Tom Kelchner Describes Love for Food & Tradition with 2-Family Cookbook Projects

Previous News Journalist Writes Two CookBooks Inspired By Family


Guest blogger, Tom Kelchner is the author or PaFoodLife.com and is now up to the challenge of resurrecting family recipes from his great grandmother and his mother n law. Besides his career as a former daily news journalist, he's cornering the food blog industry with his delightful prose on a love of food and family tradition. I'm honored to feature this writer and hope you will find his timeless project something you may want to add to your cooking heritage.

FoodAndForks guest blogger: PaFoodLife.com

By Tom Kelchner of Carlisle, Pa.


The cleanout


There is a critical moment in the history of family recipe boxes and notebooks. It’s “the cleanout” after the last member of the previous generation has passed away and the house must go on the market. “Mom’s” recipes will go into the trash, on a shelf or to the attic. A year later there will be calls exchanged: “do you have mom’s recipe for that chocolate cake that everybody loved.”


In the best of all possible cases, someone will take charge and photocopy the recipes -- at least the most-loved ones -- and give copies to everyone who wants them.

I’m the one who took charge of two families. I am working on two cookbooks based on the recipes of previous generations. One that will contain one-tenth of my mother-in-law’s 1,400 recipes. They were in the attic for two years after her death in 2014. We went looking for one and discovered what we had.


The second book is based on my great grandmother Lillian Bowman’s 1906 manuscript cookbook. It was in my parents’ attic for over 50 years before they passed away and surfaced after we cleaned out their house following my mother’s death.


The food and drink of everyday life

The history of the common man was rarely recorded throughout history. I have always had enough interest in food and enough imagination to wonder: what did the food taste like in various places 100 years ago or 1,000 years ago? In a way, cooking the recipes that have come down to us is a form of time travel.


(Rivel soup: a medieval recipe still alive in Pennsylvania Dutch cooking)

With that in mind it’s not hard to see that we have a very unique opportunity right now to record two things:


  1. 1) what we find in the last generation’s recipe boxes, and

  2. 2) what we are eating today.


Then in 100 or 1,000 years, future dreamers will have more to go on as they travel in time back to our day.


And that is why I am:

1) writing two cookbooks at once and

2) blogging about the “food and drink of everyday life” on PaFoodLife.com.


There is a life cycle to old "stuff" and that includes recipes. Manuscript cookbooks before 1865 are being archived and studied. Recipes since then, not so much. The objects of our lives get old and are discarded as they are replaced by those that are “new and improved.” At a certain point, the old junk becomes “antique” and is again valued, what’s left of it. The recipes of the last three generations are now in the "old junk" stage. They’re out there and available, but vanishing rapidly.


The books (hopefully to be self-published in 2020)

"To Great Grandmother’s House, we Go – American comfort food from the 1960s, 50s and before”

This will contain about 130 kitchen-tested and photographed recipes from the 1,400 left by my mother-in-law, Joan Knechel (1934-2014) of Quakertown, Pa. The recipes I’ve chosen are just the ones that the family remembers. Ten percent are Pennsylvania Dutch recipes. The rest are dishes that many American housewives were cooking for the first three-quarters of the 20th century. Joan’s focus clearly was the recipes of 1970 and before.


(Hog maw, or stuffed pig’s stomach. For the recipe see https://pafoodlife.com/recipes -- it’s the last one and it’s not as bad as it sounds.)



“Lib’s Recipes – The Lillian Bowman 1906 Manuscript Cookbook”

Lillian Bowman, my great grandmother, was from the Northeastern Pennsylvania coal region. She married a prominent physician and was part of the affluent middle class in the booming industrial town of Berwick, Pa. She carried her third child through a typhoid epidemic in 1906-7 that sickened 114 people and killed nine in Berwick. After her husband died in 1919, when she was 43, she became the town librarian and held the post for 29 years. The manuscript contains over 130 recipes for household cleaners and cosmetics as well as food. The recipes show that the family preferred English-style cooking and not Pennsylvania Dutch.



You can follow the blog at PaFoodLife.com or join the Facebook group PaFoodLife for progress reports and other food craziness of day-to-day life such as: “My only recipe that requires a brick:” https://pafoodlife.com/blog/f/gravlax

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