The Recipe Time Machine

The Recipe Time Machine:

3 Vintage Family Recipes Passed Down Through The Generations


If time travel was real, what would be the first thing you would do? Would you want to be a witness to a great moment in history? Is there an event you would try to change? Is there someone you’d want to spend more time with?

Lately, these are the questions I find myself asking. Now, I’m not saying the past was perfect. It’s easy to look back on the past through rosy retrospective lenses and ignore the trials and tribulations. Hindsight is always perfect after all! However, as I watch the news, read online articles, and see the latest TikTok trends, I can’t help but wonder if the good ol’ days have come and gone.

Recipe Hand-Me-Downs

The other day, I couldn’t help but wrestle with the thoughts of “times gone by” as I browsed through my cookbook collection. When I went to pick up one of the oldest cookbooks, several pages of beautifully, handwritten pieces of paper fell out on to the table.

I completely lost track of what I was doing and began to read through each one. Almost all of these pages were written by someone who has now since passed away. Each a part of my history, each one gone.

The memories flooded in of picking cherries with my entire family at grandma and grandpas house when I was young. I remember helping pit the cherries and watched as my mom and grandma boiled the pie filling. I remember surrounding the dinner table with family, laughter, and stories. Oh, the stories!

I started to feel heartsick until it finally hit me…I DO have a time machine! It’s not a rusty bucket of bolts that will take me to a different year with the clickety turn of a dial. But, these recipes were made, and eaten, during some of the best moments in generations past!

Sharing these recipes, and passing them down to future generations, is like keeping the “olden days” alive. Each time one of these recipes are made, a little bit of the past is transported into the present. Keeping the recipes going means also sending the past to the future. What a concept!

So, in honor of these beautiful ladies and all they represent, I want to share a little bit of my family’s history with all of you.

Great Grandma Little

I never got to meet my Great Grandma Little since she passed away before I was born. However, I was close with my Grandma Gearing (her daughter) and heard stories about her mom (Great Grandma Little) regularly.

I remember hearing stories about their house growing up. They were very poor and couldn’t even afford indoor plumbing. The stories of the neighborhood boys’ outhouse shenanigans were some of my favorite ones.

Stories like that always left me feeling grateful for the things I had. Another story my grandma would tell, was how excited the entire family would get when they were able to eat sweets. Putting food on the table was challenging enough, let alone adding dessert.

So, when I stumbled upon Grandma Little’s recipe for sugar cookies, I knew how special it is, and that it needed to be shared.

the recipe time machine

Grandma Little’s Sugar Cookies


  • 1 cup shortening
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 tbsp milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp baking soda


  1. Mix the flour and the salt in a large bowl. Cut in the shortening until it resembles coarse crumbs.
  2. In a separate bowl, beat together the remaining ingredients.
  3. Pour mixture into the shortening mixture and combine.
  4. Roll out and cut with cutters, or drop on a baking sheet.
  5. Bake at 400 for 10-15 mins, or until the edges are starting to brown.

Check out my video of this recipe!

Great-Great Aunt Lillian

I can still hear my Aunt Lillian’s voice. Her voice was very high, and very soft. It was almost as if she spoke in a whisper. You really had to be paying attention or else you’d surely miss it. There was a lot of “oh, that’s just lovely!” and “my dear”. She was one of the sweetest little old ladies you’d ever meet. I say this often, but it’s true, “they just don’t make them like that anymore.”

Being that she was my Great Grandma Little’s sister, she shared many of the same memories. So, naturally, when I found her recipe for Brownies (another sweet treat!), I added it to the list. However, what makes this recipe even more special, is the handwritten letter to my Grandma on the back.

The letter mentions many other loved ones who have since passed. Aunt Lillian’s husband Uncle Smoke. Great Aunt Myrna and her husband Uncle Carl. She went on to thank my Grandma for being a wonderful hostess and how delicious the meal was. Then, she continued to describe her day before finishing it off with a “P.S. It would please us so to give you that plant. I know you like it.”

Are you starting to see how family recipes are actually time machines in disguise? I read every word in Aunt Lillian’s voice. Every face that was mentioned could clearly be seen in my memories. I can even imagine my Grandma Gearing inviting Aunt Lillian and Uncle Smoke over for a meal and Aunt Lillian bring a pan of these brownies as a contribution. Their laughter around the dinner table echoing in my ears as if it all happened yesterday.

the recipe time machine

Aunt Lillian’s Brownies



  • 1 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 cup butter oleo (aka butter…don’t hear that word much anymore!)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa
  • chopped walnuts, optional


  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 square Baker’s chocolate
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2-1 tsp vanilla



  1. Cream together the oleo (butter) and sugar.
  2. Stir in the eggs and vanilla.
  3. Add in flour and cocoa until just combined. Don’t overmix.
  4. Pour into a square baking dish and top with nuts, if desired.
  5. Bake at 350 for 20mins.


  1. Add all ingredients to a saucepan and bring to a boil. Stirring often.
  2. Boil for one minute. Add vanilla and beat until well mixed.
  3. Frosting will be thin enough to spread nicely over warm brownies.

Grandma Gearing

Grandma and Grandpa Gearing were know as the “lovebirds.” The only time you would not find them sitting together, holding hands, or blowing air kisses would be while my Grandpa was at work. Although, they would often call each other to exchange sweet nothings back and forth during his shift. Theirs was a once in a lifetime kind of love.

While my grandpa worked as a state trooper, my grandma stayed at home. My house was three hours away from theirs, but often visited in the summer and on holidays. I can recall many memories of her cooking in the kitchen while I stared out the picture window, waiting for his squad car to pull up the driveway.

I remember her making homemade noodles, pies, and cookies. But what she became known for, was her pumpkin bars. Though this recipe was saved out of a old magazine (it’s too ripped to tell which one), every ingredient was combined with love. That was her extra special ingredient, not listed on the recipe card.

the recipe time machine

Grandma Gearing’s Pumpkin Bars



  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup nuts
  • 2 cups pumpkin
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup oil


  • 1 3/4 cups powdered sugar
  • 3oz cream cheese
  • 1/3 cup margarine
  • 1 tbsp milk



  1. Mix all ingredients together with an electric mixer until well blended.
  2. Pour the mixture into a jelly roll pan.
  3. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes.


  1. Cream together cream cheese and margarine.
  2. Add powdered sugar gradually, alternating with milk.
  3. Spread carefully onto cooled bars.


I believe that food is a universal love language. You don’t have to speak the same language, have the same religious view, or be a member of the same political party to share amazing recipes.

Food brings together the poor, the rich, the sick, the healthy, the old, and the young. Now, food can even bring together people still living and those long lost. Food unites us all!

But, don’t let it stop there! I want to learn more about YOUR favorite family recipes. I’d love to see your photos and hear the stories about the foods that bring your family together. Maybe it will even make it’s way onto the Messy Masterpiece Blog! Please visit my Contact page to reach out for more information!

Want to see more Messy Masterpiece recipes? Check out our Family Favorites Cookbook fore more ideas!

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