“Well, my grandmother always used to tell me that when you cooked, your emotions would like seep? I don’t know if that’s the right word. Seep into the food and affect the taste. Um, she would say you should never cook, especially for other people, when you are angry or sad or the food will come out wrong or, like, taste bitter. And this goes double for baking, um because baked goods should be made with love so that they’re sweeter. Basically, like, basically you should always cook in a happy environment where you’re relaxed, with music, your favorite show, or, like my grandmother’s favorite, a glass of red wine.”
Asked for more information online at a later time, and this was her response
“My grandmother is the cook in our family and we’ve done a lot of baking and cooking together, both for family holidays and for daily meals while she taught me how to cook. Cooking and baking with my grandmother was a great way for us to bond and we made many great memories. She taught me everything I know about cooking. This was a good reminder of not only taking care of myself and my emotional/mental health but also of caring for my loved ones. Food is sustenance in the same way love is; family and friends need both food and love to thrive. It’s a pretty traditional idea as well, grounded in the idea that women are the main caregivers and the source of a family’s happiness and well-being. I’m not sure where my grandmother heard it from, but I take it very seriously and it helps me feel connected to both my ancestors and the loved ones I’m cooking for. “
I knew the informant had liked to cook and bake, so I asked if she had any good advice she had learned from her grandmother, who, based on previous collections I had taken from her, I knew was quite the character. She told me this story, and also said that it would “definitely be something she would teach kids whenever they’re learning how to cook”.
Cooking and its various associated folklores are important identifiers for many ethnic groups and families. Recipes, traditions, and the act of cooking itself are taught traditionally between family members and those belonging to the same cultural group. Particularly interesting in this piece is the dynamic between the food and the cook; tangibly, the ingredients in a recipe are what makes the food taste the way it is. The preparation has an effect, too, but if you prepare food the same way, with the same ingredients, you should get the same result. That the participants grandmother suggested that the cook’s emotions and feelings can be used as an ingredient is a way to personify the food to be an extension of the self.
In the same way that one would not want to make a family member sad, angry, or distressed, the cook would not want to give food that would have that emotion cooked into it. This was perhaps introduced so that the cook – often put in stressful situations – can remember to keep calm. Especially as a child learning recipes and how to cook, it’s important that they not become frustrating and instead are taught that cooking can be the cultural instrument it is often used as.
The informant is a 23-year-old undergraduate at the University of Southern California. She moved a lot when she was younger, but spent her high school years but spent her high school years in Colorado, and still returns there to visit her dad on occasion. Her family is Mexican (though only partially) and Catholic, but her grandmother is Spanish (though her family has been in America for several centuries) and is a lot more Catholic than the rest of her family. I asked the informant about anything related to luck and she told me about the closet of candles her grandmother has.
Her grandmother has a closet full of the “Mexican candles” that are unscented candles in tall glass jars that usually have some sort of religious figure, like Jesus or a saint, printed on the outside. (These are also called “novena candles”). The informant says that she cannot remember a time where her grandmother did not have these candles. Her grandmother would keep at least one lit at all times, even when the grandmother is out of the house and, as the informant put it, “created a fire hazard.” Though the informant and other members of her generation (siblings, cousins, etc.) would tease the grandmother for being so obsessive over these candles, they would help her make sure that one was lit when they were around her house. Her grandmother believes that if she keeps these candles lit, it signals God to watch over her family.
There was one instance where the informant and her cousins decided to blow the candle out as a joke. Her grandmother did not find this entertaining, and was very upset that the candle that she thought was connected to God had been blown out, meaning God was no longer looking over her family. Shortly after the candle was blown out, the informant’s grandfather called and explained that on their way to Idaho, their car had almost flipped and crashed, which had been, unbeknownst to him, the time period that the candle had been blown out. This reinforced the grandmother’s belief that the candles actually did something, and the children were discouraged from blowing out the candles ever again.
The candles physically symbolize the connection to God that is sometimes not easily felt. By using the flame of a candle to signify this connection, a simple glance at the candle can reaffirm the connection if the feeling itself is not there. This can also show the connection to others without having to actively discuss it.
The informant is a 22 year old college graduate that is now working at a software company in Madison, WI. He grew up in Upton, Massachusetts until he left Upton to go to college in Los Angeles, California. . Upton is a small (population 7,542) town about 45 minutes south-west of Boston. He grew up in a loosely Catholic household with both of his parents and two younger sisters (3 years younger and 7 years younger). His maternal grandmother alternated between living in Massachusetts and living in Florida throughout his childhood (and continues to do so now). She grew up in Massachusetts.
When the informant was a child, he often spent time with his maternal grandmother. He is not the oldest or the youngest of her grandchildren, but is outnumbered by girls 4 to 2 when he was growing up. When he was being obnoxious, his grandmother would call him a “nudge.” Though she was not malicious when saying this, the informant stated that she only said this when she was “trying not to be angry” at whatever small-child antics the informant was involved in. Though he cannot remember exactly when she started doing this, she only did so rarely. She no longer seriously calls him this.
Though the informant has no children as of now, he sometimes teasingly calls his girlfriend a nudge when she asks for something that is particularly reminiscent of a child’s want, like a juice box or other similar rather un-adult food item like grilled cheese. I think his frame of mind is slightly different than when his grandmother was originally using the term, as he is rarely actually getting annoyed with the girlfriend when he calls her this. He does not call anyone but his girlfriend this, as it could come off as rude or strange to someone who does not know the story behind it.
Using somewhat silly names like nudge seem to diffuse tension. Small children, especially those with a somewhat stubborn streak like my informant, can be quite irritating to others and create tension within someone who is “supposed” to be nice and motherly towards a child, as a grandmother is. Using a silly but slightly negative name helps relieve this tension between having to be kind and being irritated out of one’s mind. This does not apply when the informant is using the term with his girlfriend. In that case, it is simply to tease her for wanting childish things by calling her a name that refers to a child.
Form of Folklore: Humor
Informant Bio: The informant was born and raised in Yerevan, Armenia until 1990, when she and her family moved to the United States (Glendale, California), at the age of thirty six. Most of the folklore she has been exposed to is founded in Armenian culture. Her social surroundings in Armenia and her father are her primary sources of folklore.
Context: The interview was conducted in the dining room of informant’s house.
Item: Armenian Transliteration – Mihat jahel hars ka vor shat mutahokvatsa amoosnanaloo masin. Voroshuma vor gna ira tatiki mot vor hartser ta amoosnootsan masin. Hartsnooma “Amoosnootsoonu vontsa?” Tatiknel asooma iran, “Ari, nusti, bala, ameninch kasem. Amoosnootsyan arachi tas tarin, dook amoosin yev kin k linek; myoos tas tarin, unkerner k linek; myoos tas tarin, koor oo akhper k linek, heto, yerkoo koor k linek, verchi tas tarin, k kirvek te ova mets kooru.” Harsu asuma, “Bayts tati, du hitsoon tarits avel es amoosnatsats, ova mets kooru dzer mech.” Tatiku juptooma oo asuma “oves kartsoom?”
English Translation – There’s a young bride who is very worried about getting married. She decides to go to her grama to ask her about marriage. She asks, “What’s it like to be married?” Her grandma tells her, “Come, sit, my dear, I’ll tell you everything. The first ten years of marriage, you will be husband and wife; the next, ten years, you will be best friends, the next ten years, you will be brother and sister, the next, you will be two sisters, and finally the next ten years, you will fight over who is the older sister.” The girl says, “But grama, you’ve been married for more than fifty years, who’s the older sister.” The grama just smiles and says “Who do you think?”
Informant Comments: The informant believes there is a lot of truth in this joke. Being married for over thirty years, she thinks that the knowledge that the grandmother passed down to the young bride was very true. She believes that, in marriage, the two people grow very close the way that two siblings would grow close. Along with the closeness come more quarrels, hence, the fight over who is the big sister. This folklore has become a humorous way of telling brides (in real life) about what marriage is truly like.
Analysis: This folklore illustrates how marriage is viewed as a journey of two people who slowly evolve together and develop a close bond. It is interesting to note that the husband is the one who becomes a sister, not the wife becoming a brother. It seems that this is an indication that the female plays a dominant role in the relationship; especially considering how the grandmother smiles at the end of the joke and in doing so implies that she is “the big sister”. The mild humor of what is said by the grandmother shows that even after more than fifty years of marriage, she is able to look upon her journey with her husband and find humor throughout each passing decade.
The informant recounted the legend on Easter in the context of telling family stories. She acknowledges that it isn’t specifically tied to her family but could be from anyone’s family.
A mother is teaching her daughter how to cook a ham, and when she cuts the end off, and puts it aside, and puts the ham in the oven and bakes it. [The informant mimes these actions as she tells the story.]
And the daughter says: ‘Why did you do that?’
And she says: ‘Oh, I don’t know, because my mother did.’
So, the daughter goes to the grandma and she says: ‘Grandma, why did you do that?’
And she says: ‘I don’t know, because my mother did.’
And so, she goes to the great-grandma and she says: ‘Grandma, why did you do that?’
And she says: ‘Cuz I had a small pan!’
[Everyone at the table chuckles.]
Me: And when would you tell that story?
Informant: To your granddaughter? I don’t know. When you’re eating ham? [laughs] When someone asks “why?”.
This exists both as a general funny story to tell to the family but also as a piece of meta-folklore explaining how traditions come to be. It also follows the rule of three from Olrik’s epic laws. The daughter has to ask three mothers to get her answer about the tradition.
“I heard this story last week and it was my friends story. And she said that her grandparents, um, her grandma in particular, told her that if she ever passed away, she would let them know that… she would communicate with them through the lights in the house. and her grandma passed away like recently, like a couple months ago. And her parents told her, like, ‘remember, grandma told us that when she passes away and if she’s in somewhere safe, she’ll communicate with us by flickering the lights, on and off’. And the first time that happened, she was taking a bath, and the bathroom lights started flickering for no reason. The light bulbs were fine, everything’s fine, and the bathroom lights started flickering on and off. And first she was like… she was really really scared. But her mom told her that that’s the way that grandma’s trying to talk to you, trying to communicate with you. And it got so frequent, that the grandma would flicker the lights.. or ‘the spirit’, would flicker the lights on and off, while the parents were eating dinner or something, and they would be like ‘oh, you stop it!’ and, but it happens all the time. It’s happened multiple times, and its not the light issue. So they think that spirits are real and it’s the grandma. And that like, you can interact with human things even after you’ve passed away. It’s scary but I bet its comforting – to know that there is an afterlife and that their grandma still exists, and still loves them, and watches over them.”
Wendy Chuong described this story as “the most realistic ghost story” she has ever heard. She says her friend truly believes that her grandmother is trying to communicate with her and also that she is there to spend time with the family. When I asked Wendy why she thought her friend’s grandmother would choose an inconvenient time such as bath time to communicate with her granddaughter, she immediately said “because that was the only time she was alone, and she wanted to reach out to her.” In classic ghost stories, it is very uncommon for ghosts to a multitude of people, and this story follows that tradition in that the ghost in the situation wanted to reach out to a human on an individual basis.
Her friend’s entire family takes a lot of comfort in knowing that their grandmother is in a safe place and is able to come down and spend time with her family. In this case, the encounter with the ghost is very welcomed and is also a psychological way to cushion the death of a loved one. The idea that their grandmother is both still around and safe, even if it is through the flickering of lights, is infinitely better than the thought of their grandmother being in an ambiguous place, or simply stopping to exist after death. In some ways, stories of family members returning may be due to the expectance of their presence after so many years and to push them along the grieving process. The comfort of being watched over from the afterlife brings up the idea that when one becomes a ghost, they are seen to adopt a new supernatural library of knowledge that able to ultimately help or guide the family. Additionally, a new set of moral rules would be set in place – the family members would hesitate to act in ways their grandmother would particularly dislike. Moral actions would increase due to the perception of being watched.
Furthermore, I wonder if there is a reason behind why her grandmother would chose such a trivial act of flickering lights. Do ghosts have differing ways of showing affection, or other emotions? Ghost stories similar to this one incorporate the concept of the transcendence of emotions and memories in the afterlife. This idea, however, contrasts to that of the traditional concept of the ghost that comes to Earth because something in their life was not fulfilled. In this sense, the grandmother’s ghost returns to spend time with her family and show her love. I would describe this ghost story as very sweet, and that every encounter with flickering lights within that household immediately becomes a memorate for the story of the grandmother’s encounters within that family.