teachings using Indigenous populations as an example. She referenced the way colonialism and forceful assimilation—particularly in residential schools—resulted in many that “lost their own knowledge [and] their culture of food” and several “successful initiatives of Indigenous cookbooks” that exist today.

However, she also said both the oral and written passing downs of customs—including recipes—work together. One is not superior to the other. 

“One form does not deny the other, I think they complement the other,” said Moraes.

Although his family recipes have never been written down, Ola-Matthew considers that maybe it’s time to change that—especially now that he’s living on the other side of the world. He said that writing recipes is a “good way of preserving the memories of people.”

“Being that I’m no longer home, it makes more sense to write it down,” said Ola-Matthew. “It’s like a sense of connection.”

After some further reflection, Ola-Matthew changed his mind, “I think I’m going to make my mom write it, that’s more sentimental.”

A soft smile adorned his face as he repeated himself saying, “That’s more sentimental.”

*Correction: The print version of this article contained a misquoted statement from a source. This quote has since been fact-checked and corrected. This was a production error and the writer of this piece had no role in the error. The Eyeopener deeply regrets this error.

Leave a Reply