A Taste of Family History: Recipe Contest Winners!

A Taste of Family History: Recipe Contest Winners!

In early December we invited you to send in your family recipes for a chance to win a free MyHeritage Complete plan or AI Time Machine™ theme pack. We received so many incredible entries! Thank you so much to all who shared their wonderful recipes, beautiful photos, and heartwarming stories. We truly enjoyed getting a taste of so many rich traditions. It wasn’t easy to choose our runners-up and winners, but here they are.


Tomato Juice Cake / Tom Stodola

Tomato Juice Cake recipe

This unusual-sounding recipe, submitted by Tom Stodola, is for two different versions of Tomato Juice Cake, published in 1955 by the St. Wencelaus Altar Society. The top recipe was submitted by Tom’s grandmother, Josephine, and the other by her sister Emily. “It is interesting how each one wrote their recipe in a slightly different way,” writes Tom. “They probably both learned the original version from their mother many years earlier. My wife has made this cake for me many times. It is delicious even though the name sounds strange. The tomato juice provides the recipe liquid and adds a nice redness to the cake.”

Tom says he has the original cookbook from 1955, and that it’s still usable and even has handwritten notes from his grandmother, as she used it often. “As a wedding gift for my younger relatives, I have compiled a booklet of recipes from my grandmother and my maternal and paternal aunts,” says Tom. “It has many memories for me.”

Tom’s grandmother Josephine

Tom’s grandmother Josephine

Here’s a transcription of Josephine’s version of the recipe:

Tomato Juice Cake

½ cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 whole egg
2 cups flour
1 tsp. Soda
1 tsp. Cinnamon
1 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. Nutmeg
1 cup tomato juice
1 cup raisins
½ cup nuts
¼ tsp. salt.

Bake in loaf pan. – 350°.

Mom’s Chocolate Cake / Thomas Østergaard

Mom’s Chocolate Cake

Mom’s Chocolate Cake

The recipe for this scrumptious-looking cake comes to us from Thomas Østergaard from Denmark. “In our family, the best family recipe is undoubtedly ‘Mom’s Chocolate Cake,’ which dates back to great-grandmother Helene in the early 1960s,” writes Thomas. “The recipe for Mother’s chocolate cake has been passed down through 4 generations in our family and is still diligently made to this day.”

Thomas’s great-grandmother Helene

Thomas’s great-grandmother Helene

Unfortunately, Thomas’s great-grandmother Helene is no longer around, but he says his grandmother Anne Bodil, aged 69, still shares the family’s recipes often with her daughter Tina and granddaughter Emilie. “Emilie is 17 years old and has loved cooking with her grandmother since she was very small,” says Thomas.

Anne and Emilie preparing Christmas dinner together this year

Anne and Emilie preparing Christmas dinner together this year

“Recipes used to be written down on paper, but today they are shared as photos on mobile phones between family members or typed on a computer,” says Tom. “In the future, they will be able to be added to MyHeritage, as part of the family’s history. We didn’t think about that until we saw this competition. Fantastic idea!”

Here’s the recipe:

Mom’s Chocolate Cake

300 gr flour
75 gr butter or margarine
300 gr sugar
2 eggs
50 gr cocoa
2 dl (200 ml) milk or preferably buttermilk
1 tsp (5 gr) baking soda
1 tsp (5 gr) baking powder
½ tsp (2 ½ gr) vanilla sugar
Garnish: grated chocolate and glaze of 200 gr icing sugar and approx. 2 tbsp boiling water, which is stirred to a suitable consistency.

Soften the butter or margarine to a mayonnaise-like consistency and mix well with the sugar to create a uniform mixture, then add the eggs one at a time while stirring. Sift the remaining ingredients together with the flour, and stir everything together into a smooth batter. Pour into a greased baking pan.

Bake on the bottom rack of the oven at 200 degrees (medium heat) for approx. 15 minutes. THE OVEN MUST BE THE RIGHT TEMPERATURE FROM THE START. After cooling, glaze the cake and sprinkle the grated chocolate on top.

Potato Pancakes / Pilla Leitner

Pilla Leitner published her family recipe on her blog, which you can read in full here.

Handwritten recipe

“Memories of Grandma’s food, brought over the ocean with her German immigrant parents, always make me feel warm and happy,” writes Pella. “The recipe that I love the most was potato pancakes. My husband and kids thought I was out of my mind. The memories that are associated with a recipe make all the difference!”

Pella writes that her grandmother passed away in 1980, and that she didn’t have any of her recipes, as she was too young and just starting her own family. “Twenty years pass, and I was visiting my Aunt Alice in San Diego. I reminisced about those potato pancakes, and how sad I was that I never got that recipe. Alice pulled the recipe out of her recipe box, and taught me how to make them. Cooking together in her kitchen is one of my fondest memories.”

Pella Leitner as a child with her family (second from the left)

Pella Leitner as a child with her family (second from the left)

A transcription of the recipe is below.

Potato Pancakes

¼ c milk
2 eggs
½ small onion
1 t salt
¼ c flour
¼ t baking powder
2 cups cubed raw potato

Put in blender in order listed. Cover. Start low. Turn high about 5 sec. (Do not overblend.) Fry [in a] hot well-greased griddle. Brown on both sides.

Mama Apples Passover Tzimas / Mimi Grandma

This recipe from Mimi Grandma is for the Jewish holiday of Passover (Pesach in Hebrew), which takes place in the spring — which is why she was unable to take a photo to share at this time of year. We took the liberty of providing a stock photo of this traditional Ashkenazi Jewish dish, also spelled tzimmes, typically made with carrots and fruit:

Photo of bowl with tzimmes dish, made with carrots, apricots, and prunes

Stock photo of tzimmes

Mama Apples Passover Tzimas

No rules. Just make to taste
Keep mixing till it looks like enough to feed an army
About 10 sweet potatoes (yams)
Boil until soft

About 10 carrots
Boil until soft

Mash sweet potatoes and carrots together

Add the following
2 cans of pineapple tidbits (drain)
¼ jar of prunes
Small can of apricots (or organic fresh)
Small can of mandarin oranges (or fresh Clementine’s)
¼ tsp of vanilla
Agaves (honey) about ¼ cup
Lots and lots of brown sugar, white sugar (or stevia-organic)
Sprinkle cinnamon throughout
1 tbsp of butter (if you want)
Mix well

Bake in oven at 350 degrees for about ½ hour or until bubbly
Add marshmallows (kosher for Pesach) last 10 minutes to a golden brown

I make it up as I go so there are really no accurate measurements.
Just keep tasting until you are full.

Granny Burnette’s War Cake / Anne B. St. John

“During World War II, my grandparents lived on a farm in a very rural area of Virginia,” writes Anne. “They had 3 sons, my uncles, serving in the military overseas. Food was very scarce and most food staples were rationed. My grandmother could not get candied fruit for fruitcakes so she came up with her own recipe for a cake, which we called Granny’s War Cake. She would bake the cakes and send them to her sons overseas for Christmas.”

Black and white photo of smiling couple

Anne’s grandparents

Anne says this recipe has been handed down in our family for about 80 years!

Granny Burnette’s War Cake

2 c black walnuts
4 c flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp mace
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ginger
1 box raisins
1 TBL soda
2 c water
2 TBL lard
2 c sugar
½ tsp salt
1 TBL cocoa

(Add more spices if you would like)

Cook raisins in 2 c water, 15 minutes. Add soda and stir until it quits bubbling. Add lard and sugar and mix well. Add spices, salt and nuts and mix well. Add cold water to cool. Add flour gradually and mix well. Grease and flour cake mold. Pour in mixture and bake 3 hours @300 degrees. No higher heat! Let cool and put a peeled apple in the center if you used a bundt pan. Keep moist with wine for about a week.

Napier Christmas Fruit Cake / Dawn Cockman

We consider ourselves extremely lucky to have received this recipe from Dawn: she says that it won many first prizes at the Narrogin show each year, and that its inventor — Dawn’s grandmother — didn’t normally share it. 

Black and white photo of couple

Dawn’s grandparents

Napier Christmas Fruit Cake

1 lb butter
1 lb sultanas
1 lb currants
1 lb raisins
½ cup chopped dates
2 cups white sugar
½ cup brown sugar
1 ¼ lb plain flour
½ cup blanched almonds
½ cup cherries
1 pk mixed spice
1 tbsp. mixed peel
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp salt
8 very large eggs OR 1 dozen medium eggs
½ tsp carb soda
1 tbsp milk
1 tbsp brandy
225grms ginger


Prepare fruit the day before. Put fruit into a large basin altogether, then add the brandy. Cover basin till needed.

Prepare cake tin/tins: line the bottom with about 3 layers of brown paper, and one layer around the sides to slightly above the top of the tin.

Next day: cream butter and sugar, add eggs one at a time. Beat well.

Stir in fruit and flavouring, mix well. Sift in flour and rising.

Add milk, mixing well.

Bake in a slow oven: 4 ½ hours for full mixture (7lb cake) or 2 ½ hrs for half mix. (2x 3 ½ lb cakes)

Test before taking out.

“It really needs the full cooking time,” says Dawn. “ The first time I made it, I thought it seemed cooked after 4 hours, so took it out. Upon giving my grandmother some to try, without knowing I had taken it out short of the time, she suggested it needed at least another half hour. She always cooked in a wood oven, which I’d say would be a bit more difficult keeping the temperature correct, in comparison to the ovens of today.”

Dawn says she has made this recipe many times over the years — but confesses that she uses half a cup of brandy instead of a tablespoon.

“One time when making it, I forgot to put the eggs in (all 12 of them) until it was in the oven,” Dawn recalls. “I turned around to tidy up and blow me down if the eggs weren’t still sitting there. Out came the cake, back into the bowl, in went the eggs, relined the cake tin again, then back into the oven. I couldn’t believe I had done such a thing. But it still cooked nicely, still tasted yummy. I’m sure my grandmother would have been horrified at the thought.”

Hilarious! Perhaps Dawn’s grandmother would have been horrified, but we’re sure she would also have been so proud to know that Dawn has continued baking her famous cake.

Pear Pie / Dana Kay Daughtrey Gardinier

Dana sent us this recipe that was passed down to her from her grandmother, Lillie Mae Cooper Daughtry, and her mother, Glenda Myrel Bussell Daughtrey. She describes her grandmother, who lived from 1902–1986, as “an amazing self-made woman”: her mother contracted tuberculosis when she turned 6, and died 3 years later, after which she was raised by her older sister. After earning her master’s degree, Lillie Mae became a County Extension Agent in three locations and ran her own little TV cooking show out of Clovis, New Mexico. “She owned a commercial orchard after retiring in Ft. Sumner, New Mexico, and probably got this recipe from her neighbor who cooked so well, ‘Mrs. Johnson,’” says Dana. “We die for this pie every year at Thanksgiving. She also had an amazing Date Roll, Apple Cake, Prune Cake, and Pear Honey recipe that should be world famous!!! She published several cookbooks from her Home Demonstration Clubs in New Mexico.”

Here is the recipe:

Pear Pie

1/4 c salted butter
1c sugar
3 eggs beaten
1/4 c flour
1/2 tsp. vanilla
4-5+ pears — peeled, sliced, soaked in fresh lime juice to prevent browning
1/8 tsp. mace
1 9 in. unbaked pie shell

Cream together butter, sugar, eggs, flour, vanilla. Layer pie shell with pears and pour mixture slowly over pears. Sprinkle mace over top of pie.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until knife inserted in middle comes out clean.

Serve warm or very cold.

Goes well with slice of mild cheese.

Kransekeke / Beverly Rainforth

“I confess this is not a family recipe because my mother, of Norwegian heritage, considered kransekake (wreath cake) just ‘too much trouble,’ says Beverly Rainforth, who submitted this recipe for a traditional Scandinavian cake.

Photo of tall layered kransekeke cake decorated with flowers

Beverly’s kransekeke

“In her experience you had to boil 1+ pounds of almonds, then peel, thoroughly dry, and grind them — a process that would take about two days. The dough is simple but finger-thin tubes of it must be formed into 18 perfect rings of slightly different sizes that, when baked, could be stacked to make a hollow cone. I agreed, too much trouble! Then came the ‘miracles’ of Bob’s Red Mill Almond Flour and Norpro kransekake pans (for 18 rings of perfect size and shape). It still takes a while, but it’s worth the effort. My recipe is based on the one that came with the pans. About 3 feet of unobstructed counter is needed to roll out the dough and put it in the pans.”

Here’s the recipe:


1. Make the Cake Rings

1 lb (4 cups) Bob’s Red Mill Almond flour
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3 Tablespoons oil
4 egg whites
1 lb (3 3/4 cups) Domino powdered sugar

Mix the flours and baking powder in a food processor, then add the egg whites and oil. If a ball forms, break it up. Gradually add the powdered sugar. When the mixture gets too thick for the processor, turn it into a bowl and work the rest of the sugar in by hand. Divide the dough into 9 balls of equal size.

Cut a piece of parchment paper at least 30″ long and mark the edge of the paper in 1″ increments for 27″. Line up the pans from small to large near the paper.

Dust the parchment paper with flour. Take one ball of dough, roll it into a finger-width “sausage” 27″ long, and cut 5″ off one end. Put the short piece in the smallest ring of the smallest pan, and gently pinch the ends together; put the long piece in the largest ring of the largest pan and pinch the ends together. Roll the next ball to 27″, cut off 6″ and put it in the smallest ring of the next smallest pan; put the longer piece in the largest ring of the next largest pan. Continue this way until all rings are filled. The remaining rolls will be cut as 7″ + 20″, 8″ + 19″, 9″ + 18″, 10″ + 17″, 11″ + 16″, 12″ + 15″, 13″ + 14″

Put the forms on baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees F for 10 to 15 minutes, until light brown. (Check often.) Let the rings cool in the pans.

2. Make the Icing

8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 egg white
1 cup powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon almond extract

Mix the ingredients thoroughly in a bowl. Pour the icing in a sealable quart bag and refrigerate until ready to use.

3. Assemble the Cake

Line up the cake pans in order of size and gently loosen each ring. Select a plate that is big enough to hold the biggest ring and any decorations you will add.

Cut a small corner off the icing bag and drizzle a ring of icing on the plate. Place the largest ring on the icing, making sure it is centered on the plate.

Drizzle icing on the largest ring of cake and add the next largest ring. (The icing “glues” the rings together so make sure there is enough, but not too much.)

Continue drizzling icing and adding rings, checking to see that the cone stays even (not lop-sided).

Have fun with the decorations; they can be anything that suits the season or occasion. Depending on their size and shape, they may be attached while assembling or “glued” on afterwards.

If you want to put a bottle of wine or a vase for flowers inside the cake, stack up the rings dry to make sure the bottle/vase fits inside. It’s easier to ice the cake with nothing inside, so note the point at which the bottle/vase needs to be put in place.

Photo of kransekeke: tall layered cake decorated with flowers and butterflies

Another of Beverly’s kransekekes

“When I’ve added flowers, they never fit through the two smallest rings,” says Bev. “Since I have to eliminate those two rings I feel justified in eating them. :)”

Surkaal / Jean Marshall

“It is not just the tangy taste of the red cabbage with caraway seeds and a dash of vinegar that I remember well,” says Jean Marshall, who submitted the recipe below. “It is my eight aunts and uncles and my cousins crammed into my grandmother’s maroon brick house in Salt Lake City for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. The bustle in the kitchen before the meal, the delicious lamb or turkey, the comforting potatoes, the hubbub of chatter and laughter all added to the flavor of the day. As a toddler, I didn’t really like that wonderful red cabbage dish, but by the time our family moved to California when I was six, I had developed a taste for it, and because my father loved it, my mother made it for festive occasions.”

Photo of purple cabbage dish with Norwegian flag


“Though I have made it for my own family, neither my husband or children crave it as I do,” says Jane. “For me it is so much more than the dish itself. It is my childhood, my Norwegian grandmother with her hands on her hips, speaking accented English, and it is the palpable bond among my father and his brothers and sisters. Such seasoning cannot be found in a jar.”

Here’s the recipe that goes with that beautifully-written memory:                   


1 head large red cabbage
2 TB butter or pork drippings
1 TB flour
1 ½ t caraway seeds
1 tsp salt
2 c meat stock or broth
2 T cider vinegar
1 TB sugar

Cut away core of cabbage. Soak head in cold salted water for 10 min. and drain. Shred into fine strips. Grease bottom of kettle with 1 TB butter. Then layer alternately the cabbage, caraway seeds and little dots of butter and sprinkle in the flour and salt for each layer. Add stock or water. You should barely see it below the cabbage. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 1 ½ hours, stirring frequently. Do not let it boil dry. Before serving, add vinegar and sugar and stir well. If necessary, add more salt to taste. Serves 6.

Mama Huebsch’s Brownies / Louise

We received the following recipe from Louise, 77, who says she is always asked to bring these brownies to family gatherings. The recipe comes from her maternal grandmother, Mary Alta Huebsch.

Mama Huebsch’s Brownies

1 cup sugar 2 eggs (beaten)
½ cup butter ½ cup pecans (chopped)
¾ c flour pinch of salt
2-1 oz. squares Hershey’s Unsweetened Chocolate (Melted) (I had to use Baker’s, as Wal-mart does not carry the Hershey’s)
1 teaspoon vanilla flavoring

Cream butter and sugar together. Add beaten eggs. Add melted chocolate and vanilla flavoring.

Mix salt with flour and add gradually. Add pecans and mix well. Bake 20 minutes at 300 degrees.

(Note, always check after 20 minutes cooking time by inserting toothpick or fork cause cooking time varies with different ovens and pans.)

While hot — frost with:

1 cup powder sugar 2 Tablespoons milk or cream
2 Tablespoons cocoa 2 Tablespoons soft butter
½ teaspoon vanilla flavoring

Mix all together and pour over brownies while they are hot.

(I always double this recipe because I use a large (12×16) baking pan.)

Second prize winners

We couldn’t decide between the following two recipes, so we decided to make it a tie and give award both of them AI Time Machine™ theme packs!

Nut Spice Cake / Merry Hanning 

The recipe below was given to Merry by her maternal grandmother in the 1970s. “My mother and grandmother made this cake for Thanksgiving or Christmas when I was a child,” says Merry. “Grandmother got it from her paternal aunt, Agnes Thomas Ray, who said she got it from her mother, Elizabeth Proffitt Thomas, who would be my maternal great-great-grandmother.”

Handwritten Nut Spice Cake recipe

Below is a collage of five women in Merry’s family who have made this cake:

Collage of 5 photos of women

Merry is on the bottom left

Photo of cake in tube pan, with inset photo of slices of the cake

The nut spice cake Merry baked this year

Here is a transcription of the recipe:

Nut Spice Cake

3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
5 eggs
1 cup butter
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp soda
1 cup English walnuts
1 can coconut
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cloves
1 cup molasses
1 cup blackberry preserves

Source: Aunt Agnes
Who likes it: Everybody

Sift flour+spices together. Add to butter, egg, sugar mixture. Add soda to buttermilk. Add alternatively, coconut, molasses, preserves, and raisins.

Bake in tube pan, well greased and flavored, 250 or 300 for 1 hr or until straw comes out clean when testing.

Thank you, Merry, and congratulations!

Lemon Cheesecake / Belinda Self

Belinda Self submitted this recipe, which was her mother’s. Belinda says that she also makes a portwine cheesecake using the same recipe.

Photo of cheesecake from the top

Lemon cheesecake

Original lemon cheesecake recipe

Original lemon cheesecake recipe

“I make this cheesecake every year in memory of my mother, who passed away in 1999,” says Belinda.

Photo of woman in wedding gown

Belinda’s mother

Here’s a transcription of the recipe:

Cheese Cake (Lemon)

1 pkg (15) Nice biscuits (less 4 or 5)
6 to 8 ginger nut biscuits
6 oz butter

Crush biscuits, melt butter, mix together and press into tin (leaving ¼ cup for top).

8 oz cream cheese
1 pkk lemon jelly
1 cup sugar
¾ cup hot water
Juice of 1 lemon
Vanilla ess.
1 tin carnation milk (CHILLED)

Beat cheese till creamy, add sugar and vanilla ess., melt jelly in hot water, add lemon juice and add to cheese, beat well. Beat chilled carnation milk until thick and fold into mixture, pour into tin. Sprinkle remainder of crumbs on top and refrigerate, best left 24 hours.

(P.S. Carnation milk must be well chilled to whip.)

Looks amazing! Congratulations, Belinda!

First prize winner

Our first prize of a free MyHeritage Complete plan goes to S.M. McCullough for her banana pudding recipe!

Banana pudding

Banana pudding

S. M. McCullough writes: “My mother was a first generation Polish-American, born to parents who immigrated to the US in the early 20th century seeking a better life and escaping poverty and oppression in their native Poland/Galicia. She grew up in a Polish neighborhood in Detroit, enjoying the typical Polish pierogi, gołąbki, kiełbasa and krusczyki.

 “My dad was born into a poor farming family in deep-south Alabama. The family diet was simple, but most always contained cornbread, collared greens, red eye gravy and an occasional delicious banana pudding. 

 “When my parents married, my mom had no idea how to prepare the dishes that dad enjoyed growing up in the south, so she contacted his sisters for some recipes that he might enjoy.

Black and white photo of young smiling couple

S.M.’s parents

“One of the all-time favorites was the banana pudding. Her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren and recently her great-great grandchild are still enjoying this recipe.”

The original recipe

The original recipe

Here is a transcription of the recipe:

Banana Pudding

Mix 1c sugar
with 2tb cornstarch
Add 1 egg
1 t. vanilla
2 cups milk

Boil, stirring, till thickens + let cook a minute or so till cornstarch taste disappears. Should be consistency of thin pudding. Cool + pour over wafers and bananas which you have layered. Use 1 box wafers + about 4 or 5 bananas. I always like to pour ½ of the wafers + bananas and the other half on top.

Congratulations and thank you for these beautiful memories! That pudding looks absolutely scrumptious.

Thanks once again to everyone who participated! If you try any of these recipes, we’d love to see the results — please share on social media and don’t forget to tag us. Bon appetit!