What 9 Lovingly-Mismatched Recipes Have in Common (Hint: It's You!)

January 13, 2017

When we asked to see recipes that tell the stories of where our community members come from, we noticed that it was people, not places, that figured into your most important dishes.

Many came from family members—the borscht Theressa Cummings learned to make from her Russian grandmother, who swore by its healing properties—and from friends, old and new—like Mrs. Louise "Wheezy" Peters, who shared her recipe for a classic Southern chocolate chess pie with Laura Haggarty after they became friends at the beach one summer.

A recipe for almond paste twirl from Kristina McGowan's Austrian mother (and penned by her mother's best friend).

You sent family photos and old recipe cards (like the one from Kristina McGowan above), but mostly, you shared stories of the people who cooked these foods for you (or who introduced you to them). Thank you.

Shop the Story

Nine of your recipes (and we plan to feature more, soon) make up the lovingly-mismatched patchwork of a January feast you see here. The dishes might not look like they make sense on one table—they're from different times and different parts of the world, made for different occasions—but they commune wonderfully.

Photo by James Ransom

Without further ado, here are a fraction of the recipes that tell a fraction of your stories, from a somewhat strange Passover tradition, to a state fair cook-off, to mornings with Grandma.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I love hearing the significance and stories behind recipes - yes, I'm someone who always reads the headnotes. Thanks for compiling this wonderful article. Hoping it's the first of many like this and that the project keeps going ahead full steam! I'll be thinking about my recipe story/submission...have a few favorites in mind...”
— Stephanie

Use this list to jump around to different recipes and stories, or make yourself a cup of hot chocolate and read it all, dinner to dessert:

And if you're inspired to share a story and recipe, leave a note in the comments below or email us at [email protected].


Photo by James Ransom

Comfort Fish and Chickpea Pilaf

"This recipe is inspired by something that Rosie, my Pakistani graduate school roommate at the University of Bridgeport, used to make—a hearty one-dish meal, enriched with her black cardamom and complete with a generous dose of butter. You might add clarified butter to this, but back then, in a graduate school setting, that would have been a novelty."

"I learned a lot of my cooking from Rosie: While there are a lot of similarities between Pakistani and Indian cooking, in some ways her use of spices was bolder, and in this particular dish she used black cardamom—not something I used to use before."

"In general, Pakistani cuisine uses more heat, from chiles and black pepper. It also uses more aromatics, such as allspice and the aforementioned black cardamom, and the sauces are heavier—lots of caramelized onions and heavy use of garlic, which, in turn, translates to more oil. In general, Rosie introduced me to heavier pilafs, like the one in the dish, and I also learned to cook beans and legumes and how to make biryani from her."

"Over time, I have made my own modifications: I have added Vidalia onions, as well as the diced potatoes that my mother adds to her fish pilaf. I also like to squeeze in fresh lime juice over the rice before serving. Rosie added chunks of fish (canned sardines) to this recipe, as do I. It is still my go-to comfort food." —Rinku Bhattacharya /Spice Chronicles

My Award-Winning Souvlaki

"My mom isn’t actually Greek, but she married one, and so her souvlaki recipe is a bit unorthodox: She didn’t use beef, but rather the elk, deer—whatever hunter patrons at her and my dad’s restaurant would bring in from their recent kill. One of my first memories is sitting on the prep table the restaurant in Ogden, Utah, watching my mom season huge tubs of cubed pork or turkey for souvlaki."

"When I told my mom that I was going to enter the 2008 beef cook-off with a souvlaki recipe, she thought I was nuts, but in true competitive spirit, I did anyway. And you know what? I won: a $300 prize, my largest prize to date." —Alexandra V. Jones

Read more of Alexandra's story here.

Twice-Cooked Javanese Grilled Chicken

"I first got the recipe for this very traditional dish, which would normally accompany any festive meal in Java, from my mom. She taught me the virtues of coconut water."

"The chicken is first braised in spices and coconut water for many hours (up to 3 hours—sorry!), and then quickly finished over a grill to get that nice charred look. It's a process that makes tender, falling-off-the-bone chicken pieces." sel et poivre

Aunt Paula's Carrot Ring

"In my family, no Passover is complete without this carrot ring. We don’t take our large quantities of shortening lightly and there are typically at least two if not three of these carrot rings on the table."

"Any time I’ve tried to explain to someone what a carrot ring was they were baffled until they tried it. Sort of a denser, oily-er carrot cake, the carrot ring is the non-leavened solution for anyone who likes to eat dessert while the brisket is still on the table."

"Though apparently no one knows who Aunt Paula really is, this carrot ring has been on the table at every Passover since I can remember. It’s interesting that the recipe became a Passover tradition because on the original recipe card it calls for flour, and as far as I know my family has always made it with matzo meal and never made it for any other occasion. It’s best served still warm and with a lot of napkins–that full cup of shortening makes for a very (repeat: very) oily piece of bread-like deliciousness." —Annie Plotkin

The Jewish Texan's Hoppin' John

"Ain't no two ways about it, my Hoppin' John's got beef, beef, and more beef—that's what makes it so special! Thinking about this classic black-eyed pea recipe brought out my Texan twang, and I'm Jewish, so I came to a lovely compromise, swapping the traditional ham hock and bacon for beef bacon, beef stock, and beef sausage."

"All that, plus a little bit of Texas spice, and I think I've created a dish that not only showcases the black-eyed pea in all its splendor, but one that I'd be happy to serve at my next Shabbat as well. I hope you like it, too." —Helenthenanny


Clockwise from grapefruit: shortbread, mango mousse, rice pudding. Photo by James Ransom

Rise and Shine Spiced Pink Grapefruit Brûlée

"We spent many a holiday with the in-laws. After 'us kids' started having children, my mother-in-law elected to go by 'Nonnie.' Before she became a grandmother, and after, she always served the most elegant holiday breakfasts to us all."

"But what stands out the most in my mind is how she would prepare a broiled grapefruit half for each person upon rising. We were all allowed to get up whenever we wanted on Christmas morning."

And best of all, you got to talk with Nonnie, in the kitchen, usually just one on one.

"As we wandered downstairs, our individual grapefruit would be waiting. She deftly cut the sections of the grapefruit perfectly with a grapefruit knife, drizzled maple syrup on top, sprinkled with cinnamon, and then browned them under the broiler. Of course she served these with her endless supply of grapefruit spoons to everyone who wanted one."

"The care that she took with each one always made us feel so special. And best of all, you got to talk with Nonnie, in the kitchen, usually just one on one, as you savored your warm grapefruit."

"She exuded a delightfully sunny kind of rise-and-shine outlook that was rather contagious. It was a wonderful way to start the morning. Once everyone was up, we then all sat around a huge table for a sumptuous feast; sometimes we were a table of fourteen, but it was talking with Nonnie over that perfect grapefruit half that I remember most fondly. I am adding my sumac to the recipe. I think Nonnie would have liked it this way, too. This recipe is dedicated to her." —Sagegreen

Deirdre's Coconut and Sesame Shortbread

"Deirdre DeMello is a dear friend from school, someone who I've been fortunate to be able to keep in touch with for over 25 years, and during the occasions we meet when I visit India, it's like the time in between ceased to exist. Dee was the model student in school—pretty, smart, vivacious, and yet, she never ever had any airs about it. Just about the nicest kid you felt privileged to know."

"We lost touch after we finished school and then, thanks to social media, reconnected when we were well into middle age, busy with family and kids. She is a wife, homemaker, and a mother to two beautiful girls. To this day, when we all get together, it's like we never left school."

During the occasions we meet when I visit India, it's like the time in between ceased to exist.

"When I started blogging, Dee had casually asked me for ideas for what to bake for Christmas and I came up with the combination of ingredients keeping in mind her Goan Catholic heritage. The shortbread fast became a favorite at my home, too. Here's what Dee said when I asked her about the recipe:

When you started your blog Panfusine, I was looking for some biscuits that I could use to serve in our Christmas sweet boxes. We Indian Catholics make a lot of sweets, as well as a rich fruitcake with rum prepared days before the holiday, to distribute to neighbors, close friends, and family either in decorated boxes or paper plates on Christmas Day. Each year, I love to try out different sweets and decorate my boxes in various styles, which my two daughters love to help out with.

Among the sweets are marzipan; cordial (which is a coconut sweet); milk cream; date rolls; kulkuls (made of sweetened flour, fried, then glazed); nevris (a patty with a sweet filling of either coconut or sojee, cream of wheat, with plums and nuts); chocolate fudge; jujubes (jelly sweets with a sugar coating); etc.

I had always loved looking at the Christmas cookies that they make in the West but I had once tried baking some cookie and it didn't turn out well. So when you were posting recipes that you created, I thought it would be a good idea to ask your for a good cookie recipe.

Your Coconut & Sesame shortbread recipe is just what I needed for my Christmas sweet box! It had coconut and spice, which are very 'Christmasy,' flavors, too!


Mango Mousse

"Mango has always been nostalgic for me. They were fifty cents each when I was a kid, growing up in Los Angeles. When they went on-sale for thirty cents, my mom or dad would buy an entire case or two. We were a family of seven, so even if we held back and ate two or three each per day, a case of mangoes didn’t last long."

"Now, some decades later, my unrestrained, sticky-faced mango habit has grown into a broader enjoyment of my favorite luscious fruit. Yes, I still get messy with the mango, but I’ve also experimented, converting those plain mouthfuls into dishes: mango-spinach salad, mango salsa, and this elegant mango mousse, which was handed down to me by my eldest sister." —Monica Sharman

Read more about Monica's mousse here.

Arroz Con Leche Nuevo Mexicano

"Arroz con leche was my favorite dessert as a child. This is a subtly sweet twist on my New Mexican grandmother's traditional 'sweet rice.' The fluffy egg white topping comes from grandmother's original recipe; the lemon zest and rum-soaked raisins are my additions from other traditional Mexican ones." —gabrielaskitchen

Got a story and recipe you'd like to share? Email [email protected] (and read more about the project here).

Photo by James Ransom

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Leslee Paul
    Leslee Paul
  • Kara
  • Stephanie
  • Catherine
Food52 (we cook 52 weeks a year, get it?) is a food and home brand, here to help you eat thoughtfully and live joyfully.


Leslee P. January 14, 2017
Thank you Kara for the copy editing comment. I really cringe when I see writing like this but usually reserve my edits for my journalist son. Wasn't anyone an English major??
Kara January 14, 2017
Cmon, y'all. Adieu = goodbye. Ado = fuss or bother. The phrase is "without further ado". If you don't know what a phrase means, maybe look it up before publishing it? January 13, 2017
What a fine idea of unearthing recipes that have been passed on from our grandmas who don't have actual recipes and today adapted to current marketplace. I'll be sharing something suitable for our winter woes.
Stephanie January 13, 2017
I love hearing the significance and stories behind recipes - yes, I'm someone who always reads the headnotes. Thanks for compiling this wonderful article. Hoping it's the first of many like this and that the project keeps going ahead full steam! I'll be thinking about my recipe story/submission...have a few favorites in mind...
Catherine January 13, 2017
Love the idea of collecting favourite family recipes (and the photos of the splattered recipe cards)! Great idea! I look forward to seeing more and will hunt down and share a few of my own.