Family, food and fiction

May 23, 2014 | 2 comments |

One of my most cherished possessions is my mother’s recipe book.  A worn binder holding loose leaf sheets, it’s not much to look at from the outside. But inside it holds a treasure trove of memories – not only of her but of family and friends spanning several generations.

In my hometown, baked goods were the currency of neighborhood and community.  At church and school fundraisers, the arrival of a new baby or neighbor, or at times of illness and grief, a homemade pie, cake or casserole was a tangible – and practical – expression of love and care. 

Many of Mom’s recipes came from neighbors and family friends. Women who were part of my childhood, whose homes I went in and out of as freely as my own.

Some came from my grandmothers and even great-grandmothers, their handwriting and instructions about ‘hot ovens’ and ‘ice houses’ reminiscent of a bygone age.

Against most of the recipes, Mom added her own notes. When she’d made it first, who she made it for and anything she’d changed – from reducing oven temperature to adding or removing ingredients or adjusting quantities for a picnic or potluck.

These recipes and accompanying notes are a link to my mother and the women who came before her. A legacy of what it meant to be a woman in a particular place, at a particular time.  And a legacy I’m passing on to the English Rose who has inherited her Nana’s gift for making and sharing food to comfort those in need.

Scanning through Mom’s recipes, I’m reminded of when my life was shaped by a small, close knit community. The place life took me away from but which shaped who I am as both a person and a writer.

For in my writing, I draw on my mother’s recipes and in my fictional small towns, food still represents family and friendship, community and caring.

And as I write about Mom’s jelly cookies and Grandma’s sweet pickles – adding their flavors to my plots and nuances to the developing love story– I’m reminded anew what writing from the heart truly means.  

What about you? What food sparks heartfelt memories of family and home?


  1. Heidi

    My mother’s homemade apple-pie-in-a-bag was always a favourite treat, and one which was rather rare, given that she didn’t like to cook much. It’s interesting that I have become so passionate about food and its preparation, given the attitude I observed. For my own children, homemade buns, piping hot from the oven, remain their favourite comfort food.

    • Jen Gilroy

      As someone who has never mastered pastry making, the idea of apple-pie-in-a-bag intrigues me! Thanks for sharing this memory, Heidi, and also reminding me I need to ask the English Rose what her favorite comfort food is.


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