USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘family cooking’
Customs
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Swedish Christmas Meal

My roommate Erik has ties to Sweden through his mother, who grew up there and still spends a lot of time out of the year there. While on the topic of holiday traditions, one that he found worthy of elaborating on was the meal that his mom makes every year at their family’s Christmas.

 

He told me that “Every year on Christmas my Mom, who’s from Stockholm Sweden, makes us her traditional meal which consists of smoked salmon, meatballs, potatoes, and we drink Julmust which is a traditional soft drink from Sweden— its normally only sold and bought around Christmas in Sweden. Something that my mom does specifically is make her homemade saffron buns that she learned from her mother, they are probably my favorite part of the meal.”

 

Background Info: This is something that Erik has learned and grown to love from his mother. Erik also sometimes spends Christmas in Sweden and gets a more traditional atmosphere for this meal. Other than that he gets to enjoy this family recipe in San Francisco where he resides.

 

Context: Me and Erik were talking at lunch when I asked him about any holiday traditions.

 

Analysis: I do not celebrate Christmas so it was interesting for me to hear more about traditions during meals that this holiday brings in Sweden. The closest comparison I can make again is my traditional meal experience that I have during Hanukkah.

Customs
Foodways
Material

Gnocchi on the 29th of Each Month

“As kids, my mom would make gnocchi once a month. It was always on the 29th of the month. They were always homemade and extremely labor intensive, so it would take her all day to make them. She had this custom that everyone would sit down that the table, and she would put a dollar under each plate. It was supposed to bring good luck with money, and it could only be done on the 29th of the month, but I have no idea why.”

Background Information and Context:

Unable to explain why the tradition exists, she called her mom to ask. While the phone was ringing, she theorized that it could be a family tradition from their Italian roots. The informant came to America when she was young, but generations of her originally Italian family lived in Argentina. When her mother picked up, she received the simple explanation that it was just something that her mom did, her grandmother did, and in Argentina they still do it. A cursory Google search revealed that the tradition of making Gnocchi on the 29th occurred because people were paid on the 1st of each month and potatoes and flour were all they had to cook with by the end of the month.

Collector’s Notes:

Some of our most valued traditions are ones whose origins are unknown to us. Especially when the tradition is introduced as a child, it can become ingrained into our lives for the simple fact that it is fun and brings fond memories. Food is especially good at doing this. As shown by the informant’s mother’s simple explanation, it is not necessary to have or to be able to share a full explanation of a tradition in order to engage in it and share it with others. This tradition is interesting because it shows the multiculturalism of Argentina by incorporating a traditionally Italian food into a monthly Argentine ritual.

For another example of Argentine gnocchi, see “The Story Behind Gnocchi Day in Argentina” on Food Republic.

Customs

Family First- Meal Customs

It is common for the “man of the family” to always let everybody else start eating first, and then he gets served. This shows that the man is putting his family first instead of eating all the fruits of the labor. With this, comes to common tendency that people think about that the Male of the house is the only one working, and the Mom of the children is the one who keeps the house clean and always has meals ready after the Man comes back from work.

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Juan is a Mexican-American from Mexico city. He works demolition, but is super into his religion of being a Jehovah Witness. He has been passing down his traditions to his kids, just how they were passed down to him by his dad and grandpa

Customs

Family customs during Lunar New Year

The informant is my grandmother from Taiwan, her hobbies are going to church and cooking. She says because Chinese tradition is very custom and done in certain ways it is weird to “stray” off on doing certain traditions. However, our family has done many of the same traditions, except starting from my great-grandparents time (4 generations), we had done some of these Lunar New Year traditions differently.

Informant:

Our house has specific dishes that we make:

蛤蠣 (Ha Li)- These are small clams. After eating the clams, we put the clam shells under the table. this is to signify having money, as olden times clams were a symbol of money and wealth with pearls and such.

年糕 (Nian Gao)- This is rice cakes. This is a homophone to 年高 (Nian Gao) which implies promotions or prosperity year after year.

鯧魚 (Chang Yu) – A type of butterfish. we are supposed to eat fish because it is also a homophone in an idiom 年年有餘 (Nian Nian You Yu). This means to wish abundance year after year, so every lunar new year we eat fish. In my family, we eat this specific type of fish.

I personally do not know why we eat that specific fish, I do not think it was because it was anyone’s favorite or anything. I think it was just a really cheap fish back in my grandparent’s time so it kind of became custom to eat that specific fish. We still practice all of these traditions today, including putting the clams underneath the table. This was interesting to hear because I had never asked or understood what doing all these actions implied, because I was rarely in Taiwan to celebrate lunar new year, I had no idea what or why my family would do such specific things.

 

general

Lunar New Year Traditions

The informant is my grandmother from Taiwan, her hobbies are going to church and cooking. She says because Chinese tradition is very custom and done in certain ways it is weird to “stray” off on doing certain traditions. However, our family has done many of the same traditions, except starting from my great-grandparents time (4 generations), we had done some of these Lunar New Year traditions differently.

Informant:

We also eat a whole chicken but cannot eat head, legs, butt. We leave the leftovers to the 5th day, this means keeping your leftovers like your money.

Day 1 – eat only vegetarian for breakfast, a tradition that is still practiced in our family, but do not know the reason for it. Leftover rice is always made into dry rice, making into porridge will bring about rain. For breakfast, we have to eat boiled spinach. When boiling it, we put the whole spinach piece in as a symbol of living longer. 羅波糕 (Ruo Buo Gao) – In the Taiwanese dialect it means being “lucky winning lottery”. This is radish cake that we eat every Lunar New Year, specifically on the first day.

A lot of the traditions are practiced still, but in some cases, the meanings were lost. Although that may be the case, our family still blindly continued the rituals. Our family mainly continues to do many of the traditional rituals, but if it is too complicated or annoying we would rather change it to accommodate our preferences. This was interesting to hear because I had never asked or understood what doing all these actions implied, because I was rarely in Taiwan to celebrate lunar new year, I had no idea what or why my family would do such specific things.

 

Foodways
Material

SALSA

EXAMPLE:

My informant’s family’s Salsa recipe.

A can of tomatoes (16oz)

A handful of cilantro from the bushel

A little less than a quarter of an onion

Two Serrano Peppers, unstemmed

Take all the ingredients above and blend them together. Once at a good consistency, not too watery, able to see slices of the cilantro in it, sprinkle the top with garlic salt to taste. Blend again. Serve with tortilla chips.

BACKGROUND/CONTEXT:

ANALYSIS:

This definitely has the feeling of definitive folklore, as it has been passed down from generation to generation, family to family, race to race, even making adjustments for people’s tolerance levels of spice. The recipe has now become the salsa recipe for so many different people and walks of life. For my informant in particular, what started as a way to taste and remember home, has turned into something that he has inadvertently passed along to his friends, who use it all the way on the other side of the country with their family and friends.

The salsa recipe seems to be more than just a recipe but also a story of this family. It is fascinating that they have kept the recipe, and passed it down to all of the parents, children, and children’s friends, swearing that the recipe is theirs, even though they do not even speak to the person who brought the recipe into their life. I cannot help but feel my informant’s grandmother remembers her estranged son, the same way my informant remembers him, every time she makes this or eats this. It is almost as though she is keeping his memory and presence alive because after all there are so many salsa recipes out there; why stick with the one that surely causes the most heartache?

Customs
Foodways
Holidays

Christmas Sausage

My mother and aunt, when I was a kid, would make sausage at Christmas time. My mother would hang the sausage in her and my father’s bedroom for days and the smell would permeate the house. I asked my mother one day about the recipe and why she made it every year, as well as why she stopped when I was in middle school. Turns out that this was a dish that her mother, who was Swedish, would make around Christmastime. She did not know if there was any sort of name for it, so she and my aunt just called it “Christmas Sausage.” And when grandma got to old to make it, my mother and aunt began to make it every year. The reason that my mother hung the sausage in her bedroom was that it was one of the coolest rooms in the apartment that time of year, as a window was usually left open and the radiator turned off. Why my parents did that, I don’t know.As for why my mother and aunt stopped the tradition, wel, that’s because when my grandma died when I was in middle school, my mother and aunt stopped making the sausages, probably because it reminded them of their mother, and the grief was too fresh. My mother believes that this is a traditional Swedish dish, as “hanging raw meat out at ‘room temperature’ seems like the kind of thing you would only do in a cold climate.”

Recipe:

Cook 1 pound of barley with 1 chopped onion and beef broth
Add salt and pepper to taste.
When fully cooked, cool completely.
Mix the barley with 1 pound raw ground beef and 2 pounds raw ground pork.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Stuff into hog casings.
Hang at room temperature for 3 to 5 days.
Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.
Foodways
Holidays
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Holiday Fudge

“My mother taught me how to make fudge, and we didn’t have a timer in the kitchen because it broke, so it was my job when I was little to watch the second hand on the clock and every time another minute passed, I would take a playing card and put it on the table so that we would be able to keep track of the minutes and we would know when we got to six it was time to stop boiling the sugar and milk. Then when I got older, I would either do the marshmallows and the butter or the sugar and the milk, we would each take one pot. And then I taught you, although you did not get the fun of putting the cards on the table. I don’t know why my mother was so cheap, year after year after year not buying a timer, but it’s true, for years we didn’t have a timer.”

This tradition occurred every year in December, in preparation for Christmas. Fudge is rather difficult to do alone (as both pots have to be stirred constantly and then combined when they are at the same temperature), and thus in my informant’s family it became a tradition in order to get children interested in making it, and then willing to help with the process as they aged. It has been passed on to the second child in the family for two generations, though quite possibly just by chance. It’s an activity that the mother and daughter to together, thus spending time with each other through the production of food to feed their family over the holidays.

The recipe:

12 large marshmallows

1/2 pound butter
1 small (5 oz) can pet evaporated milk
2 cups sugar
1 small (6 oz) package chocolate chips
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, optional
Melt butter and marshmallows.  Boil milk and sugar at a rolling boil for 6 minutes.  Mix butter and marshmallow with milk and sugar.  Add chocolate chips and beat immediately until creamy.  (We always cooled the pot in water while beating.)  Pour into 8″ or 9″ square pan and refrigerate.
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