Old Family Recipe

December 26, 2020

Tis the season for my Facebook feed to be filled with photos of Grandma’s famous cheese dip, Aunt Mamie’s yummy turkey pot pie and Mom Bradley’s never-fail snickerdoodles—if I’m lucky the actual recipe is attached to the post. It all looks splendid, and I am always inspired to bookmark a few of these heirloom treats to try with my fam. What can I offer up in return for my interweb buddies’ mealtime enjoyment, I wonder?

The other day I pulled out several bulging gallon-size Ziploc bags, into which were haphazardly crammed recipes from all over. I spent an afternoon sorting them into file folders, hoping to unearth fabulous family culinary treasures to share with the world.

Most recipes I found were snipped from yellowed newspapers so fragile that they crumbled to dust when I touched them. Some were photocopies of pages from cookbooks THAT ARE STILL ON MY SHELVES (thought process unknown). There was a period back in the mid-1970s when my late sister Mo took it upon herself to scrawl (in green ink on oversized index cards) the magic formulas for Beet and Sour Cream Salad, Chocolate Truffles, etc.  Hostess Extraordinaire Maureen whipped them all up in her tiny apartment, for elaborate dinner parties thrown for her unworthy young adult friends, whose idea of haute cuisine was the Quarter Pounder with EXTRA cheese.

My mother-in-law Leona is represented by her (delicious) German Potato Salad and her (tooth-breaking) Springerle cookies. The sole offering from my mom Joanie is “Nana’s Chicken,” a concoction (very) heavy on the sherry and breadcrumbs, to the point that you can chew quite a while before getting to the poultry itself. There were a few pages torn from Fanny Farmer’s cookbook circa 1928, with pencilled notes by my Nana Cunningham; which indicate Nan prepared an awful lot of blancmange and other arcane desserts. In the end, except from the bittersweet reward of seeing Mo’s handwriting again, I found there wasn’t much worth saving, precious little to which I will refer going forward.

But there was one singular “find” that I am excited about—a homemade cherry pie recipe. This was from our babysitter, Stephanie Schultz, who watched us for five days in 1969, the only time my parents ever went away. “Stevie” was a marvel who cooked and tidied and quickly organized our lives like Mary Poppins, and her pie was a revelation. Shortly after her stint with the Cunningham girls, Stephanie entered the convent. You may draw your own conclusions.

So next week, while I should probably wait for George Washington’s Birthday, I will attempt to make Stevie’s cherry pie for my gang. And whether or not it really is as good as I remember, it doesn’t matter. Every mouthful will spark happy memories of years long gone, which I believe is the whole point.

Merry Christmas my friends. Enjoy those old family recipes, and may they bring comfort, and hope for happily un-masked and crowded post-pandemic meals someday, with the ones you love.


    I am an author (of four books, numerous plays, poetry and freelance articles,) a director (of Spiritual Formation at a Lutheran church,) and a producer (of five kids).

    I write about my hectic, funny, perfectly imperfect life.

    Please visit my website: or email me at



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