Family Recipes

Bruce McCain

Elena Bisabarros grew up in the Northern part of Spain in Basque Country. The region is home to a distinct people, culture and language that struggled for years to be recognized in its own right.

“Basque is one of the oldest languages in the world … the culture, the music, the philosophy … is totally different than Spanish,” she explains.

Olive oil is an essential ingredient in Basque cooking. It’s the magic elixir that transforms the potatoes and onions in Bisabarros’s family recipe — tortilla de patatas.

Bruce McCain

Will Fellows grew up on a dairy farm. It was a large operation that required everyone in the family to pitch in.

“Typical chores for me were feeding the cows when they were in the barn, going up in the silo and throwing silage down, carrying pails of milk from the barn where the milking was done into the milk house and pouring them through the strainer into the milk tank,” Fellows recalls.

Liz Falkowski

Linda Grus remembers her mother, Hilde Jach, as a strong woman who didn’t take guff from anyone. Born in Parchim, Germany in 1925, Jach was shaped by the tragedy of World War II.

“Her brothers, her mother, her father, her grandparents were all killed during the war,” says Grus. In the wake of such profound loss, Jach created a new life for herself.

Bruce McCain

Indian cooking can be quite daunting for the uninitiated. But Lajwanti Pershad Waghray says if you keep things simple, you can’t go wrong. Waghray suggests starting with a spice foundation: cumin, mustard seeds and turmeric. From there you can add ginger and garlic.

These spices are the foundation of her family recipe for khatti dal — an Indian dish of lentils cooked until soft and then simmered in a richly spiced sauce.

“Every family has their own version,” says Waghray. “My grandmother is the one who, I don’t know if she created it, but she’s the one who taught us all.”

Liz Falkowski

What makes a family recipe special are the memories they evoke. For Michael Dillon, what he knows as zelivaslesia (cabbage and dumplings fried in butter) brings to life cherished recollections of his grandmother.

“My mom’s mother died when she was 12 and, obviously, I never knew her,” says Dillon. “But, she loved her mother so much and she told so many nice stories about the things that her mother did and she loved this dish that her mother made that then we all loved it.”

Liz Falkowski

James Lindsay's family recipe of chicken quesadillas began with a teenage interest in health.

“When I was 14 … I was looking inside of Muscle and Fitness [magazine] and they had a great recipe for chicken quesadillas,” he recalls. Lindsay showed the recipe to his mom, she helped him prepare it and they’ve been making it ever since.

Lindsay came of age during the '80s, when health and fitness ideas started to captivate the public. But while most people were watching exercise videos, Lindsay says his family was the biggest influence on his lifestyle. 

Liz Falkowski

For Mildred Yantin, cooking is her connection to family.

"Everyone’s laughing and joking … just hearing all that commotion going on in the kitchen, smelling all that you're about to eat — that’s the part that I enjoy," she says.

Yantin is now a Milwaukee resident, but her roots are in New York. Her parents are Puerto Rican. She was born in Spanish Harlem and raised in the Bronx. A self-described “New York Rican,” Yantin vividly recalls the outdoor markets she frequented as a child.

Lucien Jung

It was dinnertime, and Mitz Erickson was in a pickle. The young mother from Cudahy, Wis., needed to get dinner on the table and she wasn’t an enthusiastic cook. But while wandering the aisles of her grocery store, a memory came to her — creamed, chipped beef on toast. It's a dish her mother would make for her and her siblings long ago in Nebraska as a young military wife.

It was “Navy, army-type food back in the day, and I think it crept its way into American households just as a quick, easy, inexpensive food to make,” says Erickson.