• Pictures of guests with their grandmothers make beautiful table decorations. (Food Network / Giada Entertains)
A wonderful way to preserve and share treasured family recipes.
Kylie Walker

13 Jul 2018 - 2:40 PM  UPDATED 13 Jul 2018 - 3:42 PM

“It's called ‘Company's Coming’ because my grandma used to always make it whenever company was coming over,” says one guest, of the caramel and banana-filled pie she’s brought along to share. “We would sleep over at my grandma's a lot, and she would make us these cookies just so we could have something to snack on,” says another. A third shares tales of the crab dip her grandmother still makes for card parties with her friends. Another has brought along potica, a sweet yeasted bread made by several generations of her family.

They’re all gathered around a table for a “My grandmother’s recipe” potluck party. The idea is simple but beautiful – invite friends over and ask them to bring along a dish their grandmother made, along with the recipe.

It’s an idea we think a lot of us would love to embrace (read on for how to make it happen!). After all, most of us have treasured memories of a dish that was a special part of our childhood. Maybe it was your Nana’s date nut loaf.  Your Nonna’s chicerchiata. Your Grandmother’s French chicken casserole. Your Nan’s jam and coconut slice.

Why do we love family recipes so much?

“The nonna holds the family together with her teaching and love. My Nonna passed on what she learned from her Nonna and she passed it on to me,” says Geraldine Lubrano, the matriarch of the family behind Italian condiments and antipasto maker Sandhurst Fine Foods, which started Australia’s annual Festival of Nonna two years ago. Lubrano, herself a grandmother of four, says getting together around shared tables, and passing on lessons and knowledge, is what family is all about. “Sharing the food.. we talk … we laugh… we argue… we talk some more… and of course we eat!” (Details are still being finalised, but the Festival of Nonna will be back again later this year. There’s also a great series of exhibitions all about grandmothers on in Melbourne at the moment, organised by Multicultural Museums Victoria, featuring stories, recipes and images.)

So how do you hold a “My grandmother’s recipe party”? The gathering that inspired us, and its buffet spread of biscuits, pies, salads and bakes, each dish with a hand-written recipe card, was put together by Giada De Laurentiis. You can see her party in Giada Entertains (6.30pm weeknights on Food Network from July 16, then on SBS On Demand) but we’ve gathered all her top tips right here.

“It's a great way to share stories and dishes that are close to your heart,” she says, reminiscing about her own grandmother – Italian actress Silvana Mangano, affectionately known as Nonna Luna.

“My mom would drop us off, and we ate a lot of candy and a lot of desserts with her, and we'd have so much fun. We'd stay up late. All the things that you do with your grandmother.

“I always get people who tell me about, ‘Well, my grandma made this particular recipe so well’. So I thought, why don't I just host a potluck and ask all my friends to bring one of their grandmother's recipes, and to actually write it down, as well, and we can all share the recipe.”

We love this idea! Here's how to do it.

Plan ahead

“It's really fun to … get together, talk about these recipes, highlight our grandmothers, and all of the influence they've had on us and the food that they've made over the years,” De Laurentiis says.

You could hold this kind of party as a spur of the moment thing but planning ahead means you can adopt one of the lovely touches De Laurentiis used at her party: when you invite your guests, ask them to give you a copy of a photo of them and their grandmother. You can then put the images in frames and use them as table decorations. Each guest finds their seat by looking for their picture.

Planning ahead also means you can chat to each guest about what they are thinking of bringing, and balance out any gaps in the menu. You could easily do this as an afternoon tea and ask everyone to bring something sweet, but if you’re making it a dinner or a lunch, you’ll want to make sure there’s a balance of sweet and savoury dishes.

With her guests bringing pie, biscuits and sweet yeasted bread, De Laurentiis made savoury dishes, including her nonna’s rice salad, and a lasagne inspired by her nonna’s love of one-pot dishes.

Ask each guest to bring a copy of their recipe, too. You could give each of them a note card to write it on, as De Laurentiis did, and make it part of the buffet of dishes. This way, everyone knows what they are eating, and what's in it, and it can generate more sharing of stories, too.

Of course it’s not just grandmothers who create wonderful family memories. Giada herself often talks about what a good cook her grandfather Dino De Laurentiis was, and a lot of us also have great memories of cooking and eating with our mothers, fathers, aunts, great-aunts and family friends, so you could adapt the idea of this party to more broadly embrace treasured family recipes.

Set up a spread

Put everything out, with the recipe beside each dish, so people can help themselves – this gives everyone a chance to look at the names and recipes for all the dishes as they fill their plates.

“I, like many other dessert lovers, have a lot of cake stands, so I thought it'd be fun to put all the pies and the cookies and the breads and all that on different cake stands and different platters,” De Laurentiis explains in the show.  

“I set up the table a little bit more formally in the dining room, and I put a picture of the person with their grandma, right in front of where they should be sitting, reinforcing that theme and celebrating the special people in their life that made a difference for them with the recipes that they made.”

Plan a little take-home gift

Those framed photographs that made the table feel so special make a lovely take home gift. Giada De Laurentiis also gave her guests a little bag of the fruit-flavoured Italian sweets her nonna used to carry in her handbag – “A little memory of my grandmother”.

We think a copy of all the recipes served at the party would also be a lovely thing to give each person. After all, sharing stories and recipes is what makes a gathering like this so wonderful.

Get more inspiration from SBS Food’s Like Grandma Made recipe collection, and watch double episodes of Giada Entertains from 6.30pm weeknights on Food Network from July 16-20 (the Grandma party is on Monday 16 July) then on SBS On Demand. Get more great recipes from Giada here.

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