USC Digital Folklore Archives / Material
Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Thanksgiving Tamales

Subject: Traditional foods at Thanksgiving holiday celebrations. Tamales.

Collection:

“Interviewer: So, you just mentioned that you make Christmas dinner every year?

Interviewee: Yes, I make Christmas dinner and I make Thanksgiving dinner every year… so I started making the turkey on Thanksgiving, so which is why I love Thanksgiving so much now. I always loved it but now it’s like… I have to go every year. I have to go home because I make the fucking turkey. And I also bake all the fu- all the pies. Apple pie and the turkey every year… So, my mom has to make the stuffing. I will not let her like not make the stuffing. My dad, if he’s up to it, up for it, he will make like roasted potatoes with like butter and like herbs, like red potatoes, like particularly. My brother will probably do some sort of vegetable side dish… my sister usually doesn’t help that much, uh, I don’t know why. But my eldest sister, now that she has her own house, she like, like brings mashed potatoes or macaroni and cheese.

But… I would like there to be tamales. Tamales are the kind of thing you get like once or twice a year. Um, and once or twice a year, one of those times is going be Thanksgiving and the other one has to be Christmas… So like winter, winter holidays. It’s just like the special occasion of it, you know. They’re not difficult to make…, it takes long, it’s just a process, ya know. We’re just like, it’s Christmas coming up so we’re going to make a lot of tamales, so it’s not like they make them for every meal. They freeze them and then bring them out for this holiday. And they’re just as good frozen…once you’ve reheated them.

Tamales has to be there. There is no way you can’t make more than enough.”

Background Info: Z. Cantú is a twenty-year-old college student majoring in Theater at the University of Southern California. She is from Brownsville, Texas and is bilingual in Spanish and English. Both of her parents immigrated to the United States as teens where they met and started a family. She has grown up with a melding of American and Mexican traditions.

Context: My roommate first mentioned that she enjoys making Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner while speaking about her ethnographic foods course. I asked her to go in depth to her experience preparing and consuming the food on these holidays for my collection.

Analysis: My roommate’s experience with Thanksgiving is especially interesting when placing it within her experiences of growing up in American culture but having parents who grew up in Mexico and did not celebrate Thanksgiving. To her family, Thanksgiving has become a mandatory homecoming, a time to reconnect every year. In this process, the observance of the Thanksgiving holiday has been removed from its American context and has been reworked to be one that defines her parents’ new family and their new life together in a new place. Furthermore, most of the families in the Brownsville area do not celebrate Thanksgiving because it is not part of their national background; in other words, the practice of Thanksgiving is not part of their reinforcement or performance of identity. For the Cantú family, however, the holiday is observed to exert their identity as a family unit that is composed of both Mexican and American heritage.

This is best observed by the food that is literally placed on the Thanksgiving table. There are the foods typically seen at an American family Thanksgiving: turkey, green beans, mashed potatoes, and stuffing, for instance. However, the Cantú family modifies their American identity by including tamales at the table. For my roommate, this is a crucial part of the holiday season; the consumption of tamales marking a time of celebration and reunion. Without tamales, the performance of her dual-heritage would be incomplete. Since the food consumed physically represents the diversity of her family, to not include one element would not be fully embodying all parts of herself and her family.

Customs
Magic
Material

Pre-Test Ritual

Subject: Tradition. “Dress your best to test your best”.

Collection:

“Interviewer: Can you talk about going out to buy that dress my sophomore year of high school… the first time we ever did dress your best to test your best?

Interviewee: So, when I was growing up my mom would always take- when I was taking tests even through college… and buy me something to make me feel… uh… special. And to put me in the best state of mind for my tests. And then when Emerson was taking her first AP test we went out and got a dress and it’s her- was called her AP dress, from that day on… but like I- you- you started not wanting to- a dress, but like we would buy a shirt or some shorts or something. It was always like just dress up, get yourself in the best state of mind to take your test”.

Background Info: C. Taylor grew up in Southern California. She had a close relationship with her mother and paternal grandmother who first introduced her to this custom. She passed it down to her daughter when the tests being taken became significant. She currently lives in San Clemente, CA with her husband and one daughter.

Context: This tradition was shared over dinner with her daughter and husband when talking about various traditions passed down through the women in our lives.

Analysis: While this custom appears indulgent, the principles behind it are simple and could be easily enacted without much pomp and circumstance. This tradition centers around the individual while simultaneously asserting a sense of belonging and responsibility within the family structure.

First, the specific action being performed, shopping and then wearing new clothes to the test, is designed to make the person taking the test feel good about themselves. By putting on the clothes, there is an attempt to feel in control of the situation, even though they may not be. This evokes a type of sympathetic magic in which the practitioner makes themselves physically appear and feel their best to then trigger the best possible results from the test. Hence, it is all about the success of the individual and an attempt to control an indeterminant outcome. Furthermore, the practitioner is physically changing their appearance to commemorate the event, an outward statement that the test is important and deserving of the highest levels of dedication.

Secondly, the build up to dressing your best to test your best presents an opportunity for mother and daughter to go out and perform a self-serving activity that is out of the normal. By performing a distinct activity and making the day a special occasion, an additional level of bonding is introduced. The positive feelings of the bonding trip are then commemorated by the apparel that is donned to make the tester feel confident and supported going into their test. It also simultaneously produces a sense of duty of child to parent, the parent has made an investment in the success of their child and so the child must perform well.

In this way, this ritual is not unlike wearing a pair of lucky socks before a basketball game. A physical item is applied to the body to produce a desired outcome; only in this case, it is the newness of the item that gives it its special powers.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Foodways
Material
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Let Snacks Alone

This friend of mine has always been one of the most superstitious people I know. Her childhood was split between two households, each with their own unique beliefs and superstitions. Having been quite close for the past few years, I’ve heard innumerable stories regarding strange folk-beliefs her parents taught her as a little girl.

The following was recorded by hand during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“I think it’s bad luck to open people’s food and eat it before they do. Like if Nas buys a bag of goldfish, and I take it and open it, and eat it. One time in 7th grade, my best friend, Rocky, and I were sharing a bag of pretzel thins. She took it from me, opened it during a movie, and immediately after the movie she had her period. My mom said it was just us growing up. Later, I did it to someone else, I opened their bag and took a test and then I got an F on a test. This was back in middle school. I believe in signs. If you follow signs religiously, it’ll be good. I don’t think any of my superstitions allow me to have a crutch, religion is a crutch.

It’s interesting to hear first-hand how some superstitions come into being outright. As far as I can tell from online research, no one believes that eating another person’s food before they do is bad luck. My friend came to this conclusion herself after the above anecdotes played themselves out. She strung together two ‘signs’ in order to formulate an original belief. And she’s passed it on to me! Whenever I go out to eat, and someone’s food arrives before mine, I have the urge to steal a fry. Before I do, however, a little voice in the back of my head reminds me of my friend’s experiences and asks, ‘what if?’. And so I leave the fry.

I tried explaining to her how her superstitions sometimes do act as crutches. As in the case of the test, where she believed she failed due to her opening of someone else’s bag of chips. However, she would have none of it. And insisted that her superstitions served only to explain, never to redact the blame.

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Haitian Halloween

Originally from Florida, this friend of mine grew up around a wide range of cultures and traditions. Raised by Haitian and Colombian immigrants, she speaks Haitian-Creole, French, English, and a little bit of Spanish. We share a love of food, and spend a lot of time talking about food and different recipes and whatnot, so when this project came down the pipeline, I knew I had to ask her about some unique, family recipes.

The following was recorded during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“Um, so like Christmas dinners – my whole family would come into like – we would rotate which house we would go to. And then everyone was – not really assigned – but everyone knew what like, what dish to bring. Cause like, that’s the only thing you’re good for, so just bring that. I was desserts. My mom was – there’s this thing called Soufflé Maïs, so. It was so good. It’s like sweet corn and cheese. And then – it was soufflé because it’s cooked in the oven. And then my mom also makes – I call it egg salad because I like the eggs more than the potatoes. With spam and hotdogs or either like mayo or mustard. It’s so good, it’s so delicious. It’s not a Haitian dish, it’s just a dish. And then uh, ah, Diri Djon Djon. So it’s like black rice basically. It’s soooo good. It’s like rice – of rice, and then the type of mushroom you put in with the rice. Cause it blackens the rice. And then you put peas in it.”

She later told me that these same dishes would be served around Halloween, as her family created a tradition of having a Halloween dinner every year. The Diri Djon Djon was particularly popular then, as the black color lends itself perfectly to the spookiness of Halloween-time. It was cool to hear about how her family mixed American dishes with Haitian dishes, at times using each culture as a sort of springboard into unexplored food territory. Before I finished the interview, I made her promise to bring me some Souffle Maïs next time her mom made it.

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Colombianizing the Fourth of July

Originally from Florida, this friend of mine grew up around a wide range of cultures and traditions. Raised by Haitian and Colombian immigrants, she speaks Haitian-Creole, French, English, and a little bit of Spanish. We share a love of food, and spend a lot of time talking about food and different recipes and whatnot, so when this project came down the pipeline, I knew I had to ask her about some unique, family recipes.

The following was recorded during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“And then Fourth of July dinner – that’s the day my dad really likes to make the sliders with like the cheese inside. Yeah, and then he puts like pineapple jam and like pink sauce – it’s so good. He’s Columbian, so he likes to … Colombinize, Colombianize food.”

This is a perfect example of cultural fusion. To take the most American food there is on the most American holiday there is and ‘Colombianize’ the two is literally what America is all about. We come from all over the world to share our cultures and make something new and beautiful and wholly original.

Customs
Festival
Folk Beliefs
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Noodles for Long Life

After college, my mom lived in Japan 7 years. She taught English to get by and apprenticed as a potter to gain experience. My dad visited her a few times, and picked up a lot of the culture alongside her. Though his knowledge is not as deep as hers, he still knows quite a bit.

Driving home from lunch one sunny afternoon, I ask him and my mom if they have any stories that I could use for my folklore project.

“And then, the um, New Year’s observance is that they don’t use knives for three days, um… can’t remember if it’s three days before New Year’s or three days before three days after… I think it’s three days after. Three days, including New Year’s and two days after. When they…so they do all their cooking all their food prep in advance, so they don’t have to touch a blade. Um, because New Year’s is a Shinto holiday, it’s a life affirming religion whereas Buddhism is the religion of death. And so, um, they- they prepare huge quantities of food, enough to last for three days. And then they don’t use knives for three days. They don’t want to take life, they don’t want to do anything with a blade. Oh-Shong-Atsu. It’s the same day as our New Year’s. Oh and they take their last bath of the old year on the thirty-first, and then on the first- on New Year’s day they eat long noodles, you know, noodles for long life. And they eat o-mochi in the morning. I can’t remember why they eat mochi, you probably wanna look that up. But they definitely eat noodles first thing in the morning.”

This is such a cool way to live. To apply symbolism, usually saved only for literature and movies here in America, to your everyday life is a whole other way of being. After the interview, my mom corrected a few pronunciation mistakes my dad had made, but all in all said his cultural memory was pretty accurate. A few times as a kid, we ate noodles first thing in the morning as a way of referencing my parents’ time in Japan. It was delicious and fun, and I will try to keep the tradition going with my children.

 

Foodways
Material

Mom’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

recipe

I’ll rewrite the recipe because the original recipe sheet is so tattered from use and time.

Ingredients: 2 ¼ cups flour, 1 teaspoon (baking) soda 1 teaspoon salt, 1 cup butter, ¾ cup sugar, ¾ cup brown sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 2 eggs, 1 package chips, 1 cup nuts

Combine flour, (baking) soda + salt. Combine butter, sugar + vanilla (beat until creamy). Add eggs. Add flour. Add chips + nuts. Bake 375° 9-11 minutes.

The recipe above is for the Informant’s homemade chocolate chip cookie recipe. I asked it there were any special instructions left out of the recipe card and she stressed the importance of various ingredients and methods. Real butter should always be used, never margarine. The butter should be at room temperature to make the mixing process easier. It has to be light brown sugar, not dark brown sugar to get the flavors right. She says the most important mistake people would often make is to not pack the sugar down into the measuring cup. It is a dense ¾ cup.

Typically, it is the women in the family that bake. The men always make things to crispy, according to the Informant. The name on the top of the recipe is a bit of a confusing story. They were always “Mom’s Chocolate Chip Cookies,” but I was shocked to find out the recipe written above is from Toll House. When I asked, the Informant about this, she told me that she doesn’t really follow the recipe anymore, so the cookies are a little bit different every time. Baking cookies like riding a bike for her at this point. This prompted another question: then how she’s sure she has the right amount of any of the ingredients. She responded she just uses, “enough.”

Customs
Foodways
general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

A New Year’s Salad

Nationality: Russian/Ukrainian
Primary Language: Russian
Other language(s):  English
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence: California
Performance Date: 4-1-18

 

 

What it is: Traditional Salad

“On new year’s eve, Russians traditionally put this salad on the table including potato, bologna or meat, egg, pickles, cucumber, boiled carrot, onion, mayonnaise (Russian) (sour cream can be replaced), canned peas, and salt. Always has to be there for New Year’s Eve, especially when hosting a New Year’s Eve party. I have been told this and it is a common belief among Russins: It is said that if you get drunk enough on New Year’s Eve one person (usually a man) will get drunk enough and pass out in the salad and its good luck for that person and everyone for a year.”

Why they know it:  She is Russian/Ukrainian and has eaten this dish many times.

When is it eaten: New Year’s Eve

Where did it come from: Russia/Ukraine

Why its eaten: This is a traditional dish and is often thought to give good luck to the person (and people at the party) if someone gets drunk enough and passes out in the salad.

How they know it and what it means: Valery has eaten the dish every New Year’s Eve and has seen her grandmother make it many times. Not only is it a traditional Russian/Ukrainian dish but this dish has also become part of her family’s traditions.

Thoughts: Through my investigations I have found that there is always a traditional dish, perhaps not a salad, but un every culture and every family. While I cannot relate to this specific dish, nor do I know what it tasks like, I can relate to the experience, the feelings you get when you make the dish and eat it with the ones you care about. This tradition definitely seems like fun, what’s better than good luck for everyone?

Customs
Festival
Foodways
Holidays

Galumpkies

Nationality: American

Primary Language: English

Other language(s):  French

Age: 52

Occupation: n/a

Residence: California

Performance Date: 4-1-15

 

What it is: Galumpkies

“Galumpkies are a traditional Russian/Ukranian dish where you boil cabbage and then peel the leaves a apart. Then you pan fry ground beef, rice, onions, red and green peppers (chopped super finely) salt and pepper, and you then put a dollop of the mixture in the middle of the cabbage leaf and you seal the leaf (kinda like a dumpling). Put in a 9 x 13 pan. And then coat the top in tomato sauce and cook in the oven. Intensive labor. My great aunt would smell the meat and the rice to see if it was flavored correctly. There were no measurements. Done by smell.”

Why they know it:  My mother’s Great Aunt Mary would make this dish on special occasions and remembers watching her make it. The recipe is quite simple and there are no measurements, so the recipe is not typically written down, it’s shared in person.

When is it made: This dish takes a long time to make and is thus made on special occasions. It is not made in a specific season or for a specific event, it just is not made for a weekly dinner. My mother says it typically made around the holidays.

Where did it come from: Ukraine/Russia

Why its done: Special events require special dishes. It is made because everyone tends to enjoy it and they are easy to share, its just the process that takes a while…and a good sense of smell.

How they know it and what it means: Mary was raised in a family were this was a traditional dish and was made on the special events. Thus, it was passed down from her mother and so on and so forth.

Thoughts: I have personally never tried this dish and don’t think I would like it as I am not very fond of cabbage but my mother tells me it is delicious and beautiful. I am not very adventurous when it comes the food I eat, and I tend to stay away from red meat; however, with my prior knowledge of Russian dishes and dishes in my family I can imagine that this dish would smell amazing.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Foodways
general

The occasional Vegetarian

Nationality: American, Indian

Primary Language: English

Other language(s):  Spanish

Age: 20

Occupation: Student

Residence: California

Performance Date: 4-20-18

What it is: Tamal traditions

“Tamal is a Indian religion. Here are two Tamal traditions. In the tamal religion it is customary to shave the babies head before christening. Based on the tamal religion, cows are sacred and traditionally, some families select on day of the week to honor the cow and are vegetarian on that day. In my family we were vegetarian on Mondays.”

Why they know it:  As a child, Navina was super curious, and would ask her parents about their traditions.

When is it said: There isn’t a specific time in which this is said. It comes up more when asked about it.

Where did it come from: India

Thoughts: To me, this is one of the most unusual folklore I have collected. I was raised in a semi-vegetarian household; however, designating a specific day to be vegetarian is a new thought for me. None-the-less, I can respect that this is a weekly tradition for her family because I have a tradition similar in mine. These traditions help shape the person into who they are and what they do in life and in the world. It provides them with values they can hold onto.

[geolocation]