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  • Writer's pictureCourtney Jones

Archive and Legacy: What's in A Recipe?

Updated: Nov 27, 2022

We losing recipes... but we don't have to. We have the ability and responsibility to use our own personal archives to preserve the traditions and customs we hold dear. It's the photo albums, the scrapbooks, the old stories told sitting around the grill or fireplace. We all hold a wealth of knowledge passed down from our predecessors and ancestors that informs how we walk through life.

This Thanksgiving I've been reflecting and remembering. Sitting and listening, looking and knowing. Thinking about all the empty seats at the table where my grandparents would be sitting this year. Placemats set for loved ones that ain't going to show again any time soon.

Grieving would be the best way, to sum up my thoughts. But on the other side of grief is joy found in reflection, deep in my memories of the jokes we'd tell one another, the stories of the lives they've lived, the lessons they learned and passed onto me and my cousins. The little moments I still find myself clinging to when the world feels too big and I crave the stillness found on my grandmamma's front porch or the calm of her humming sitting in a rocking chair telling me a story full of sound and no words.

"Ain't nothing wrong with hard work, but you smart, so ain't no need for your hands to look like mine."

Studying my grandfather, who we called Paw Paw, chop wood, grill a steak, clean oxtails, and meddle everyone in the house all in the span of one afternoon. Seeing him hold his hands out, wrinkled and battered from decades of hard labor, the hands that built my grandmother's home and hearth from the foundation up, and hearing him say, "Ain't nothing wrong with hard work, but you smart, so ain't no need for your hands to look like mine." I never did get what he meant as a child, but now I realize the hope he had for me.

I inherited a family name, Walthall, after my Paw Paw's father with whom I share a birthday. In a way, I embody my family's archive carrying the legacy of the men before me for better or worse I am a part of them as they are me. Our history is a part of my essence in a serendipitous way. I also inherited my grandmother's recipe box, striped pale yellow and soft purple, covered in dents and bursting full of paper scribbled with script faded from being written longer than I or even my parents have been earthside. Looking over them wondering what to display on the table this year, sweet potato pie, peach cobbler, pound cake, 7 Up cake, egg custard, surprise me soup, 5 flavor cake, and the list goes on. Searching and wondering what would make everyone feel like she was here with us again, laughing and saying that we won't believe how special she made her dessert for us this year.

"Every morsel is a testament to the ways we've been taught to cook and pour love into the ways we nourish ourselves and our loved ones."

This year won't be the same, yet we'll still gather and laugh and remember, even in spite of the lingering grief we feel. We'll be thankful and merry and cheerful because we're able to honor our ancestors with each bite and sip. Every morsel is a testament to the ways we've been taught to cook and pour love into the way we nourish ourselves and our loved ones. That's the archive at work, that's love persisting beyond the lingering and wishing and wanting. As I stand in my kitchen chopping and measuring, basting and roasting, mixing and beating, honing the things my grandmammas taught me as a small boy too short to see over the countertops I can recall from my memory their love and care knowing that if I ever need a reminder that I can pull from that small box of recipes.

Tell us how you and your loved ones will pull from the archive or add to the archive this year and post your favorite recipe in the comments. Show us what you've added to the spread this year as you gather and enjoy the people that you're thankful for. How are y'all honoring your ancestors and utilizing your own familial archives? Check out the recipe below, from my own family archive, and feel free to add your own twist to it this holiday season!

Pecan Pie:

1/4 stick of butter (approx. 2 tablespoons)

1 box of vanilla instant pudding

3/4 cup of evaporated (pet) milk in can

1 egg - slightly beaten

1 cup of dark Karo syrup

*a splash of vanilla don't hurt nothing, or almond extract for added nuttiness

Combine all these together. Then add 1 cup of chopped pecans and bake in a pie crust {that has been blind baked} for 30 minutes or until the top settles.

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