Nostalgic Recipes; Cooking to Remember
Updated: Nov 8
"...break out any family recipes you may have, to make you feel close to the people you love or once loved."
These days I've been finding myself at home more often and the present times have made me more grateful for family and friends. It has found me reminiscing about old recipes, things I haven't eaten since I was a kid. We all have those dishes, those memories, of foods tying us to people and places. I've been thinking about the things my grandmothers used to make growing up, foods I haven't tasted in over a decade...
Growing up I had my father's mother to call grandma, but I never met my mom's mom. My mom came to Canada from Scotland when she was only eight. Her mother (Peggy) passed away just before I was born. I was told she loved to make soup, so I find whenever I make soup I often think of her. Since I was never able to meet Peggy, my sister and I were lucky to have another "Scottish Granny", Irene. Although distantly related, she was like our grandmother growing up. She would come to visit us in Canada and we would visit her in Scotland. My mom is from Perth, Scotland, a beautiful little town situated on the River Tay. When we would go to Scotland our first visit would always be to Irene. Without fail, I knew a hot pot of homemade soup would be waiting for us on the stove, and hopefully some of her Millionaire's Shortbread (a chocolatey caramel shortbread) to have with tea. They drink a lot of tea... like a lot! Maybe prolific soup making is a Scottish thing? My memories of her are so strongly connected to this gesture of comfort, of warmth. The Scotch Broth, Lettuce Soup, or whatever savoury soup was waiting, will forever remind me of feeling at home, despite the distance from Canada.
"My memories of her are so strongly connected to this gesture of comfort, of warmth."
My dad's mom Doris, my grandmother in Canada, is also tied to so many memories of food for me. I remember helping her and my grandpa to harvest crabapples from the gigantic tree in their backyard. My grandma would later turn these into crabapple jelly. My grandpa also had a gorgeous little garden that he would lovingly tend. My partner and I love our farm adventures nowadays, and I can never dig up a potato or carrot without thinking of that little garden and my grandpa. My grandmother always put out her walnut & chocolate chips cookies and homemade date squares when company would come over. But there is one thing that has always been synonymous with grandma in my family, a symbol that exuded warmth and love: Grandma Buns. These light, fluffy, yeast dinner rolls were always a part of family holiday gatherings. We fondly referred to them as "Grandma Buns", it definitely is a silly name we gave them. I'm pretty sure these buns made up the majority of my younger sister's diet growing up. I'd attempted making these once before, but like so many recipes our elderly relatives may have written down, they never turned out quite "right". I'm never entirely sure why that is? It has been many years since my last attempt. I think I've learned a lot since then (a lot of it at culinary school) so I decided to reattempt Grandma Buns. I adjusted the procedure to match recipes I was more familiar with, had to adjust the liquid ratio, and there were many times along the way where I was starting to feel a bit hopeless. In the end, I think I reproduced something a least warmly familiar. I'm not sure if it is the amount of years since I last ate one of these rolls made by my grandmother, but they are forever etched as "perfect" to me. I don't know that I can live up to this memory, but I have attempted to recreate these as best as possible to share with my family. And now my chef partner is making this adapted recipe at work, so I think my grandma would be flattered.
"I wish I could go back and ask her to write down every recipe she could think of and teach me how to make them."
In the photo shoot, I served the freshly baked, still warm buns with salted butter. The only addition I made to the recipe was an egg wash and maldon salt on the buns before putting them in the oven. I got out the lace tablecloth my mother passed down to me from her mother, which was probably brought over from McEwan's in Perth, Scotland. I cracked open my own dusty recipe box and sorted through some of the handwritten recipes I have from the grannies in my life. I have very few from my Canadian grandmother, so I am so glad I pestered Irene to send me as many handwritten recipes as she could. I was still a teenager when my dad's mother passed away, so she didn't yet know the extent to which I would develop a love for food. I wish I could go back and ask her to write down every recipe she could think of and teach me how to make them. I encourage you to break out any family recipes you may have, to make you feel close to the people you love or once loved. The recipes I have (in their authors' handwriting) are a few of the only things that I have left of them, alongside my memories, and the food that connects me to them.