by Jo Clarke, Marketing and Communications Officer

Everyone has a favourite family dinner or food that inspires memories.

My gran was a great cook and I’ll always remember the amazing pasties, ham and egg pies, meat patties, coffee cake and lemon meringue pie she used to make when we went to visit. In hindsight, I really wish she or I had written the recipes down while she was still alive – and that I was a better cook! My dad’s Spaghetti Bolognese is another favourite and one he puts his own ‘unique’ spin on with the addition of carrots and bacon (and, I suspect, some red wine)!

Often passed down from generation to generation, family recipes are tried and tested favourites. As well as creating enjoyable meals they can also transport you back in time. Thinking about the meals my gran used to prepare takes me back to sunny weekends in Cornwall and family Christmases. My dad’s infamous Bolognese reminds me of the Saturday evenings during my childhood when he would cook for my mum, sister and I after spending months away at sea with the Navy.

WWII Victory Street Party - recipes outreach project

A World War II victory street party in Plymouth, 1945. Lots of children sit together wearing party hats and eating party food, with their mothers and fathers standing nearby. The table is shaped as a V for victory.

We recently launched a new community outreach project called ‘Your Recipes, Your Heritage’ which is aiming to delve into peoples’ personal recipe books. Perhaps you have an old cook book that once belonged to your parents or grandparents? Maybe you’ve scribbled a great recipe down on a piece of paper and kept it for years?

If so, we’re hoping you’ll be willing to share these recipes with us. Our aim is to use them to create a series of heritage-themed menus for the meals on wheels service that CaterED runs across Plymouth.

This might sound like a lot of fun as we explore the different foods that have sustained and delighted people over the last few decades – but there’s a serious side to this project too.

As developments with medicine and science help many of us live longer and the population ages, the number of elderly people living alone who are lonely or socially isolated (a lack of contact with family or friends, community involvement, or access to services) is increasing. Living a longer life has a number of benefits but aging is a process that can also be challenging.

Meals on wheels service, 1960 - recipes outreach project

Two women from the Plympton Women’s Voluntary Service deliver a meal to an elderly man, March 1960.

Research shows that people who are single, widowed and/or in poor health, are at particular risk of experiencing loneliness more often or a higher level of social isolation. The following statistics from a recent Age UK report make for sobering reading.

  • Over 1 million older people say they always or often feel lonely.
  • Nearly half of older people (49% of 65+ UK) say that television or pets are their main form of company.
  • Loneliness can be as harmful for our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
  • People with a high degree of loneliness are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s as people with a low degree of loneliness.
  • 12% of over 65s said they never spent time with their family.
  • 12% of over 65s said they never spent time with friends.
  • 49% of all people aged 75 and over live alone.
  • 41% of people aged 65 and over in the UK feel out of touch with the pace of modern life and 12% say they feel cut off from society.

We’re hoping the menus we create will remind some of Plymouth’s more elderly people of happier times and be a talking point for them. Time spent reminiscing is a great way to exercise the brain, combat feelings of depression or boredom and improve self-esteem. We’re also aiming to explore the history and changing fashions of our eating habits over the last few decades.

1955 snow scene - recipes outreach project

A group of boy’s pushes a Co-operative Dairies milk float along a snowy Plymouth street, January 1955.

In addition to CaterED, we’re working in partnership with Plymouth Community Homes and Age UK Plymouth on this project and we’re really grateful for their support. Funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund has been vital to the project too.

We’ll look forward to keeping you up-to-date with things over the next few months – and to hearing from those of you who have recipes and memories to share. You can find out how here.