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Passing on the family traditions—online

Like many mothers with grown children living away from home, Ruth Daniels, who now lives in Halifax, often found herself espousing culinary wisdom over the phone. Measurements, ingredients and temperatures were explained at length, time and time again.

"My husband suggested blogging as a way for my daughters, Joanna and Sharron, to enjoy my dishes whenever they wanted to make them,” says Ruth. And he was right: Once Upon A Feast quickly became a way for Ruth and her daughters to connect over food when distance made it difficult for them to break bread at the same table.

The site started out with simple recipes—a chicken salad recipe from her mother, a matzo ball soup— but the blog and its recipes soon became more ambitious. Brisket recipes were bookended by reviews and anecdotes. Eventually, it branched off into other websites, all maintained by Ruth: Cookbooks For Every Kitchen (reviews of current and classic cookbooks) Presto Pasta Nights (where other bloggers submit quick and easy pasta recipes) as well as Ask Ruth (devoted to answering “pesky kitchen questions”).

Ruth knows the importance of family when it comes to passing down food wisdom. She grew up in a Jewish household in Montreal where every Friday, at the start of Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, her family would visit her maternal grandmother. “We would be in a small one-bedroom apartment with a tiny little kitchen,” Ruth remembers. “My grandmother would have at least five or six of her kids, as well as their husbands and wives and 18 grandchildren.”

Food was a big part of these gatherings. Ruth still makes her grandmother’s “Chinese” veal spare ribs—a family favourite—but most of the old family recipes were lost with the passing of her grandmother. She did not want that to happen with her own recipes.

Ruth has since spent a great deal of time thinking and writing about food—she has created a collection of recipes and family stories, which was published as an e-book called Every Kitchen Tells its Stories: Recipes to Warm the Heart.

When Ruth became a grandmother, she was living in Toronto, while daughter Joanna and the grandchildren were in Halifax. She realized that she wanted to create new memories and meals with her own grandchildren, so Ruth and her husband, David, packed their things and moved to Halifax.

Being there for her grandchildren has allowed Ruth to emulate her own grandmother—a woman she dearly loved and admired. The tradition of making challah, a traditional Jewish bread, has now been passed down to her grandchildren, but Ruth recalls the first time she decided to make it with her own two daughters. “I had them each invite a friend. Six teeny little hands with eggshells, batter and an inability to knead the dough as hard and as long as you need to do it,” she recounts, smiling. “What should have been a two-hour event started at 10 in the morning and lasted until five at night when we had baked the breads. I have never been so tired in my life.”

Now Joanna, a mother of two boys, has her oldest child help her make bread every Friday. “It’s a time for them to talk together,” says Ruth. “It’s about a sense of family and being connected.” Ruth has even started new traditions with her daughter. “Joanna and I are planning for the harvest and preserving, although we are novices and only started this ‘tradition’ last year.”

For Ruth, Once Upon A Feast is now more than just a family repository of recipes. “The purpose of the blog has changed to be more of a personal diary,” she says. “It’s become a collection of my favourite recipes and of stories about the people, places and books that inspire me.”

What began as a culinary and storytelling legacy for Ruth Daniels’ children and grandchildren has become a valuable resource for us all.

Find Ruth online:

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