Many families keep traditions. Some are unique to them, others part of a wider communal identity. They might be special occasions, observed every year in a particular way; or foods from a distant homeland, passed on to new generations. Some link present generations to ancient practices, while others are ‘new traditions’, invented by families over a lifetime. All have special meaning to family members.

Food and cooking are often at the heart of family traditions. Favourite family recipes may be preserved through generations, even while methods of cooking and general tastes continue to evolve. In immigrant families, food is often especially important, as a tangible link with home and culture. Traditional foodways, passing on techniques to children, is part of preserving identity in a new place.

Are there special traditions in your family? How about favourite family recipes? What makes them unique?

Basket made by Letty Nicholls with pine needles, commissioned for the Koorie Heritage Trust Collection, c. 1989

Basket made by Aunty Marilyne Nicholls with pine needles, woven with raffia in a herringbone pattern. The centre of the lid and base has a solid coil of raffia. Commissioned for the Koorie Heritage Trust Collection, 2019

First Peoples women in the southeast of Australia have practised this style of weaving, coiled basketry, for many thousands of years through Cultural Storytelling. Made from cumbungi (bulrush) and native sedges, wrapped and stitched together, the baskets were used for carrying special materials, collecting and storing food such as murnong (yam daisies) and other bush tucker. The weaving of plant fibre baskets is inextricably linked to place, and originates from cultural expression via ceremony, kinship, trade and exchange.

Born in Swan Hill in 1957, Aunty Marilyne Nicholls is a master weaver and descendent of the Freshwater Murray River Peoples and Saltwater Peoples of the Coorong Coast in South Australia. Aunty Marilyne was taught to harvest and incorporate pine needles into traditional weaving techniques by her mother and grandmother, when farming and development reduced access to the native plant materials.

Tomato paste maker, c. 1920s
Museums Victoria

Used by Emanuela Nigro and Vincenzo Candela who immigrated from Italy in the 1920s. The Candelas made much of their own food, including pasta, pasta sauce, wine, and sausages.

Coffee roaster, c. 1920s
Museums Victoria

Used by the Candela family who immigrated to Victoria from Italy in the 1920s. Either brought with them or purchased from mail-order catalogue after they arrived.

Family cookbooks, used by Leila Evans from c.1940s, and her daughter Joy Budd today.
Courtesy Joy Budd

Before the advent of glossy cookbooks, the ‘family cookbook’ was a valued item. You might have one in your home. They are usually dog-eared and splattered with food, crammed with decades-old newspaper clippings and ideas snipped from magazines. The best recipes are easy to find because the spine falls open at the right spot.

Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book
Private collection

 If you have grown up in Australia, you might have a copy of the Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book. With its jelly pool cake and Dolly Varden skirt, this book is the stuff of children’s dreams ― and of parents’ nightmares! Since it was released in 1980 the book has sold more than one million copies.

Do you have a favourite family recipe, one from your childhood that you return to when you need ‘comfort food’? This recipe for ‘Brown Sponge’ (also known as ‘Ginger Sponge’) was first baked by Violet Rebecca Reid, born 1862. It was passed down to her daughter-in-law, Beatrice Mary Hobbs (1884-1947), her granddaughter, Beatrice Janet Mallon (1920-2018) and her great-granddaughter, Dulcie Elaine Maxwell. Dulcie and her daughter, Helen Mitchell, still bake the sponge today. The recipe has been translated from imperial to metric measurements and modified to allow for modern cooking appliances.
Reproduced courtesy Dulcie Elaine Maxwell

Hoffman family making German sausage in backyard, Glenore district, c. 1900.
Reproduced courtesy Museums Victoria