Monday, December 13, 2010

Holiday Storied Dishes

By Elizabeth Millar, Senior Marketing Coordinator, ABC-CLIO 

With the holidays around the corner, my baking has begun. Each year I try to make sugar cookies, gingerbread men, and shortbread. If I'm crunched for time, I'll focus on the shortbread. In my family, it's not Christmas if you don't make Great Grandmother Hardie's shortbread! Not only is it delicious and buttery, but it's also tradition.

As a child, I watched Mom and Gram bake shortbread cookies every year. It was the one cookie that I wasn't allowed to help bake. I could roll out sugar cookies, gingerbread, etc., but the shortbread was the grown-ups' responsibility. Once I became a teenager, my mom showed me how to do it. It's a fairly easy recipe, so I only had to make it a few times before I had it down. A few years ago was my Gram's last Christmas, and I remember sitting with her and talking about how great my uncle's shortbread cookies were. We laughed about how easy they are to make for being such a delicious cookie.

Throughout history and across world cultures, women have traditionally been the keepers and transmitters of oral tradition, such as the teaching of cherished food preparation techniques by family elders to the next generation. Great Grandmother Hardie's shortbread is actually called, "Robertson Shortbread." Great Grandmother Hardie immigrated to Vancouver, Canada from Scotland at the turn of the century, and "Robertson" was her maiden name. The recipe comes from the women on her side of the family. But, that is all I know of the history. (My uncle is the family historian, so I have something to ask him about when I see him at Christmas!)

For people of every ethnicity, food provides much more than mere fuel for the body—it contains an invisible component that ties families and generations together with the continuity of shared experience. And for the women who are entrusted with the responsibility of keeping that priceless cultural thread intact, family recipes embody tradition, bridge generation gaps, and erase age differences.

Do you have any "storied dishes" you'd like to share? I'd love to hear from you!

Would you like the secret recipe for my "Robertson Shortbread?" Email me and I'll send it to you!

Linda Murray Berzok, Editor
Praeger, 2010

This compilation of cross-cultural, generational essays and accompanying recipes offers unique insight into the profound impact and significance of food dishes in American women's lives.


Check back later this week for a holiday recipe and excerpt from Storied Dishes.


  1. I have book full of recipes that I cook for special occasions that were passed down to me from my mother and grandparents. Next time I am with them, I am going to ask them for the histories behind the dishes. I've never really thought to ask before, and I'd love to pass along the history and the delicious recipes to my kids someday!

  2. Hey Rachel - that's a really good idea! A few years ago, my cousin made a cookbook of family recipes using Blurb, and she gave them to all of us at Christmas. Each recipe has a little description of where it came from - very cool.