Author Archive

Food: Barbeque Recipe

Note: The informant is from Connecticut but she has family in the Midwest.


Barb-Q Recipe

This recipe has been passed down from the informant’s grandmother to her mom to the informant.


4lbs of spare ribs

1 cup of sliced onions

1 cup ketchup

1 cup water (the informant’s mother doesn’t use water)

1 tsp of salt

2 tbsp worcheshire

¼ cup of vinegar (the informant uses apple vinegar instead)

¼ cup brown sugar

2 tsp dried mustard

1 tsp paprika


Cut spare ribs into serving pieces and brown. Combine ingredients and pour over ribs. Place the ribs in a pan and bake 350 F° 1 ¾ hours. Some of the sauce will drip onto the pan, spoon the sauce over the ribs three or four times to prevent the food from drying out.

The informant collects recipes that have been passed down generations. She has scans of the recipes in her computer. She says it helps maintain family traditions so maybe the hand written version feels more authentic version.

I find it interesting that the informant scanned recipes into her computer instead of just typing them out. She did state that she likes collecting the recipes because it makes her feel connected to her family traditions. Maybe looking at the handwritten version of the recipes make the recipes feel more authentic then looking at generic typeface.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Food: Ras Malai

Ras Malai- it’s dessert reserved for special occasions. The dish starts out as a mixture sweet milk with pistachios.  It is cooked with saffron and sugar. Lastly, a sweet baked cheese mixture(she couldn’t remember the name) is added to the sweet milk.

My informant states that the last time she had this dish was when her cousin got married. Whenever a couple gets married they go to the mother’s brother’s house for dinner shortly after the wedding.  This is special occasion because its supposed to welcome the couple to the family. At this dinner there are a lot of special foods served. At this dinner the informant’s mother made most of the food. However the informant’s father generally makes this dish on special occasions. The dish does not have to be made by anyone in particular. It’s a dish that’s generally saved for special occasions, especially if their related to weddings. However the dish is also served in fancy restaurants so its not purely a ceremonial dish.

This dinner reminds me of a concept we learned in class. When a person gets married they are marrying the whole family. I find it interesting that the dinner takes place at a member of the extended families house. In contrast to western society(at least in my experience) where important dinners are reserved for members of the nuclear family unless it’s a reunion or Thanksgiving.

Folk speech

Proverb: Hebrew proverb

Note: The informant is from Jerusalem

Hebrew Proverb


Note: Hebrew is written from right to left

Transliteration: Hatzava Tzoed Al Keyvato

Translation: The army marches on its stomach

My informant doesn’t remember where exactly he heard the proverb but he does mention that the military is a prominent part of daily life in Israel so military sayings are common. According to my informant the proverb basically means that ideas can’t sustain themselves until they become real. According him ideas need “food”, they need to link themselves to material before they become important. An example he uses to explain this is Leonardo da Vinci and his models of machines; perpetual motion machine, manufacturing machines, etc. According my informant these machines were revolutionary in hindsight but not important at the time because they served no practical purpose at the time. Those concepts became useful later when fossil fuel and independent workers became commonplace. As opposed to the Renaissance which had other energy sources and serfs.  According to him the proverb isn’t very important to him, he just knows it.

I looked up this proverb and apparently its a quote from Napoleon Bonaparte. Makes sense considering how military-centric Israel is. Although the informant stated that this proverb isn’t very important to him he still it connected to his profession. The da Vinci analogy is not directly connected to the proverb it is just something he used to explain it better. He says that the proverb is a military proverb but he applies it to the nature of scientific progress, which he is teaching a class on. It’s the same proverb but the informant took it out of its “original” context and gave it a different meaning.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Folk Medicine: Hot Toddy


Lemon juice

Lemon Rinds



  1. Mix all ingredients in a saucepan
  2. Bring the mixture to a boil
  3. Cook slowly until it thickens to a syrupy consistency.

After the mixture is finished the sick person is supposed to drink it.  My informant used this as a remedy for colds and congestion. She used learned from her mother. She used it on herself, her children, and her husband. Her children did not use this on their children, well at least her daughter didn’t. She thought it was gross and thought that Vic Vapor rub was a preferable substitute.  The informant says hasn’t used it in years. She says it is because she is lazy, there other things on the market, and no one has the time to do that anymore.


This is an example of a tradition falling out of practice due to it being inconvenient. This bit of folk medicine was passed down through the family but feel out of practice because modern medicine is more widely available. It didn’t fall out of practice because it didn’t work or that modern medicine was better. It fell out of practice because it became impractical.   My informant also grew up in the South and mentioned that folk medicine was popular because doctors were scarce. It came into existence out of necessity then fell out use when it became impractical.

Tales /märchen

Folktale: Chinese Folktale

This is a Chinese folk tale that the informant mother told her. It’s a story explaining why Chinese names are so short.

A long time ago there people would give their children long grandiose names. (The informant couldn’t remember what the names were). There was one family, the original family, with a mother, a father, a son, and a daughter. They were very proud of their son who had a long beautiful name. One day the son was playing and fell down a well. He was hanging on to the inside and starts yelling his family’s names so they could save him. But he starts to get tired because their names are really long. The daughter walks by the well but she only hears part of her name so she walks away. The father walks by the well but he only hears part of his name so he walks away. The mother walks by the well only hears part of her name but she recognizes her son’s voice. She tries to save her son but when she reaches for his hand he begins to fall further into the well. So she grabs his hair and holds tight to try to pull him up. But she couldn’t do it by herself so she calls for her husband by his really long name. She gets tired calling for him but finally her hears and goes to help. But they can’t pull him up by themselves so they call for the daughter by her really long name. They get tired yelling her name but she finally hears them. They pull the son out of well. The family decides to shorten their names to avoid this problem in the future. So that is why Chinese people have short names and why they have lines on their hands, from pulling the boy’s hair.

My informant said that she first heard this tale in elementary school. She still remembers. She also says that she thinks a lot of Chinese folklore tries to explain why things are the way they are.

I noticed that despite being a Chinese folktale there are a few similarities to European folktales. This tale has examples of the rule of three, it uses repetition, and no more than two actors in one scene. Also, the folktale has some slight mythic qualities; the story refers to the original family so the story takes place at the beginning of the world. It’s not sacred though, at least the informant didn’t consider it sacred. I think the reason for that is that this tale is very similar to Tikki Tikki Tempo by Rudyard Kipling. I looked this tale up because I forgot to ask the informant for the title and this book came up. It is also a story about a kid with a long name that falls into a well. However, the story the informant gave me has different characters in it and the tale also explains why people have marks on their hands. Maybe this is case of authored works becoming folklore because the person telling it didn’t know it was copyrighted. The story the informant told me is slightly different from the book. Does authored work turn into folklore when the teller makes changes to the tale?

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Tradition: New Year’s Day good luck

Note: My informants are originally from Mississippi.

Good luck for the New Year

Recipe for Black-eyed peas

Black Peas




Boil the peas with hammock for 2 hours. Pour over rice with cornbread.

According to my informant it is a common Southern tradition to eat black eyed peas on New Year’s Day. Its supposed to be good luck, my informant didn’t know why. All the cooking is done on the day of the New Year’s Day. My informant loves this tradition. She does this every year. She says she learned it from her mother.

I would like to know why black-eyed are specifically good luck. My family has made this dish before but there nothing particularly special about it. It was just dinner. Maybe the eye shapes are what make them so lucky. Eyes have been put on good luck charms in various places because they ward off the evil eye. Although the evil eye folk belief is not that common in the states so maybe there’s not much of a connection there.


Food: German Dumplings

German dumplings- In my informant this is a family dish reserved for special occasions, particularly Thanksgiving. He learned this recipe from his mother and he passed it down to his daughters. The recipe is formally written down for convenience but the recipe is taught by example. There is no designated person responsible for making the dumpling it is just whoever volunteers. He says that he feels that dumplings are unique to our heritage and family tradition

Ingredients:Potatoes, Water, Salt

How to make:

Chop potatoes into small cubes.

Blend them in a blender to mush

Place the mush in a cotton rage and squeeze the juice out

Mix with flour and salt

Roll into baseball sized spheres (though the size may vary depending on how big the cook’s hand are)

Boil for thirty minutes until they float on their own

Serve with Chicken gravy

Part of the tradition is making jokes about how dense they are. Here’s a few that the informant told me:

“You can use them for bowling”

“In the Civil War they used them as cannonballs”

“We used them in floods to keep the water away”

“We tried to use them as Christmas ornaments but they pulled the trees down”

“In way back in Austria instead of throwing the first pitch they throw the first dumpling”

I find it fascinating that cooking the dish appears to be the most important part of the tradition. Dumplings are reserved for special occasion, they are jokes that only get told around that time, and children are taught how to make the dish while it’s being prepared. It might be because making the dumplings is so labor intensive. When someone makes dumplings they spend hours in the kitchen peeling, chopping, and blending potatoes. Then there’s the manual labor involved trying to ring out the water. Maybe the jokes and teaching other people came about in order to make the process more fun.

Folk Beliefs

Folk Object: Spirit Stick

Spirit Stick

My informant was a member of the Drill team in high school. In high school the drill team would go to drill camps with teams from other schools. There would be mini-competitions between the schools. Whichever school had the most school spirit was given the Spirit Stick. According to my informant the Spirit Stick was 1 and half to 2 foot long cylindrical stick with a 1 and a half to two inch diameter, just big enough to keep a grip on. She says it was decorated but she can’t remember exactly what it looked like. The Spirit Stick cannot touch the ground. Dropping the Spirit stick on the ground is bad luck. She wasn’t told what type of bad luck would occur but she says it was bad luck for the drill team not the football team. It would probably result in the drill team doing poorly at a competition.

This item shows how the drill team is a distinct community from the football team. The two groups may interact because its the drill teams jobs to perform at games. However, the drill team have separate camps and the meet with opposing teams in a different setting a, at a camp and on the field. Also any bad luck caused by dropping the spirit stick reflects negatively on the drill team not the football team.