Family Culinary Traditions

Discussion in 'Food & Cooking' started by solanna, Oct 28, 2001.

  1. solanna

    solanna

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    Hey everyone,

    I would love a little insight from all of you.

    I'm working on a project that is exploring the question: What role do culinary traditions and rituals play in the American family?

    Im looking for specific examples of how a favorite family recipe, or a family culinary tradition, or preparation method transcends being just a "favorite dish" and how by looking closer at the stories surrounding the recipes or tradition you begin to show the fabric of the family itself.

    Any thoughts on the role family culinary traditions (for good or bad) have played in your life?

    Specific examples or stories?

    Any help or insight would be really appreciated. I want to make sure I am on the right track with this, and I can't think of a better group of people to start with.

    -h
     
  2. nancya

    nancya

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    Wednesday was Spaghetti night in our house. Meals were always shared by our family and most problems, annoucements, and celebrations were shared around the dining room table. But Wednesday nights were special.

    We grew our own tomatoes. So growing, weeding, picking, cleaning, peeling, stewing, freezing, and eventually cooking were all family affairs. I remember standing on a chair before I could even reach the counter helping to peel and chop tomatoes. And making sauce even now is like being in the kitchen with my mom.

    I can eat spaghetti any night I want now....but it just doesn't feel quite right if it isn't Wednesday.
     
  3. isa

    isa

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    That is such a sweet story Nancy. :)
     
  4. jill reichow

    jill reichow

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    We always had lefse at christmas time, along with rice pudding to start the meal and lutefisk with drawn butter. I don't like lutefisk, but it wasn't christmas without it. We always had rice pudding to start the christmas eve dinner with my grandpa taking the first spoonful. The year after he passed, no one could eat it. My aunts would always vie to see who could make the best lefse and it was a standing competition. But no one could beat my Aunt Vandella for spritz cookies, and we all gave up trying. The other family food was the recipe for my grandmothers overnight cinnamon rolls. We always had them on Christmas morning. I know that we all make them year round, but we traveled to northern Minnesota for christmas so it was tradition. My grandmother passed when I was 6, but one of the daughters always made the rolls. It's the one family recipe that none of us share.........
     
  5. daveb

    daveb

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    My wife's family seems to have something of an anti-tradition. Cooking skips generations. My wife is an excellent cook and baker, but her mother was nearly useless in the kitchen. Grandma was a great cook, but GGMa Phillipina was awful.

    It seems that alternate generations learned to cook out of necessity, loved it, but could not tolerate a beginner in THEIR kitchen. The intervening generations, as a result, got no instruction in cooking, could bareely boil water, but inspired their daughters by their awful example.

    We're currently trying hard to get our 16-year-old daughter into the kitchen as much as possible, but it's rough with 2 serious cooks in the house.

    We shall see.
     
  6. olive branch

    olive branch

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    Seems to skip a generation in my family too! My mom could make the best ingredients taste like cardboard, but my grandma was a terrific cook through the depression with its rationing and all. I already told Dave this - she gave me the two best pieces of advice I ever got. #1 Even if you have no idea what to make for dinner, set the table and fry an onion. It will inspire you and comfort your husband. #2 If you have to choose between wearing underwear or mascara, wear the mascara!

    Love ~ Debbie
     
  7. shimmer

    shimmer

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    Solanna-

    Are you a folklorist, a sociologist, or what? I think you are asking a very interesting question.

    I think in general, culinary traditions and rituals serve two main functions
    1) To establish family structure and hierarchy through the establishment of "expert" vs. "learner" and the passing on of traditions to the younger members
    2)The establishment of the family as a group, occuring during shared meals and preparations of meals.

    Have you ever had a family gathering (extended) that did not center around food in some way? Potlucks, Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthday, at least in my family, all holidays were about gettign together and bringind food.

    On my Mom's side of the family, my aunt Beverly always makes mandarin orange salad for Thanksgiving. My Grandma makes the pies. We bring green bean casserole (this year I made it on a day other than Thanksgiving and it didn't feel right).

    On my Dad's side of the family, my Grandma always put out little dishes of various foods she had canned during the year- pickled cauliflower, beets, apple butter, etc. My aunt Linda always made this particular potato dish.

    So for me, holidays in particular have certain foods and smells that I associate with them because of what always happened.

    Also, as far as passing recipes along, etc, I see this as almost more important than my Grandma. I asked her about her grandparents and cooking, because i thought my love for cooking and baking in particular might be hereditary. What I got instead were stories of poverty and baking whatever they had.

    Still, every Christmas, my Grandma and I get together and bake cookies and candy, and all of the recipes are hers. When I was 8 she gave me a book full of recipes she has from her mother, and i still have that book. We have done this together every year since the year my Grandpa had a heart attack and was in the hospital and the mixer was broken (leaving us to mix up batches and batches of cookies by hand).

    I guess another interesting element of this is the deliberate creation of family traditions. I am newly married, and this is the first Christmas my husband and I will not be with our families. I have been researching various recipes, traditions, etc, and am picking and choosing things I hope to continue every year. I do this because I feel traditions make a holiday more meaningful, because of things you do that don't happen any other time of year. And when our family grows and we end up with a huge dining room table full of our children and grandchildren (a picture we both share), those traditions we started now will be even more meaningful as our family starts practicing them, not realizing until years down the road that traditions were something special and unique to our family.

    Unique traditions in turn lend a sense of pride to being a part of a family, which encourages the practice of them. A nice little loop!

    Sorry for being so wordy, I've just thought a lot about this.

    ~~Shimmer~~
     
  8. solanna

    solanna

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    This is exactly what I am after. Thank you all for being so generous with your stories. All this brings up even more questions for me....Like what sort of thought process goes into creating some of these "new" rituals, how do you evaluate what you want, what will work in your family.....I guess it also leads into the issue of what you want and hope for your family and friends in general.

    I have a quite a few friends that are just starting their own families, and have starting introducing their own unique traditions, into certain family holidays or gatherings, along side older traditions, recipes, and rituals.

    As far as the passing along of recipes goes....What are your takes on that?...How do you typically feel about the recipes passed down? Someone I recently talked to said all the recipes they had experienced in this realm were passe' and usually involved Jello. Certainly a narrow view. I have also experienced people who keep their legacy recipes in a lockbox. Do you typically stay true to the handed down recipes, or do you moderninze them...and what is the "family" response or attitude towards change or evolution of these "family treasures"?
     
  9. jill reichow

    jill reichow

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    Solanna, after we got married and the AF sent us off to the far and wide, we ended up sort of compliling our own tradition. My parents come to visit us every Christmas and the start of the sirloin tip roast for Christmas eve started there. My dad doesn't eat turkey(he worked on a turkey farm). We always had beef for Christmas eve when there were about 17 of the family around the table along with potatoe sauage and ham and..well you get the idea. With only the four of us to start with it was too much food. So we stuck with beef, leaving the turkey breast or ham for christmas day...which in my family was second to Christmas eve. Of course the mashed potatoes, gravy and peas follow..comfort food when far away from home. The salads, always to include some sort of jello(we're good Lutherans ya know) vary as do the deserts, but not the meat potatoes veggies and rolls. My young men would have a fit if we changed the menu..and they are 24&21. Even when dinner is rushed because they are due to play at the late services the menu is set. Much as going out of steak on a birthday is tradition. I know that it is something that they will carry with them. It's like when I make chicken noodle soup. If the noodles aren't homemade they can barely stomach the soup. I do believe that I have ruined them for any young lady that doesn't cook. Either that or they will still be living with us when I am 80..........sigh. Sorry, i seem to have rambled...and now I feel a need to call home............
     
  10. olive branch

    olive branch

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    I always made spaghetti carbonara for my boys on Halloween, so they wouldn't eat so much candy. Halloween afternoon my 25 year old son (soon to be a father) called and wanted to know, "Hey mom, what's in that Carbonara besides pancetta and eggs?" I think it's a new tradition! But I'm not doing lutefiskl, I don't care how many dozens of generations before me did it. I hate it, my kids hate it, even my mother-in-law hates it! Why would we do this to ourselves??

    Love ~ Debbie
     
  11. jill reichow

    jill reichow

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    Debbie, I don't know why....lutheran guilt in our house I guess? It's like I always took a picture of my two guys on the first day of school.....they tolerated it through high school. But I heard the oldest(24) tell his current girlfriend "Mom always made sure we had a first day of school pic...it's a tradition." One other tradition, mine more than family. We spent 20 yers in the AF moving around. Every place we lived, whether for a few weeks or a few years, the first thing I made in the kitchen was yeast bread...it was like a blessing for the house and our family. Even in the awful trailer my hubby rented for us while our house was being done....rat and possum came with the rent.........got yeast bread. Then the rat had the nerve to eat my cookbook...
     
  12. athenaeus

    athenaeus

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    Just want to tell you that this is the best thread I have read since I subscribed!

    :)
     
  13. olive branch

    olive branch

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    Athenaeus, that is high praise indeed, coming from you! Aside from scaring the Israeli neighbors to death, do you have any family traditions that you continue to observe?

    Love ~ Debbie
     
  14. athenaeus

    athenaeus

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    Dear Debbie.

    Coming from an ancient country that is strongly related to the dinning table and food, it was normal to be intersted in this thread.
    It's just that Nancy's and Jill's messages brought tears in my eyes. This thread is beyond interest...
    But I think that in this thread you should continue narrating your heart warming stories that have to do with American tradition.
    No room for foreigners and crazy mediterranean stories here.

    Thanks for asking though.

    Love - Athenaeus
     
  15. suzanne

    suzanne

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    But, dear Athenaeus, you already have given us some wonderful stories of tradition -- what about the Bride's Bread??? The great thing about this discussion is that we all learn from each other, no matter where in the world we are! And we are inspired to think in a different way about what we have "always done."

    And, Debbie -- did you ever hear/read about the writer Calvin Trillin's attempts to make Spaghetti Carbonara the traditional Thanksgiving meal? He says that the Pilgrims resisted when the natives presented them with such a delicious dish, so the natives said, "What a bunch of turkeys!" In their misunderstanding of the criticism, the Pilgrims kept on serving turkey instead.

    :rolleyes: :rolleyes: :lips: :rolleyes:
     
  16. olive branch

    olive branch

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    Suzanne, I have LOVED Calvin Trillin but never read this story! And isn't this just typical of us turkeys? And don't we just totally wanna know what Athenaeus does that her mom and grandma and mother-in-law did?

    Love ~ Debbie
     
  17. solanna

    solanna

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    I should also say that in my family it has been interesting to figure out how to accomodate the 'younger generations' food preferences into holiday and family gatherings. It has been a bit of a challenge.

    My parents are of the meat and potato genre. You know, the... "It isn't a meal unless there is meat, preferably red, on the table." While both my sister and my boyfriend are both staunch vegetarians. Thank god they aren't vegan, that might be more than my parents could handle.

    It has actually been alot of fun to figure out entrees, salads, and side dishes that round out the stand-by turkey and mashed potatoes. As a nice by-product, it has been great to introduce new dishes to our parents and other family members which they in turn often end up adding to their own repitoire.

    This year for Christmas I made a big batch of Gnocchi alla Romana which was a big hit with my dad. The vegetarians could eat it as an entree, and the rest could have it as a side.

    -h