Santa Maria Sun / Eats
The Food Archivist: Preserving the food-family connection
It seems like every family has that one signature dish that brings everyone together. It’s treasured like a priceless jewel. And more often than not, it’s a secret.
Family recipes are special because they are the root of numerous fond memories, in which the food is the focal point to where everyone gathers. Often that cherished recipe is a well-guarded secret by an elder member of the family. It’s grandpa’s stew, or great-aunt Mae’s cinnamon apple streusel, or cousin Beth’s stroganoff. The dish brings the family together, but some families wonder: Will it be passed down to future generations?
Enter The Food Archivist.
Arroyo Grande resident Ann-Terese Barket works with families to document their favorite recipe, preserving it in a way that it becomes a beautiful piece of family history.
“For so many people, food and family are interconnected,” she said.
As The Food Archivist, Barket interviews families about a recipe they want to keep then puts it into a multimedia keepsake that includes audio, video, and print aspects. She began doing this after realizing that in her own experience food was such a big part of her family. Based in Arroyo Grande, Barket travels throughout SLO and Santa Barbara counties, and sometimes even further, to help families preserve their culinary connections.
She said she understands how important those food memories are to others because they are important in her own life.
Barket grew up spending time in her family’s restaurant, El Matador in Morro Bay. As a little girl she used to sit on a can of beans and watch her father cook chile verde, she remembered. As she got older she began to participate in various aspects of the business, as did other family members.
“As soon as you were high enough to reach the table you were busing them and serving them. And when you were high enough to reach the cutting board you were cutting onions and slicing things,” she said.
When her dad passed away in 1989 she began to archive his recipes. She started asking family members about her dad’s recipes and realized there were so many more recipes to document. The process of archiving her own family’s recipes reaffirmed in her mind the strength of that food-family connection.
“When I’m cooking I’m no longer that little girl sitting on the bean can watching my dad cook. I’m a woman making chile verde for friends. But in those moments of cooking I’m with him again,” she said.
Then a few years ago when her mother died, she began to archive her mother’s recipes. That led her to begin in earnest archiving the recipes for others.
“We talk about the recipe, and I use audio to record, and they tell me how to make it. Then we go to the kitchen and we make it or bake it and I video them baking or cooking it. Then I go home and unpack the data.”
She packages the data by transcribing the instructions and ingredients in readable form creating a PDF document. Then she makes any needed edits to the audio and video, but often she leaves the footage as captured, she said. “Usually it’s just good, raw, lovely footage of your loved one cooking that meal,” she said.
The information is saved on a black chrome flash drive and surrounded in cute packaging.
Barket said the video and audio is just as important to the ability for family members to recreate the dish because often the written instructions don’t tell the whole story. She said that during the video process, she usually finds that there was some little trick or element that was left out of the verbal instructions.
As an example, she told a story of a woman who wanted to make her husband a batch of his grandmother’s biscuits for Christmas.
Though she tried to follow the handed-down recipe, she ended up going through four batches because she couldn’t quite get it right.
Having a video helps families approximate the process with a little more accuracy, and it gives them the ability to keep both the recipe and the spirit of their family alive.
For her part, Barket enjoys the reactions she gets from her clients when they see the finished product.
“Just the look on their faces when they have it. They are just so happy and relieved and appreciative and grateful. Not for me, but just that they have it,” she said. “Then I think about the next generation and all of these people I don’t even know. I like the idea of the timeline of it,” she said.
Editor Shelly Cone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cougars & Mustangs Coastal erosion: Talk of firing the Coastal Commission's executive director has supporters bringing the ruckus to Morro Bay Pesky dilemma: The EPA finds that a pesticide used to fight the citrus psyllid could have consequences for bees Clarifications SLO County supervisors to talk medical marijuana on Feb. 9 SLO County bans synthetic drugs Homeless oversight council seeks shelter crisis declarations