Preserving Family History with Food

Posted by Annette Bellisari on

For many people, food and family are closely connected. In fact, family recipes are a fantastic way of keeping our ancestry alive, as well as maintaining that part of ourselves -- the part for whom all it takes is one whiff, one taste, to bring you to reliving an important family feeling. 

Food appeals to all five of our senses, and because of this it can bring back vivid memories of our childhood, of our relationships with family members who have passed away, and of who we were during that time period. Food can remind us of experiences we’ve forgotten and allow us to relive feelings of comfort, satisfaction, or excitement. Preserving family recipes allows us to access these emotions whenever we want, whether it's a holiday or a simple occasion we want to make special.

Documenting family recipes keeps part of the legacy of our relatives and loved ones alive. Each cook in a family contributes her own flavor and style. For example, on the website, I have the recipe for Big “Sal’s” Meatloaf ( or from my recipe collection I have the recipe for Artie Joe’s Grilled Chicken Pasta in a Parmesan Cream Sauce with Roasted Red Peppers and Spinach* (recipe below) . Big “Sal” is my mom and Artie Joe is my dad. Just the aroma of this meatloaf or a batch of Dad’s sauce cooking in my kitchen transports me back to family dinner, all of us around the table sharing the stories of our day.

As we record the thoughts, ideas, and processes of our traditional family meals, we create an heirloom that can be handed down to our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. We leave a connection through which our loved ones can learn about who we are, even after we are gone. 

Remembering, collecting, and passing down the recipes your loved ones have passed to you is a wonderful way to honor and immortalize your family. Not only will family recipes allow you to create meals that are a meaningful experience, but they will also inspire you to create your own versions of dishes, to add your own flavor and methods. The picture is a platter that my sister had made for me with my grandmother’s meatball recipe. ❤

Because our lives are so busy, modern families sometimes find it difficult to preserve this connection. Who has time to make a meal from scratch when you must work, pick up the kids, clean the house, do the grocery shopping, etc? We may not be able to do the exact same things in the kitchen that our grandmothers did twenty or thirty years ago, but there are new, innovative ways for us to honor family traditions and preserve the culinary knowledge that has been handed down for generations. Just take what your family has given to you and infuse it with your own meaning and style. 

Artie Joe’s Grilled Chicken Pasta in a Parmesan Cream Sauce with Roasted Red Peppers and Spinach

Serves 6


1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, grilled and sliced into strips*

1 box of Penne Pasta or your choice of dried pasta

2 Tbsp butter

1/3 cup finely chopped shallot

1 Tbsp minced garlic

1 1/2 Tbsp flour

1 1/4 cups milk

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup heavy cream

1 (16 oz) jar roasted red bell peppers, drained

1/2 cup finely shredded parmesan cheese, plus more shredded or shaved for serving

1 cup of fresh baby spinach


Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta according to directions on package to al dente. Meanwhile, melt butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add shallot and sauté 2 minutes or until lightly golden then add garlic and sauté 30 seconds longer. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly 1 minute. While whisking slowly pour in milk. Season with salt and pepper to taste and cook until it begins to thicken then reduce heat slightly, stir in cream, bell peppers and parmesan and cook just until parmesan has melted.  Add the baby spinach and stir until fully cooked. Add drained pasta to sauce, toss to evenly coat and heat and toss over low heat for a minute to allow some of the sauce to soak into pasta. Plate and top with grilled chicken and parmesan. Serve immediately.

*To grill chicken - preheat a grill to 425 degrees. Pound thicker parts of chicken to even thickness (or if they are very thick just slice in half through the thickness to get two portions). Brush chicken lightly with olive oil then season both sides with salt and pepper. Brush grill grates lightly with oil and grill rotating once halfway through cooking until center of chicken registers 165, about 7 - 8 minutes total. Then transfer to a plate, cover with foil and let rest 5 - 10 minutes before slicing.

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