Family recipes

I love family recipes. There is just something special about food passed down from generation to generation. It’s not all nostalgia either, although there is a heavy dash of that. Other reasons as well make family recipes valuable.

1. Tried and true. These babies have been in use for years, over and over again. If it doesn’t work, it would have been tossed long ago.

2. Delicious (well, maybe). Barring a few dishes that are kept around for nostalgic reasons (think boiled, sulfurous brussels sprouts) – if someone is going to bother making the same meal over and over again, there is a reason: It’s good. People ask for it, and unless they are ass-kissers, that means they like it.

3. Advice. Confused about when to add the flour, or whether to whisk or fold? Just ask! Unless you are the sole family survivor, which would be quite sad, then you’ve got people you can call and ask questions of when you get mixed up and begin tilting towards disaster.

A prime family recipe. Stained, tattered, notes in the margins. I found this in my mom’s recipe box. It’s for chicken pot pie, a childhood favorite in our house.

I realized all of these benefits on New Year’s Eve, when I made my grandmother Louise’s recipe for coq au vin. Luckily she and my Aunt Christine were both in the house, so I could pepper them with any little concern that came to mind.

Some families guard their recipes, as if they are precious secrets. And I guess I sort of see why. Maybe they want to be able to boast that they make the best corn bread this side of Texas? Either way, I’m all for sharing. Because if you figure out how to do something well, but don’t tell anyone, it doesn’t do much good. Luckily my grandmother agrees, and said I could feature her recipe here.

This was her go-to dinner party recipe that she made most frequently in the 50s and 60s, for all sorts of company. She remembers once making it for her daughter Christine, her college roommate from Brown, and the girl’s parents. Grammy (Louise) said she often gravitated towards this recipe, because she could make it ahead, then relax and have a drink with her guests before dinner while the dish was warming in the oven. I asked her how she found the time to make it (it took me quite a while). She said, “Oh I didn’t have anything else to do.” For those who don’t know her, she had eight children, then earned her masters and went on to practice psychology at Tufts. As a single parent. I’m tired from just typing that.

Coq au vin is a classic French recipe, translating to “rooster with wine.” Traditionally a tough old rooster was stewed for hours in wine, until it was tender and juicy. My grandmother’s recipe called for fryers, or small chickens. We used chicken thighs and they worked well. Two buck chuck was our vin, and it did just fine. Anything dry would do.

Serve with a simple salad and crusty bread for mopping up all that wine-y goodness.

The coq au vin right before its long nap in the oven.

I made a few changes to the recipe, basically removing the canned goods and adding a few notes. The original recipe is below.

Louise Heard’s Coq au vin

Serves 6-8, generously

2 cups diced salt pork

2 tablespoons butter

4 fryers (quartered) or 8 chicken thighs

4 teaspoons of salt

2 cans whole onions, or one small frozen bag

4 cups white mushrooms, sliced

1 bunch sliced scallions

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1/3 cup flour

4 cups red wine

2 sprigs parsley

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1. Early in the day: cook salt pork in boiling salted water in Dutch oven for 5 minutes. (Note: the salt pork was very hard for me to slice, until I boiled it, then it was a piece of cake. If your pork has the skin still on: boil first, then chop.) Drain, add butter to pork; saute pork until brown. Remove, reserve.

2. Sear chicken on each side until lightly browned (If you are pressed for time, you can skip this.) Sprinkle with salt, pepper, add onions and mushrooms, simmer covered for 15 minutes.

3. Pour most of the fat, leaving enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Add scallions, garlic; simmer one minute.

4. Stir in flour, cook stirring till thickened, sprinkle parsley, thyme and salt pork. Add wine, stir to coat.

5. Bake covered at 350 degrees for two hours.

6. Serve immediately or cool and refrigerate. Reheat and serve up to two days later.

The original recipe.

Grammy and I have been living together for just about a month now and it’s been so fun. We spend most days by the fire, reading and working on our laptops. This means we’ve a few more family recipes that I will post about soon. Up next, homemade fish chowder that was her mother’s recipe. My mom and I filleted two white bass to make it. There were a few choice four letter words (from me), followed by some very good soup. More to come on that. But for now, do you have special family recipes? What are they? Does your family share them, or are they top secret?



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11 responses to “Family recipes

  1. Cathy T.

    You can tell a Heard recipe card a mile away! Several years ago Grammy copied down all of her favorite family recipes into a journal book and gave it to me as a present. I went to find it with my cookbooks but it is not there. I will have to hunt it down and share it with you. My favorite recipe in it is ham stuffed potatoes…oh, and creamed onions…well, the chocolate buttermilk recipe isn’t that bad either…ok, forget it, I could just go on and on! p.s. your blog is great and fun.

    • wow! what a cool gift, i really hope you find it. i’d love to look at it! creamed onions is another family recipe that came to mind when i started thinking about them. maybe that should be a post close to thanksgiving next year! xoxo

  2. J'aime

    Wonderful article. I was very fortunate to have this delicious dish on New Years. My mouth is watering now looking at the picture and rereading your beaufitul story 🙂 Nice work!

  3. J'aime

    PS- I spelled BEAUTIFUL wrong and I can’t find where to change. Look forward to your next post!!

  4. Randy

    Great article Hannah – let’s make some of (my grandmother) Mu’s biscuits soon!

  5. Liz

    the family that cooks together stays together

  6. Jane W Amis

    Hannah, I am ashamed to say that when I inherited my Nana’s very old Joy of Cooking, I removed all of the recipes that she had tucked throughout the book. I probably threw them in a box and eventually lost them. I did keep her beef bourguignon. I think that salt pork was used like we use olive oil…in everything; along with lard.

  7. louise (Grammy) Heard

    I am so thrilled to have my old recipes published!! They evoke so many good memories of a very happy time and wonderful warm feelings ……..
    I expect these enhance the flavor!
    You are a great writer (reporter) and I am honored to be included in your article. As you said, I am having a fun time in my 92nd year – a lot of it due to the BEST grandchildren, such as you, who keep me laughimg and au courant. You are all VERY special to me. I can’t wait to do some more recipes with you, Hannah.

    est grandchildren, such as YOU, who keep me laughing and au courant. Everybody should be so lucky!

  8. Lizzy

    I have all of my gma’s recipe cards from Delray. There are at least 15 cards for meatloaf but I keep meaning to organize things and pull out the winners. Many of them are party plans which would be fun to recreate!

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