DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Back around Thanksgiving, the Race Card Project brought us the story of a woman who grew up in a Filipino family but desperately wanted to be anything but Filipino. When Melanie Vanderlipe Ramil was a child, she shied away from her family's traditional meals, including the rice that's a staple in Filipino cooking. But recently she's become committed to keeping those Filipino traditions alive.
MELANIE VANDERLIPE RAMIL: It is a labor of love. And so for a while if we had lumpia it would be frozen lumpia. So I thought, you know, we have to maintain my grandmother's recipe, bring that back, and then teach the children how to do it.
GREENE: Melanie's story got us thinking about people who cherish special dishes, specifically holiday dishes that have been passed down through generations as a tribute to their heritage and ancestors. And so we asked for your stories, and you delivered.
One person who wrote in was Mary Young, in Bowling Green, Kentucky. She just decided to start making her Norwegian grandmother's Christmas cookies again. They're called krumkake.
MARY YOUNG: It's butter, eggs, sugar and cream - you really can't hardly go wrong.
GREENE: Mary used to bake them with her grandmother in the weeks before Christmas. But after she passed away, the tradition died out.
YOUNG: And, you know, it may have a little something do with the fact that I'm turning 50 next month. (Chuckling) Maybe feeling a little mortal, but I got to thinking if I don't do these types of things with my kids, or at least show them how it's done, you know, it just may end with me.
GREENE: She wasn't about to let that happen. She spent this past weekend teaching her children, who are now in college, how to make krumkake.
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YOUNG: That's probably about right...
Well, a little too much better there. But you can kind of scrape it like this...
GREENE: Now, Mary learned to make krumkake while her grandmother was still alive. Other people said they never got that chance. When Mark Karney was growing up in a Hungarian immigrant community in Lorain, Ohio...
MARK KARNEY: You know, you went to anybody's house at Christmastime that was Hungarian and there was nut roll to be served.
GREENE: Both of Mark's parents passed away about 20 years ago. His mother did leave behind a box full of recipes. But he discovered that her instructions for nut roll were not that precise.
KARNEY: So the first time I made it, I didn't get the dough wet enough. And when the thing was baked, and I probably overbaked it a little bit and it turned out like rock.
GREENE: So Mark kept trying to get the nut roll to feel and taste just the way his mom used to make it.
KARNEY: You know, you have an amazing memory for tastes and smells. So when you're experimenting with the recipe, you're going to know when you get it right.
GREENE: He's still trying to perfect the Hungarian dishes in his mother's recipe box. For him, gone are the days of dusty old recipe cards. He has created a website where he updates his mom's old recipes. He's hoping his kids will have an easier time keeping them alive.
KARNEY: The only tradition - Hungarian traditions we really had growing up were the foods.
GREENE: Now, some families we heard from were making dishes to create their own traditions, not necessarily tied to their roots. Diane Withiam was impressed with her daughter, who's been trying to keep her great-grandma's favorite dish on the holiday table.
DIANE WITHIAM: After Grandma died, she just needed to have spinach balls.
GREENE: The spinach balls weren't a relic from the Old Country. But they have become a sort of memorial to Great-Grandma, whose spirit, Diane says, lingers in the kitchen.
WITHIAM: I was thinking, in making a pie, there are certain motions that you go through in making a pie - how you roll the crust, how you crimp the crust. I do that like my grandmother or my mother would do. And I still feel close to those ancestors when I do those things, in the way that I was taught.
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GREENE: Mark Karney, as we just heard, has a website for recipes. You can find a link to it and also read about these food traditions at NPR's food blog, The Salt.
And you're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.