A few days ago at Thanksgiving (US), I couldn’t help but to realize, and be reminded again and again, how food is just as much a part of our tradition and history as our ancestors themselves. This realization began for me on Wednesday night as my mom and I tag-teamed our traditional Holiday pies. She handmade each pie pastry with her mother’s recipe and I made the fillings. There is a particular recipe for Fudge Pie in the Cooking with Pioneers cookbook that has been a staple in the kitchen for the entirety of my lifetime, and as I flipped to the page there at the bottom of the recipe was a particularly humorous handwritten note to my sister and I about the proper order to mix ingredients so the pie would come together. We had a good laugh about her reminder, and as we continued I asked about the recipe for Pumpkin Pie. “Oh, that’s just on the back of the can of pumpkin” she said, and then continued on to tell me the changes that she always makes to the recipe we’ve never gotten around to writing down (I finally did, by the way). The following morning we ate the breakfast my sister always requests when she’s at home, and debated over which dishes to take to our family dinner and the food quirks of particular family members. We had a nice dinner, and when the leftovers were being cleared my uncle asked if the dressing/stuffing (there’s a whole different debate!) was Kraft’s Stove Top Stuffing, and my mom and aunt cried out simultaneously that is always had been and always would be the brand Pepperidge Farm because that was what my grandmother used! I tell you these family Thanksgiving anecdotes because the tradition is so clear, but when you widen the view to “everyday foods” you can see so much tradition and history there as well.
Play along and determine if you have a preference for the following choices: Chocolate or vanilla? Cake or pie? Coke or Pepsi? Mayonnaise or Miracle Whip? Kraft or Heinz? French fries or tater tots? Did you have a clear preference on any of the choices? Did it at least make you smile because you remember some form or debate over how one was so superior to the other? Now think about your “comfort foods” and/or the dishes that you make or eat regularly, and ask yourself: What type of food it is? Where did the dish come from? Who originated the recipe? I grew up eating the Depression-era foods originated from necessity by my great-grandmothers feeding their large families on little money. I also grew up eating Polish food. My research and DNA tells me that my family isn’t actually Polish, but my mom grew up in a diverse Detroit neighborhood with many Polish friends and neighbors. Add some macaroni and cheese (for which you can thank President Thomas Jefferson!) and these foods are now my “comfort foods.” There’s a history behind each of them, and the traditions are generations-old. We also have food memories, which is when you eat something and it reminds you of a specific memory – for some people it’s funnel cake at the fair, or hot dogs at a baseball game; for me it’s Girl Scout Samoa Cookies and childhood afternoons watching Where in the World is Carmen San Diego? I wrote a few weeks ago on the blog about preserving our family photos, and we can do the same with family recipes and the stories behind particular dishes or preferences. Ask around to family members, pull out old recipe cards, check out church and community cookbooks to find out if an ancestor contributed a dish, write down a quick food-related memory, and then continue the tradition by passing them down to future generations and sharing the food and stories with others!
I once had an acquaintance tell me his belief was that food was meant solely for sustenance and not for enjoyment, and I knew then that we would never truly be friends! 😉 I share the European view that food, the people you share it with, and the time spent are meant to be savored and enjoyed. I also share Chef Julia Child’s view that “people who love to eat are always the best people.” I hope that as you go through the Holiday season, and beyond, that you take the time to enjoy the food, and the friends and family you share it with!