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Those “secret family recipes” are heirlooms

Marilynn and Sheila Brass are inveterate collectors and discoverers of cookbooks, including the handcrafted kind held together by pins and long ago shoved in a forgotten drawer.

About 10 years ago the sisters began testing the recipes they trolled attics, flea markets and yard sales to find. These “forensic cookbook authors” collected 6,500 cookbooks, some dating back to the 1600s and recently published a book Heirloom Baking with the Brass Sisters containing 150 of their favourites.

They needed a new vocabulary. “We had to find out how much a gill was, four ounces (118 ml), or what people meant when they said ‘a suspicion of ginger’ or ‘enough cinnamon to cover a tuppence.’”

“But the biggest challenge was the word ‘cup’ … was it a coffee cup or a tea cup? And often people meant their own tea cup, that they passed on down the family. So we had to keep trying and figuring it out.”

Their advice for aspiring bakers? “We encourage people to do a gentle interrogation of the elders at gatherings to get those stories and get those recipes.”

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