Katie Quigley got the gift of family history shortly after she and husband Steve were married.
The gift was the brainchild of her mother, Cathy Bell, of Egg Harbor Township, who compiled a cook book of favorite family recipes and gave it as a Christmas gift after her eldest daughter went off to start a family of her own.
"We had everyone copy their signature dishes, especially the ones that were favorites of the bride. We also included handwritten recipes from her great-grandmother. There are all manner of recipes, from Uncle Brian's "octopus hot dogs," her dads "loaf of meat", and Grandmom Swift's lemon bars, which are now one of Katie's specialities," said Bell.
Quigley said the gift was "amazing" and something she refers to frequently - both for the recipes and to just remember her roots.
"Every single page is from someone who is in my family or who I love dearly," the 30-year-old Egg Harbor Township woman said. "It's an amazing thing - there are recipes from my great-grandmother and grandfather. Some of the recipes in there were fun things, but then there were things that I remember from when I was growing up, my mom's stuffed peppers, my dad's meat loaf. Sometimes it's great just to look at them."
Family has long been a factor in cooking in Quigley's family.
Bell, 54, was raised in Egg Harbor Township by a single mother who had to work to support Bell and her four brothers. Carol Duberson worked as a repair supervisor for New Jersey Bell and later AT&T. That meant her parents, Russell and Catherine Swift, played a big role in helping to raise the family.
"My grandmother was a huge part of my life," Bell recalled. "She was one of my favorite people - she was very influential."
With Duberson at work, all her children had to help with the household duties - including preparing dinner.
"My older brother was the first who had to make dinner. As the rest of us got older, it kept going down the line until it hit me," Bell said.
Bell had learned to cook watching her grandmother in the kitchen.
"It just came from being there in the kitchen with her - I learned through osmosis," Bell said. Russell Swift was "a gentleman farmer," and the family ate well from the produce from his garden.
"There were always vegetables coming out of his garden. There were also a lot of sweet potatoes," Bell recalled. "They lived on the water, so there was always a lot of fish too,"
Her grandmother's meals were also accompanied by desserts - Catherine Swift was a great baker who produced cakes, cookies and pies. Her lemon meringue pie and lemon bars were two recipes Swift was particularly known for.
Bell enjoyed cooking for her family - and their friends.
"When we were kids we always travelled in packs. I made a lot of hamburgers and casseroles. Lots of noodles and spaghetti," she said.
Bell brought these comfort-food recipes with her when she and Keith Bell married. The couple own Bell Custom Cabinetry in Pleasantville and Cathy Bell worked in the shop while raising daughters Katie and Melissa.
"Being self-employed, it was a little easier for me than it was for my mother, but, as she got older, Katie kind of got stuck with the cooking thing," Bell said. Luckily, Bell's older daughter not only enjoyed cooking, she also had a knack for it.
"She's a fantastic cook. She really likes it," Bell said. "My other daughter is a good cook, but doesn't enjoy it as much."
Katie's love of cooking is what inspired Bell to put together the family cookbook as a special surprise.
Creating the book was a five month project. Bell wracked her mind and contacted as many people as she could think of to contribute recipes.
"I had them hand write the recipes - it just seemed more personal, more of a connection," she said. While creating the book, Bell also came across her grandmother's handwritten lemon bar recipe, which had been lost but was discovered in a shopping bag full of recipes she'd cut out of newspapers and magazines.
Bell used scrapbook pages to create the book, including photos and other mementoes with the recipes.
"It came out really cool - if I do say so myself. I was really impressed. It's the kind of thing that I would have liked to have had," Bell said. "I made just one copy of book, but I know Melissa is hoping that when she gets married, she gets one too."
Quigley cried with joy when she received the book, something she will frequently peruse
"I'm a sentimental person, so I look at the book and see their handwriting and think of them sitting at their tables and writing the recipes out, not knowing they will be passed down for generations," she said.
Quigley, now raising a girl and two boys, hopes to pass down the cookbook to her daughter, Lily, someday.
"I've already made the lemon bars with her and I hope to make many other meals with her," she said. "The book is special to me because it was made for me by my family, and it's something that they wanted to pass down. I want to continue to pass it down."
Contact Steven V. Cronin:
Grandmom Swift's Lemon Bars
•1 cup butter
•2 1/3 cups flour
•1teaspoon lemon peel
•1teaspoon baking powder
•2 cups sugar
•6 tablespoons lemon juice
•1/2 cup powdered sugar
Cream butter and 1/2 of the powdered sugar, add 2 cups of flour Spread in greased 9- by 15-inch pan, bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.
Beat eggs, gradually add sugar, lemon peel,and juice, mix well. Add remaining flour and baking powder, beat well, pour over crust bake additional 15 to 20 minutes. Sprinkle with powdered sugar when cool.
on Page B6
Aunt Mel's Iced Tea
•6 tea bags
•4 cups of water
•1 cup sugar
•Lemon to taste
Boil water and tea bags in microwave for 5 minutes. Add sugar and lemon, steep until cool. Fill 2 quart pitcher with mixture and cold water
Dad's Loaf Of Meat
•1 1/2 to 2 pounds hamburger
•2 small onions diced
•4 to 6 bread crusts shredded
•2 large spoons brown mustard
•2 shakes steak sauce
•salt and pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients in bowl. Form in loaf and bake at 350 about 45 minutes