The kitchen is often called the heart and soul of the home. It’s where meals and memories are made, where families and friends gather, where traditions are born, and where stories are told and retold.
The kitchen table, then, occupies a place of honor as the heart of the heart of the home.
Take a moment to picture your own childhood kitchen table. Was it small and intimate or large and sprawling? Was it polished and smooth or scarred and well used? Were there blemishes and imperfections that you can trace back to the time somebody spilled some nail polish or set down a sizzling pan without using a hot pad? What games do you remember playing on, around, or underneath that table? What family stories were passed around the table as predictably as the bowl of mashed potatoes?
After Cody Delistraty’s mother passed away and his brother moved overseas, he was left alone with his father. As he recounted in The Atlantic on July 19, 2014, mealtimes were solitary affairs at first until his father decided that their mother would have wanted them to continue to eat together, even if it was just the two of them. “Eating together was a small act, and it required very little of us—45 minutes away from our usual, quotidian distractions—and yet it was invariably one of the happiest parts of my day,” Delistraty said (Cody C. Delistray, “The Importance of Eating Together,” The Atlantic, Jul.18, 2014).
Even beyond the important conversations and family connections that occur when meals are prepared and eaten together, the kitchen table often plays host to countless other bridge-building activities—from scripture study and family home evening lessons to craft projects and cookie decorating. Many of these pastimes may seem mundane and commonplace in the moment, but the traditions they foster can carry us through times of heartache and upheaval.
A Lifeline in a Time of Loss
Crystal Farish, a family history missionary and presenter at the RootsTech family history conference in 2017, recounted how the traditions established in her grandmother’s kitchen were a lifeline for her when she needed them most (Allison Kimball and others, “Grandma’s Syrup: Fortifying Your Home with Family History,” RootsTech 2017).
“Every Sunday we gathered around my grandmother’s table for family dinner,” Crystal said. “[Grandma always prepared] the same meal: roast beef, mashed potatoes, red Jello, and Swedish coleslaw . . . served in a bowl with pink flowers and a spoon that once belonged to someone who served in the Civil War” (Kimball and others, “Grandma’s Syrup”).
Beyond the Sunday gatherings, Grandma’s table also hosted countless holiday traditions, including making red velvet cake for Valentine’s Day, decorating gingerbread men and houses for Christmas, and celebrating many holidays in between.
Crystal said that while they worked, her grandmother would tell stories. She created a window from the past to the present.
By the time Crystal was 12, both of her grandfathers had already passed away, and then she lost her father three days before Christmas that year. During this time of intense loss and mourning, what did Crystal’s grandmother do—a woman who had already buried her husband and had just laid Crystal’s father to rest, who died at the tender age of 30?
“My grandmother, on Christmas Eve, gathered us around her table,” Crystal said, “and we did what we always did—family history. We made roast beef and mashed potatoes and coleslaw. We constructed gingerbread houses, and we shared stories of the people from our past that now included stories about my dad” (Kimball and others, “Grandma’s Syrup”).
The comfort of her family’s food traditions sustained Crystal and gave her a sense of normalcy after her world had turned upside down.
Making Your Own Kitchen Table Traditions
Whether you realize it or not, you already have some established family customs that revolve around your kitchen table. Recognize and honor those traditions; they are the stuff memories are made of.
Also be intentional about creating new and lasting traditions that reflect your most important values. What do you want your children and grandchildren to remember about mealtimes at your house? Are there other ways you can add deeper meaning to the gatherings that already take place in the heart of your home? How can you call upon those traditions to sustain your family during times of trial?
Here are a few ideas:
- Create a set of questions or conversation starters to put in the center of the table to spark memorable discussions. The #52stories project is a great place to start.
- Prepare an old family recipe, and share stories about the person who first made that dish as a way of creating a window from the past to the present.
- Enjoy the same traditional meals together as a family when different holidays roll around.
- Sit down together at breakfast time, and read the scriptures together while you eat.
- Use the quizzes and prompts at the end of this article to write down kitchen table memories from your childhood and share them as Memories on your Family Tree.
Get inspired by these stories shared by others on FamilySearch, from the kitchen table that mysteriously collapsed during Sunday dinner to piles and piles of fabric on Dorothy Hansen’s table to a tonsillectomy performed on Irvin Delora Zundel at the very table where he usually ate breakfast.
Above all, make time to eat together with your loved ones as often as you can.
If you’d like to learn more about how food traditions bring family together, click here.