BY Jennifer Kornegay | Food/Photography by Brooke Echols
Handing down favorite recipes is a worthwhile pursuit that’s about sharing something more than good food.
When we talk about family heirlooms, we’re often referring to jewelry, fine china or maybe granddad’s coin collection. But an heirloom, as Merriam-Webster defines it, is anything that is “something of special value handed down from one generation to another.” And that “value” isn’t necessarily monetary. What are warm sentiments worth? How about a bite that brings back a flood of fond memories? Can you assign an accurate appraisal for the sense of accomplishment and pride that comes from preparing and serving that dish everyone has always loved (and getting it just right)?
These feelings and experiences are priceless and are yours for the taking when you save, use and share heirloom recipes. Holding onto recipe cards covered in your grandmother’s scrawling script or keeping your mom’s dog-eared cookbooks with notes in the margins and splatter stains on the edges is historic preservation at its purest.
And you’re not just protecting remnants of the past, you’re reviving them. Our most basic needs often connect us in the deepest ways, and food builds bridges that transcend time and space. Every time you prep the ingredients and follow the steps outlined in an old recipe, you open an opportunity to remember and revisit family members who’ve done the same before. These are connections that surpass the tenuous relations many of us now have in the hundreds via social media “friends.”
The next step is passing them along. It’s a way to reach out to current and even generations yet to come and hand them a heaping helping of yourself and of the heritage that has shaped who you are.
If you don’t have an heirloom recipe collection, it’s never too late to start one. And you don’t have to dip only into your own gene pool. Borrow some of these oldies but goodies submitted by our readers and start your tradition today.
Gail Clark Sheppard has been enjoying a simple yet super-sweet cake her grandmother used to make all of her life, and she believes her grandmother enjoyed it most of hers. “She may have come up with it herself, but I think she may have gotten it from her mother,” she said. “I know it has been in my family for more than 100 years.” The molasses cake was an easy yet satisfying treat that Sheppard’s grandmother often whipped up to feed her energetic grandkids. “She’d slice it up and put it in an eight-pound lard bucket and bring it out to us while we were playing,” she said. “And then she’d tell us not to bother her for a while!” That version was particularly special since its principal ingredient was also homemade. “My grandad and my dad farmed sugar cane, so they made their own molasses, and my grandma used that of course. Sometimes, she used it in place of sugar in other recipes too,” Sheppard said. The memories of fun family times now add their sweetness to the skillet anytime Sheppard bakes the humble cake. “I can remember how wonderful it tasted then, when she’d bring it out still warm to us as kids,” she said. “I love it to this day.”
- 1 1/3 cups molasses
- 1/3 cup sugar
- ½ cup butter
- 1½ cups flour
- ¼-½ teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 eggs
Mix all ingredients together. Pour into a greased and floured 10-inch iron skillet. Bake at 350 degrees until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Grandma Clark’s Dumplings
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 4 cups flour
- 2 cups buttermilk
- ¼ cup shortening
Mix milk and shortening with flour. Stir to make soft dough. Turn out onto floured surface. Knead dough a few times until stiff. Divide dough in half. Roll one half at a time until it is about the thickness of piecrust. Cut into strips about an inch wide and two inches long. Drop pieces one at a time into boiling broth.
Grandma dropped her dumplings into the broth at the side of the pot, while holding the ones already cooking back with a spoon. She did not stir the dumplings while they cooked. They cooked uncovered until she got all the dough in the pot. Then she covered them and cooked them about 15 minutes. This recipe makes a large pot of dumplings.
Gail Clark Sheppard
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda or baking powder
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup butter (no substitutes!)
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 cup jam (any kind, but preferably homemade blackberry with the seeds in and nothing used but sugar and berries to make the jam)
- 1 cup dates, chopped
- 1 cup raisins
- 1 cup nuts, chopped (cook’s preference)
- 1 apple, grated
Sift flour, salt, and baking soda or powder together, reserving 1/4 cup of the flour to mix with the nuts, dates and raisins. Cream together the sugar and butter. Add eggs one at a time and mix well after each addition. Combine buttermilk and jam. Add alternately with combined dry ingredients to the creamed mixture. Flour the fruit and nuts and stir them into the batter. Stir in the grated apple. Bake in 3 greased, 9-inch cake pans in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes or until cake tests done. Turn out onto racks to cool before frosting. NOTE: If a spicier cake is desired, sift 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/8 teaspoon allspice, and 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves with the flour, salt and baking powder.
Brown Sugar Icing:
- ½ cup unsalted butter
- 1 cup brown sugar, packed
- ¼ cup milk
- 2 cups sifted confectioners sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
In a deep, large kettle melt the butter over high heat until it just starts to boil.
Add the brown sugar. Bring to a boil and lower heat to medium and continue to boil for 2 minutes. Don’t boil longer than two minutes and stir constantly while it is boiling. Add the milk and splash of vanilla and return to a boil, stirring constantly.
As soon as it begins to boil, remove from heat and cool to lukewarm. Gradually add confectioners’ sugar. Stir with a wooden spoon until thick and spreadable.
North Alabama EC
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 1 egg
- 11/2 cups milk
- 1/2 stick butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Bananas, sliced
- Vanilla wafers
Mix sugar, flour and egg. Stir in milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring often until thick. Remove from heat, add vanilla and butter, then stir. Pour over layered bananas and vanilla wafers in 8×8-inch casserole dish.
Alabama’s Corn Chowder
- 5 medium potatoes, diced
- 1 pound Zeigler bacon
- 2 16-ounce cans cream or kernel corn (add juice if you use kernel)
- 1 large can evaporated milk
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- ¾ cup pre-cooked Zeigler ham, finely chopped
- 1 stick butter
- Salt and pepper, to taste
Cook potatoes until almost done in a large boiler then set aside. Leave enough water to cover potatoes, about two cups. Fry bacon and remove to drain but reserve grease. Sauté ham and onion in bacon grease. Crumble and add bacon, ham and onions to potatoes. Add corn, milk and butter. Salt and pepper as desired. If chowder is too thin, add two heaping tablespoons flour to 1½ cups of water. This will help the chowder thicken. Simmer 15-20 minutes. Saltine crackers go great with the chowder.
Wyenette Ware Renfroe
Granny Pritchett’s Tea Cakes
- 1 cup sugar
- ½ cup butter, softened
- 1 egg
- 3 tablespoons milk
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 3½ cups all purpose flour
Mix ingredients in the order listed. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes. Can be rolled out and cut into shapes.
Pea River EC
Fattingand II (Lena Olson’s Fried Cookies)
- 5 egg yolks
- 1 egg
- 6 tablespoons sugar
- 6 teaspoons cream
- 1/8 teaspoon crushed whole cardamom
- 1¾ cups flour (enough to roll cookies out)
Beat egg well, add sugar and remaining ingredients. Roll out the cookie dough, cut into diamond shapes and fry in deep fat at 370 degrees for 2-3 minutes or until golden brown. Dust with powdered sugar.
Coming up in July… Frozen Treats!
It’s time to spice up our recipe selection and you could be a winner! We are looking for fresh, creative recipes from readers just like you. In addition to our monthly Cook of the Month prize, beginning in January, all cooks who submit a recipe will automatically be entered into a drawing to win a gift basket full of Alabama Living merchandise. Take a look at our upcoming themes and send in your favorite recipes today!
Themes and Deadlines
August: Corn | June 8
September: BBQ | July 8
October: Pumpkin | Aug. 8
Editor’s Note: Alabama Living’s recipes are submitted by our readers. They are not kitchen-tested by a professional cook or registered dietician. If you have special dietary needs, please check with your doctor or nutritionist before preparing any recipe.