Category Archives: Foodways

Pork and Sauerkraut and Birthday Wishes

Main Piece:

This is a transcription of the informant’s New Year’s Day tradition.

“Every New Year’s Day we always go over to my brother’s house with all the extended family, cousins, aunts, uncles, everyone. He is a really good cook and makes a giant roast pork and sauerkraut meal that we have been doing since we were little. Then New Year’s Day was my mom’s birthday so we’d cut her the first piece and then she’d put a candle in it for her birthday. It was like a fake little pre-birthday celebration with the whole family. She passed away many years ago but we still light the candle and do the whole thing but instead of a birthday wish it’s a wish for the new year for everyone. It’s sweet I think.”

Background:

The informant is from a large German-American family. 

Context:

The informant described this to me when I inquired about her family’s traditions around the holidays. 

Thoughts:

Pork and Sauerkraut is a very common New Year’s food, especially for those of German heritage. The combination of a birthday wish and luck for the new year appears to go hand in hand. There are certain theories as to why pork is associated with luck for the new year, “In Europe hundreds of years ago, wild boars were caught in the forests and killed on the first day of the year. Also, a pig uses its snout to dig in the ground in the forward direction” (Sherrow 28). The symbolism of a pig digging forward is meant to represent forward movement for those that eat the pig in the coming year. The luck of pork and a birthday wish create a hopeful start to the year for this family  

Sherrow, Victoria. “EAT FOR LUCK!” Child Life, vol. 86, no. 1, Jan, 2007, pp. 28-29. ProQuest, http://libproxy.usc.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.libproxy2.usc.edu/docview/216762697?accountid=14749.

The Philly Cheesesteak Challenge

Main Piece:

This is a transcription of the informant explaining the Philly Cheesesteak Challenge. 

So basically it’s this tradition that you do during your second semester of your senior year of high school, it’s mostly people in the DMV you know D.C, Maryland, Virginia. The point of the challenge is you’ll meet up with friends at school at just a regular school day after you’ve gotten into college and your attendance doesn’t really matter any more. And you guys like get in the car together and then when the first bell rings of the school day you leave your school and you guys drive to phil and get a cheesesteak and take a picture of you doing it and document the whole journey, like vlog it or whatever and get a picture of you doing it. And then you have to drive back to your school with the cheesesteak before the last bell rings and have the evidence. It’s for bragging rights to give you something fun and stupid to do before college.” 

Background:

The informant went to a large public high school in Northern Virginia. This challenge was something he looked forward to starting as a freshman. 

Context:

The informant described this to me when we were comparing high school traditions and experiences. 

Thoughts:

The Philly Cheesesteak Challenge encapsulates a lot of common patterns that occur during liminal moments in people’s lives. The Challenge itself is inherently funny, there is no real prize, just an arbitrary goal to complete before graduation. It gives students a sense of responsibility and freedom before they are actually out in the real world. In the late spring of the year, seniors teeter between students and graduates. The Philly Cheesesteak Challenge allows them to break the rules and be “adults” or graduates for the day to then return to the school setting they have known for the past 12 years of their life. It also allows for friends to accomplish a goal together before they all part and go their separate ways, making the Challenge feel even more important.

Traditional Armenian Dish

Պասուց Տոլմա

Transliteration: Pasus Tolma

Translation: Lent’s Stuffed cabbage

Description: Pasus Tolma is a popular Armenian dish which is a lent classic meal that most Armenians eat not only for lent but also year round. Pasus Tolma can be see seen on the table’s of any Armenian gatherings such as birthdays, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and other gatherings, but it is the most popular dish before Easter when people are on the lent diet. Pasus Tolma is cabbage leaves stuffed with beans, lentil’s, garbanzo beans and bulgar. Best served cold.

Background Information: Pasus Tolma is a popular traditional Armenian dish prepared primarily for lent but can be served at many different gatherings.

Context: The informant told me about this dish during a video call in which I asked her to tell me about an Armenian traditional recipe that she knows about.

Thoughts: As an Armenian I am also aware of this dish and have participated in its consumption during lent. The name Pasus Tolma literally translates as a Lent version of Tolma which is a popular Armenian dish that is comprised of cabbage leaves stuffed with meat. I understand why this dish would be used in lent as Georgian Christians do not eat meat during lent so they had to make a vegetarian version of the popular dish Tolma. This is a folk religious tradition/recipe because it is not an official meal for lent. It was made by the people as a way to find something to eat during lent. It is also folklore because of its multiplicity and variation. Some versions use rice instead of bulgar and other iterations have different legumes instead of garbanzo beans and lentils.

Leg of Lamb

Context: The informant is my uncle and he is identified as J.I. He was raised in the Bay Area by my grandparents alongside my mother. He is of Basque descent and takes great pride in Basque culture and his heritage.

Main Text: “One of our traditions was pretty much every other Sunday we would go visit our Basque grandparents Marie and Ernest in Livermore, but our grandmother originally immigrated from the Pyrenees. She would cook Leg of Lamb for us and stick cloves of garlic in the lamb for flavor and roast potatoes in the bottom of the pan. The skin on the potatoes would soak up the juice and taste so good. On my first trip to Europe, my friend and I found our way to my Basque relatives’ home. The cooking reminded me of my Grandmother’s”.

Analysis: The connection between my great grandmother’s cooking and the cooking of the relatives my uncle visited in Europe demonstrates the strong-rooted Basque culture in food. One of the main occupations of the Basque from ancient times was that they sheepherders, and thus lamb has always been a traditional main course.

Reindeer food at Christmas

Main Piece:

We sprinkle reindeer food on Christmas Eve. Like out in the yard on the grass. It was a big big deal when I was little, and we still do it for my brother. It’s oats with glitter in it, and I used to think I was feeding them. It’s cute, and I was always so excited.

Background: My informant is from Kansas City, Kansas. She has a loving relationship with her family, and she was raised Catholic. Her family is traditional.

Context: She is a good friend of mine I made at USC. We FaceTimed (quarantine prevents live conversations), and I asked her if she had any sort of folklore after explaining the concept, and she told me this.

Thoughts/annotation:

I think this is a super common idea of leaving out food for Christmas. My own family used to stick carrots and chocolate chip cookies out for Santa, and my mom would take a bite out of each so that it looked half-eaten in the morning. https://fountainavenuekitchen.com/magical-reindeer-food/ is a recipe for this reindeer food, and this variation includes a note. I have heard of leaving a note, but I never did and neither did my friend.

Dayenu, a Passover song

The following is transcribed from text exchanges between my informant, A, and myself, M.

Main piece:

A: On passover, there’s this tradition that Persian Jews have, and somehow only us. There’s this song called Dayenu that you sing as part of the Passover seder, which is like what we call the food and tradition we do.

A: Passover is about Jews being slaves in Egypt and Passover is specifically about when the Jews were freed, and that’s basically the whole thing. But this song is part of it, and its about thanking God for each specific thing He did in the story. And for Persian Jews, while we sing the song we hit each other with green onions because they symbolize the whips from slavemasters. We get pretty agressive, and it looks really stupid.

M: Why just Persians?

A: I don’t know how it started or why it never made it to any other ethnic Jewish group. I didn’t even know it was a Persian thing until like late into my life, so when I talked about it with my white friends, they thought I was insane.

She later texted me that her parents told her Italian Jews do it as well.

Background: My friend is Persian Jewish from Beverly Hills. Judaism has played a large role in her life, having gone to Jewish high school and been an active participant in the community since birth.

Context: She and I were texting casually, and I asked if I could collect from her.

Thoughts:

Food is a way of communicating, and from what I have learned about the Passover ritual is that it is a very active one, almost like a play. Also that food is heavily involved. I am left curious as to why Persians specifically do this part.

The Feast of the Seven Fishes (Italian)

The following was told to me by my informant.

Main piece:

“It’s called the feast of the seven fishes, it is an Italian tradition. A lot of my friends do it too, but there’s a lot of variations depending on what region you are from. Every Christmas Eve, we did this and it was led by my grandparents at their house in Pittsburgh. Basically, it’s a big fish feast, and you had to have 7 kinds of fishes. Usually there were mainstays, like calamari, bakala…it could switch around a bit, but there were always seven fish. We always made a special fried bread with mashed potatoes in it that we called rispelli. Then, the tradition came to our house, and I was more involved then, going to the fish market and helping cook starting in the morning. The entire family helped out, and we would have fun, and drink wine, then enjoy the dinner feast. Nobody’s sure what it symbolizes– Seven sacraments maybe? It’s an important number in the Bible. My dad’s family did it when he was little too. It felt special because we only ate that food at Christmas Eve, and when we were kids, we didn’t really like it. But by the time you grow up, you really like it and enjoy the food.”

Context: This was told to me when my informant came over to my house.

Background: My informant is Italian-American from the East Coast. She is from a big, close extended family who enjoys their Italian heritage. Her grandparents were immigrants from Calabria.

Thoughts:
I participate in this every year, too. I love this tradition, and I find it very true that the food really does not taste good but because you associate it with happy memories you learn to love it.

Ebleskivers

Ebleskivers are a folk object and food that originates from Denmark. They are very similar to pancakes and are a breakfast item. They are spherical and cooked with another folk object, an ebleskiver pan. This is a cast iron pan with round holes in it to cook the batter. This pan is used exclusively for this food, so it is a very important folk object to food culture in Denmark. They are typically served with jam or other breakfast condiments, but the informant eats them with butter and powdered sugar. There is yet another folk object used, which is a porcelain bowl filled with butter placed in a rack over a candle. It is similar to an object used to melt butter for shellfish like crab and lobster.

            The informant learned this practice from her mother. The initial recipe goes back to the informant’s great, great grandparents and she still uses the same pan passed down by the family members. The great great grandmother is from Aabenraa, Denmark. The informant only has it with family members and the combination of butter and powdered sugar seems to be a family-specific thing.

            Upon further research, it seems that this food is rarely prepared by restaurants. Instead, it is typically only made in family gatherings and by street vendors in Denmark. Because of this, it seems to me that the food is more authentic and less likely to have a standardized recipe and in doing so, is not found in much-authored literature. The folk objects only add to the culture and lore around it as these are food-specific, something not often found in many cuisines.

Apple/Pear Cobbler Recipe

Main Piece:

Ingredients:

CobblerToppingWhipped Cream
– Butter or Crisco for Baking Dish
– 2 1/2 cups peeled, and sliced Granny Smith Apples
– 2 1/2 cups peeled, and sliced Bosc/Asian Pears
– 3/4 cup of Brown Sugar
– 2 tablespoons of All-Purpose Flour
– 1 tablespoon of Vanilla Extract
– 1/2 teaspoon of Cinnamon
– 1/2 teaspoon of Allspice
– 1/4 teaspoon of Salt
-4 tablespoons of Unsalted Butter
– 1/2 cup of Self-Rising Flour
– 1/2 cup of Sugar
– 1/4 teaspoon of Salt
– 2 tablespoons of Unsalted Butter (softened)
– 1 cup of Heavy Whipping Cream
– 1/2 cup of Sugar (Powdered Sugar is best)
– 1/2 teaspoon of Cinnamon

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (Fahrenheit). Prepare a 9×9 inch baking dish.
  2. Toss the apples, pears, sugar, flour, vanilla, cinnamon, allspice, salt, and 2 tablespoons of the butter together in a large bowl. Add to the baking dish and dot with the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. 
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the self-rising flour, sugar, salt, and egg. With a spoon, drop the topping onto the apples/pears and top with pats of butter. Bake until the topping is golden and the fruit is tender (about 40 to 45 minutes).
  4. Serve with special whipped cream!

Background: The informant is a 54 woman who loves to cook, as she often serves this apple cobbler at Thanksgiving. She originally came across this recipe from her mother, who used to cook the same dish for the holiday as well. She claims the recipe has been passed down generations, and because of that holds a special place in her heart. She will continue to cook the dish, and plans to pass the recipe down to her daughter when the time comes.  

Context: The informant showed me the recipe in person when I was at her house. 

My Thoughts: Although this recipe is nothing special, the fact that it has been passed along throughout the informant’s family makes it special to them. It is something they, as a family share with one another, and serves as a unique way for her to always remember her mom and grandma. They’ve all experienced cooking the same dish for Thanksgiving and having to deal with the pressure of it meeting their families expectation. In addition, I find it interesting to see if any of them made small changes to the recipe. The informant claims to have not. However, she did share with me that her mom added the whipped cream aspect to the dish. The dish has been served for over 60 years within the informants family, making it quite the staple for their Thanks Giving celebration!

Lutefisk

Informant: I grew up in a family that was part German, on my mother’s side, and part Swedish and Norwegian on my dad’s side. My great-grandparents had traveled to the United States, and my grandparents were born in the United States, but there were still a lot of family traditions from Scandinavia and Germany and… the ones that really stand out in my mind are the Scandinavian side of things, more Sweden and Norway. My dad especially was pretty connected to those kinds of traditions. One I remember vividly – because it was always brought up as a threat – was the idea of eating lutefisk. Lutefisk is a dried fish, except it isn’t dried, it’s kind of… gelatinous, in a really disgusting way. And it’s a fermented fish, so it gets steeped in lye, which is also not something you think should be ingested, and yet it’s a delicacy! And even better, it’s such a delicacy that it’s saved for the holidays! So, you know, bringing out the Christmas lutefisk was something that was supposed to be revered, but I could never get into it. And then it became a running thing in my family that you’d be made to eat lutefisk if you weren’t behaving to anticipation, or what people were expecting of you. 

Background/Thoughts:
The informant is the interviewer’s mother, who grew up in the suburbs of Seattle, Washington. As described in the piece above, the informant’s family adhered to many Scandinavian and German traditions, some of which have been in our family for generations. Lutefisk has remained a threat as the years went on, and I have the same opinions as the informant does. I personally don’t understand the appeal of the dish, but I recognize that many members of my extended family in both America and Scandinavia love it. Even though I’m not personally a fan of the recipe, I do appreciate that it keeps my family in touch more with our traditions and history from Scandinavia.