The Truth Behind Passed-Down Family Recipes

Your grandmother's secret apple pie or aunt's special casserole might not be as much of an heirloom as you thought. We're spilling the secrets behind many family recipes.

written recipe of easy chocolate cake in cookbookPhoto: Shutterstock / Julija Sapic

There are some family recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation, either by word-of-mouth or on a 3×5 lined index card with chicken scratch handwriting. (We’d know—home cooks have sent us in thousands of these recipes!) Your family might have been eating a special dish for years, thinking it’s a secret family recipe. It might not be.

An investigation by Gastro Obscura found that of surveyed readers, supposed guarded family recipes were often plagiarized from corporations and cookbooks. Desserts were overwhelmingly the most common type of recipe, followed by side dishes, breads and rolls.

The famous family recipe might have actually been swiped intentionally or unintentionally from a Nestle Toll House chocolate chip bag or the side of a Betty Crocker box (here are 9 surprising facts about Betty Crocker). Many food manufacturers list recipes on their packaging, and it turns out they’re good enough to pass as a family heirloom.

Women’s magazines of the 1950s and 60s also included recipes for clipping and storing into a recipe box with names that could easily transfer into your average family, like Grandma’s Sugarplum Recipe or Aunt Bee’s Frozen Lemon Pie.

While you might not ever find out the true origin of some recipes, investigate a little. The next holiday season when you’re whipping up a treasured secret recipe with your family, ask if they know anything about its origin. You might be surprised! Though we believe—regardless of where a recipe comes from—anything that’s made with love, kindness and kindred spirit is worth passing down from one generation to the next.

Try these timeless (and true!) family recipes.
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Jacqueline Weiss
Jacqueline is a blogger and writer, passionate about sharing the latest in helpful tips and trends in food and cooking. In her spare time, you’ll find her trying new restaurants and experimenting in the kitchen.