Food and Families

Tom Sienkewicz
3 min readMar 5, 2021
Fresh Strawberry Frosting like my Grandmother Used to Make

I realized recently that a number of my blogs have centered around food, with good reason, I think. You might respond, of course. Food is essential to life. But I would respond that food is a lot more than nourishment of the body. It is also nourishment of the soul. That is why many folks, when they are sad, console themselves with an edible treat, often a candy bar. They don’t need that candy for physical nourishment; rather, they need it for a spiritual support. But food, I think, is even more than that. At least for me, and my family, food is a way to connect with and remember other members of the family, especially those who are no longer with us.

For example, when I think of my maternal grandmother, I often remember the Manhattan clam chowder which she would make, from fresh clams she shucked herself, with a rich tomato-based broth filled with chunks of potato and carrots. She was alsos famous for her pound cakes covered with a simple, but delicious, sugar frosting made by smashing freshstrawberries into confectioner’s sugar and dribbling it over the cake. And then there were special occasions when her kitchen was dedicated to producing homemade ravioli. That was more of a family affair and anyone in the house was often called into the task, which was always supervised by my I who made sure that everyone was performing their job correctly.

My grandmother also made an almond nut cookie the recipe that tasted like the packaged windmilll cookies. My sister Toni asked our uncle for the recipe many times after my grandmother died, but couldn’t find it for quite a while. He finally found the recipe and gave it to Toni. After she baked them she gave a copy of the recipe to our brother Eddie who started making the for years at Christmastime. They have now become known in some circles of the family as “Uncle Eddie’s cookies.”

I have similar memories of my paternal grandmother, who was known for her pies, especially pumpkin, apple and mince (no meat, just mince spices). She also was an expert at making Polish donuts (which we called punchki), Polish cruschki, and even her own kielbasy.

My mother’s specialty was eggplant parmesan, but she also made some simple but delicious meals like broccoli rabe and escarole and beans. The nights she made potato pancakes (latkes) were always special. Somehow her sister Frances, who lived across the street, would know what was in the works — maybe she could smell them frying from a distance — and come running. At least once, there were so many people eating the latkes, that my mother ran out of potatoes and I had to run to the store to buy more.

Then there was Aunt Julia, not really a blood aunt (her sister had been my grandmother’s witness at her wedding), who made a number of desserts which made everyone’s mouths water. The most popular is probably a cheese cake which we all still refer to as “Aunt Julia’s Cheescake.” But there were also her spritz cookies, and a variant called ribbon cookies, and another speciality called cream cheese rollups which she made at Christmas.

While all of these recipes are palate pleasers, the main point, I think, is that making these recipes and eating them is a way to bind family together across the miles, across time, and across generations. Sometime ago we started posting many of these respices on a website which is now a go-to whenever one of our children or other family members as well as friends are looking for s specific recipe. For Christmas in 2005 I also made this little recipe book as a gift for my children, my siblings, neices and nephews as a way to share these family recipes and use food to reenforce the bonds which bind us all together.

So, folks, just don’t think of food as physical and spiritual nourishment. Think about ways that food recreates associations with and memories of special people in your lives.



Tom Sienkewicz

I taught Classics for 40+ years and am now Capron Professor Emeritus of Classics at Monmouth College in Illinois. Read more about me at