Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Thursday, January 7, 2016

What food did your ancestors eat?

My diet as a young person was heavily into fast food. I essentially survived by going to Jack-in-the-box and McDonald's. This was supplemented by my high school's cafeteria food. I am certain that this background in the basic American diet makes me highly qualified to write on the subject of food. The real reason for choosing this topic is because I have noticed that more people eat food than do genealogy and therefore I will be expanding my reader base.

If you read this blog regularly, you probably ask yourself regularly how what I write about relates to genealogy. In this case, food is a hot genealogical topic. One thing is certain, since the first McDonald's restaurant (using the term loosely) was built in 1953, there are probably few of your or my ancestors that were raised on fast food as we use the term today. But one thing I have noticed is that recipes are inheritable. My own immediate family is a good example. My wife and daughters have a blog called "Family Heritage Recipes." Here is a screenshot of a recent post:

They do not post too regularly, but over the years they have made over 525 posts. That is a lot of recipes. The key here is that some of these recipes have been handed down for well over a hundred years primarily in my wife's family. We tend to value traditional family stories and artifacts including photos, diaries and other such items, but we should also treasure our family's recipes. These recipes are a tangible connection to the past. In many cases, recipes constitute the core of the family's oral tradition. My wife and my daughters codified this family tradition into a paper cookbook. This cookbook was circulated long before the Internet became the repository for their menu items. This paper copy of the recipes includes all the accompanying stories of the ancestors' food experiences and even some of the stories behind the recipes. 

My cooking forte is boiling water, cooking fried eggs and using a microwave to heat up any previously prepared food. I may not be a cook, but on the other hand because of my uniquely American upbringing, I will eat practically anything. There are only a very few foods that I will not eat and a slightly larger group of foods that I will only eat in small quantities. If my friends (assuming I have any) insist on eating at the local traditional African eatery, I am game and will likely find several foods I enjoy eating. I am the antithesis of the picky eater. 

So based on this vast experience in eating mostly from the U.S. and a few foreign countries, I feel compelled to add food to my blog repertoire. This is the introduction but I do not intend to write a series. Each of my food oriented blog posts will stand on its own merits or demerits. But I can say that I have eaten every one of the over 525 food items that are the subject of my family's food blog. 

Before concluding this introduction, I need to review some of the significant items in the meals I was fed as a child. I remember caned food of all kinds. It seems like if it came in cans, I probably ate it at one time or another. When I got older, frozen food, such as TV dinners became a staple. I don't remember eating all that much Mexican food, although we lived in Arizona, but I do remember eating copious quantities of ice cream. One notable staple included over-cooked frozen fish sticks and leathery Jello. I do not remember eating anything fresh except a lot of grapefruit and other citrus that grew on the trees around our house. The one meal that was distinctive was Thanksgiving. We did have the traditional turkey with dressing and cranberries. Once I left home and became independent, my major diet as a single adult was cracked wheat and hamburger. My life was probably saved by marrying into a food family with a long tradition of making everything from scratch. After I was married, to be fair, my mother took cooking lessons and became quite an accomplished cook. My wife was already an accomplished cook before we got married and she has only gotten better over time. But as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I ate huge quantities of hamburgers, hotdogs, french fries and pop of all flavors. I was also partial to ice cream sundaes. 

Beyond these mostly unwanted facts about my culinary history, I will really begin writing from time to time about what our ancestors ate and how they obtained, prepared and ate what they prepared. As I frequently say, stay tuned. 


  1. James,I think you are veering off on a good tangent. bon appetite

  2. Yummy, I can't wait. Please include recipes if you can.
    Shaz in Surprise, AZ.

  3. Food!! One of my most memorable experiences as a history teacher was to invite my students to contribute to a luncheon in my classroom by bringing in a family favorite. Who knew the ethnic dishes that would grace the table? From Spanish, Mexican, Lebanese,French, and American that table was full of delicious food. What a treat!

  4. James,

    I want to let you know that two of your blog posts are listed in today's Fab Finds post at

    Have a great weekend!