To mark Dementia Action Week, The Chase care home in Huntingdon yesterday launched a project to capture residents’ cherished family recipes in a new cookbook, before they are lost to time and changing culinary fashions. 

Head chef at The Chase, Juliana Martins, launched the initiative on Thursday by cooking a treasured recipe taught to her by her grandmother in Brazil, who developed Dementia in her later years. Residents enthusiastically tucked into a special Arroz Doce Cremoso (aka Brazilian rice pudding), made with vanilla bean and cloves, and the verdict was resounding.

One resident was heard to comment:

“I’ve tasted many rice puddings in my 80+ years and this must be one of the finest. The use of cloves was particularly good. Much more interesting than an English rice pudding.”

Owing to the illness, most of Juliana’s grandmother’s recipes were never written down. So, Juliana is recreating the best of them from memory.

And that’s just the start. The enthusiasm of The Chase’s residents for Juliana’s project has convinced her to extend the idea. She is now planning to capture their favourite family recipes too, and then to collate them in a cookbook called ‘The Taste of Life Journey’ to be published in September.

Over the next few months, Julianna and her team will work with residents at The Chase and four other Connaught Group care homes to recreate their family favourites from memory. They will discuss the origins and significance of the dishes and the family members who first made them.

These memories will also be captured in the book, alongside several mouth-watering dishes that would otherwise be lost to posterity. Some of the recipes are expected to date from the 19th Century.

Juliana, who cooked with her grandmother in Brazil as a child, hopes this book will help others preserve their family heritage through food:

I learned so much of what I know about cooking from my grandma, and even now I can almost taste the food we used to make together. Unfortunately, growing up in Brazil she never learned to read or write, so her recipes faded with her memories. This book is my way of honouring her legacy, and helping others hold onto their cherished memories as well”.

The project is being undertaken in conjunction with the Alzheimer’s Society. The Chase sees it as a valuable tool in the fight against dementia, a condition that affects over 700,000 people across the UK, with this number expected to reach 1 million by 2030. The recipe book is scheduled for publication during World Alzheimer’s Week in September 2024, and all proceeds will go to supporting the work of The Alzheimer’s Society.

Nicola Orwin, General Manager at The Chase, highlighted the therapeutic benefits:

“We love the idea of using cooking as a way to strike a blow against dementia. Preparing food activates deep sensory memories and evokes experiences and sensations you thought had vanished. We find even the act of remembering old recipes can have a positive effect for our residents, and so getting them to recreate them for the book is a type of memory therapy for them”.