Ask a Curator – Nov. 19th, 2010

Posted November 19, 2010 by Geni | No Comment

Note: Beginning next week, Ask a Curator will no longer be a weekly feature. We like the Ask a Curator feature a lot, and we hope to bring it back on a weekly basis once we work out the logistics of doing so. In the near future, expect to see more Ask a Curator articles as interesting things happen in the genealogy community, and as we find interesting things to highlight on Geni.

This week we asked our Curators to share some of their favorite recipes and stories with us in advance of the upcoming holidays.


For at least 4 generations our family tradition has been for scalloped potatoes and scalloped corn to be served at Thanksgiving and Christmas.It just wouldn’t seem like the holiday without them.

My scalloped potatoe recipe comes from my grandmother, but I am not sure if it came from my maternal or paternal branch of the family from there.

The recipe called for peeled potatoes to be sliced thin and placed in layers alternated with onion chopped and sharp cheese grated and bacon cut up, and salt and pepper on each layer. Moma used to use the stringy type sharp cheese, I use kraft instead, and I also pre fry the bacon to cut down on the grease (health concious) Then pour a can or two of evaporated milk over it and bake for an hour and a half at 350 degrees. It is delicious.

The scalloped corn recipe I’m sure as been altered a lot since the early 1800’s when they made it. But it is mighty good too.


My parents were “Depression babies” and promised to never let their children go hungry, so I grew up with enough post Thanksgiving turkey to feed the starving children in Africa (a favorite line to get me to eat my peas). But you know how turkey can dry out after a couple of days in the refrigerator? Here are two ways my folks dealt with our “I don’t wanna” in the 1960’s.

Dad’s After Thanksgiving Slumgullion

“Slumgullion” means a “stew of meats and vegetables.”

My father’s father was an itinerant crane operator in Arizona and California: the men would make camp and cook for themselves. This looks like what he handed down.

  • substitute turkey for ground beef
  • skip the mashed potatoes because they already got eaten up
  • add Mom slapping away the pepper shaker
  • add scrambled eggs to make it a breakfast dish

Mom’s After Thanksgiving Gumbo

“Gumbo” is a “soup or stew thickened with okra pods.”

Gumbo is “the official cuisine” of the state of Louisiana and everyone has their own “family” recipe. Here’s a blog post from Emeril that explains more.

This is how we obtained our household supply of gumbo for use as a special treat. In these days of airport security it probably wouldn’t work, alas.

  • Fly Delta to New Orleans to visit family, bringing huge bags of New York City bagels to trade. The secret to a good bagel is the NYC water supply, by the way. Also the pizza. But you knew that.
  • Return with frozen Tupperware containers of Uncle David’s Less Spicy For Picky Eating Children Gumbo. At least, I think that’s what the masking tape label said.
  • defrost gumbo in a pot of boiling water (remember: this is pre-microwave)
  • while that’s going on, start the Uncle Ben’s North Carolina rice
  • simmer defrosted gumbo in a covered pot for a couple of hours, gas flame set to barely blue, stirring in Good NYC water, straight from the tap, no filtering needed, to taste
  • saute leftover turkey separately in a seasoned cast iron pan for just a minute or two before adding to the gumbo
  • slap the pepper shaker away from Dad


At holiday dinners I like to ask about our traditions and where they come from. Right or wrong, the family always has info to share, and I usually find out something I’ve never heard before.The last few years I’ve asked my mother: Why do we have oyster dressing?

Answer: It’s traditional.

Me: How is it traditional?

Answer: My mother made oyster dressing when I was growing up, and my grandmother made oyster dressing when my mother was growing up.

Me: Your mother grew up in a log cabin in the middle of the Wyoming desert. You expect me to believe they had oysters?

Answer: They brought them in from San Francisco.

Me: Were they tinned? Did they even have tinned oysters at the turn of the century?

Answer: Have some more wine; it’s very good.

Me: Wouldn’t it have been expensive to ship in oysters?

Answer: It’s not polite to talk about money at the dinner table.

I swear, this year I’m going to get to the bottom of the oyster mystery 😉


Our family always has scalloped oysters. All my ancestors come from the Atlantic coast, so I can only assume it’s a tradition that started with them. I can’t stand oysters, but I make them for the rest of the family, following the recipe my great grandmothers (and I don’t know how many more generations back) used. My mother-in-law used to make oyster dressing, but my husband likes the scalloped oysters. The recipe makes a 1 1/2 quart dish. If they wanted more, they never doubled the recipe and used a larger dish.They HAD to be made in the 1 1/2 quart dishes. My mother and grandmother insisted they wouldn’t turn out right otherwise. One year I found a crack in one of the oyster dishes. My mother was so upset. I found one on E-Bay to replace it.

There’s a lot of family history in food. I’m collecting family recipes to make a “cookbook” for my son, who does like to cook. I’m collecting recipes from both sides of the family- great grandmothers, great aunts- I’ve been asking Mom and Dad’s cousins for recipes they remember their mothers making. Or, if we can’t locate the exact recipe, I’m trying to replicate them as nearly as I can. Each recipe in the book will say who it’s attributed to, and any story which may be connected to it. I’ve been given some odd ones, like apple butter pie. I’m going to try it some day.

I just wish I had the idea sooner, before so many of my family were no longer here to have input. I’ve been going over memories of things my mother told me. She and Dad used to make taffy or cream puffs on their dates. Mom and I made mini cream puffs filled with chicken salad for my wedding reception. I’m going to include a cream puff recipe in the collection.