Sunday, November 29, 2009

Reclaiming Food Traditions

Food is a very essential part of our Lives. Of course, we know that Food nourishes are physical bodies. We need it to survive and thrive. But our Stories and those of our Families are imbedded in Foods.

For years, I felt a pull toward certain Foods. I didn't even think about it. It was just there.

As a Teenager, I loved the Homemade Breads made by my Croatian Grandma Dora and my Aunt Anna. I was so proud of them too. When I was about 14, I remember encouraging Aunt Anna to enter 1 of her loaves of Bread in the County Fair. Surely it would get a Blue Ribbon because it is the best. So she made that Loaf of Bread which was just about as perfect as she could make it. Because she didn't drive, I rode my Bicycle to her apartment early that morning, put the Bread in my Bicycle Basket, and headed to the North End of Town to the County Fair. Unfortunately, I hit a bump in the Road and the Bicycle, the Bread and I went flying. I felt terrible about it.

But during those years, the taste of Grandma and Aunt Anna's Bread planted Seeds of Yearning for me to learn to bake Bread too. And I did. At that time, I wanted to make Bread that would make wonderful French Toast, like Aunt Anna's. And I did.

When Grandma Dora passed in 1966, I wanted to reclaim her Recipe for Povitica in a very serious way. I wanted to do that for my Dad and for me. Of course, she made it from her Head. Nothing was written down. She just knew how to do it. It took me many years of searching and practice, but I did it. I know Grandma would be proud.

Pies have been the center of some of my most endearing Memories of Foods. My Mother was always a wonderful Pie Maker. She was known to take Pies to Church Suppers, to Families with New Babies, to Families who were suffering loss, and to Families who had just moved into the Neighborhood. Other Family Members (like her Sister Louise and their Mother Lottie) had also mastered Pie. I began to see myself as a part of a long line of Pie Makers. That was a tradition that I would choose not to drop.

In the late 1960s, when I was in College to become a Home Economics Teacher, I was thrilled to learn some of the Science behind Pie in my Food Principles class. Yes, considerable Science sits behind each and every Pie. For most of us, that is no surprise.

As a Student Teacher in Edina in 1969, I was assigned to teach a unit on Pies. Yes, I could make Pie, but could I teach Pie? My Skills were in need of development and refinement. That weekend before my Unit began, I made 10 Pies of every variety and sort that I could imagine. By the time I presented those Lessons, I surely was more seasonsed than I had been before.

In all those years and in all those Pies I have made since, I have used Mother's lessons on Pie and those of my Food Principles Class. I smile just thinking about it.

In that same Food Principles class, I asked my teacher, Dr. Dorothy Pearson, if we would learn to make Homemade Noodles. Great Aunt Lu always made Homemade Noodles, which I loved. She was by then in a Nursing Home far away. I could not imagine a Foods Class without Homemade Noodles. The Instructor of my College class apparently could not imagine a College Foods Class with Homemade Noodles. Dr. Pearson kindly said: "No. We won't. But I will find a Recipe for you." And she did.

In the late 90s, I wanted to reclaim Aunt Lu's Recipe for Spiced Peaches. Mother called relatives who had ties to Aunt Lu and were Mother's Contemporaries. A Patchwork Recipe resulted, which I tried and mailed out to them. Those Relatives concluded the Recipe was true to what they remembered of Aunt Lu's original.

After this little adventure, Mother's Cousin (Aunt Lu's Granddaughter) Eileen gave me Aunt Lu's collection of Recipes. I was just beside myself.

Included were 2 little handwritten Booklets of Recipes that Aunt Lu had collected when she took care of my Little Brother and me. One of the little Booklets has some chicken scratches that were surely written by a young Child, perhaps my Brother. I can just see her offering the little Book and a Pencil to fill some time at a strategic spot. She always seemed to know just what we little Ones needed.

These meanderings, with others, have taught me some very important lessons. First and foremost, Food is Story. Imbedded in those Foods is an open door toward Personal and Family Story, Personal and Family Identity. I can't prepare those Recipes or serve them without the Personal and Family Stories spilling out. It is as if some Relative who is long gone is sitting at my Side nudging me on and filling my Ear with some Stories that I must not forget.

Reclaiming those Recipes has been a catalyst for reclaiming more. As I acquire them 1 by 1, I find myself crafting a tender nest for my Family and Me on this Little Farm. For these essential matters, I choose not to stop.

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