USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘recipe’
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Family Christmas Recipe

While talking to my friend Clayton, I asked if he had any specific meals that he looked forward to on any holidays or occasions with his family. His response was about a meal that he has every year on Christmas eve.

Clayton elaborated on this and said that, “On Christmas every year we do something called the ‘Feast of the Seven Fishes’ in Italy it is known as ‘The Vigil’. My grandparents came from Bologna, Italy. My grandparents home-make the seven seafood dishes every year and it is a similar recipe that their grandparents in Italy did every year on Christmas eve. It is one of my favorite meals, especially cause we only do this once a year, and this recipe has stayed similar across multiple generations”

 Background Info: Clayton is from Manhattan Beach, CA, but his grandparents are originally from Italy, and then moved to the states. Clayton knows of this traditional dish because he has been having this meal ever since he can remember on Christmas eve.

Context: Clayton told me about this tradition when I was talking to him before our class started, this was the first thing that he thought about when I asked him a question about if he had any traditional meals in his family.

Analysis: I had never heard about this type of meal, I have other friends who have roots in Italy and I asked them if they had heard of this and they said that they have. I guess it is a very common thing across many parts of central Italy. I think this is very interesting and reminded me of meals that I have on Hanukkah.


Panchamrutham Recipe

  1. The main piece: Panchamrutham Recipe

“I make panchamrutham for puja [Hindu prayer]. It’s a sacred offering for God. So panch means 5, amrutham means nectar [in Sanskrit]. Five different things put together to make this nectar. So you put cow’s milk, yogurt, sugar, honey, clarified butter or ghee, and this is supposed to be the sacred offering to God.

“It is made in a silver bowl. And, uh, this is supposed to be…how do they say? Theertham. God’s deity…you pour this panchamrutham over God’s deity, then pour it back into the silver bowl. Like you take a plate, put a small deity of God, then pour this panchamrutham. Then you pour it back in the bowl, and it becomes the…the sacred nectar for us. And you do it for special occasions. Special pujas. You don’t just do it every day. So for us, coconut water is sacred, and this is even more sacred.

“You have to take shower in the morning, and then make it. And usually, you don’t eat any meals before the puja. After the prayer, you have this panchamrutham first, before you break the fast.”

  1. Background information about the performance from the informant: why do they know or like this piece? Where/who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them? Context of the performance?

“I learned it from my mother? Everyone does it for prayer.”

  1. Finally, your thoughts about the piece

This recipe requires very much attention to specific details, and the informant was keen on mentioning that it is not an everyday recipe—it is only for very special pujas, or Hindu prayer sessions. The high specificity of preparations for making Panchamrutham show how important it is in the Hindu religion—it literally symbolizes the nectar of God. All of the preparations, therefore, are symbolic attempts to purify oneself as much as possible before creating something that will come into contact with God. The name itself shows that Panchamrutham is not a fancy recipe found in a cookbook—it has been passed down for thousands of years, and is known for being composed of five simple materials that have been prevalent in Indian cooking for all those years.

  1. Informant Details

The informant is a middle-aged Indian-American female. She was born in India and grew up with her two sisters in a small town near a holy river in Andhra Pradesh, the Godavari River. After moving to the United States and raising her children there, she enjoyed reminiscing on her childhood in India and sharing stories of it with her children, so that they could see the differences in their upbringings and learn about their Indian heritage.


Matzo Ball Soup Recipe

The informant is my film partner (referred to as MR) who has a Jewish mother and was raised Jewish. This is the recipe his Jewish grandmother has passed down for Matzo Ball Soup. He said his grandmother was living in Florida before she passed, despite having lived most of her life in New Jersey in a primarily Jewish community. He says, Matzo Ball Soup is a Jewish dish served at Passover.

Ingredients (taken down from a handwritten note in the recipe book):

  • 4 large eggs
  • ¼ cup “schmaltz” rendered chicken fat or coconut oil
  • ¼ cup chicken stock
  • 1 cup matzo meal
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon Allspice

MR: “While the recipe is written down, my grandmother has it memorized and tells me the directions by heart. I can’t make it by heart, but I know the directions she has told me several times while I watch her in the kitchen.”

The informant then looks at the recipe to remind himself of the steps.

MR: She told me to put the eggs, schmaltz, chicken stock, matzo, ginger, nutmeg, and parsley in a large bowl. And then add in the salt and Allspice. Mix a little with a spoon, and cover and then place in the refrigerator overnight.

I remember her holding up a deep brown pan and saying to put the matzo balls in a pan with salted water in order to boil. With wet hands— they have to be wet— take some of the mix and mold it into the size of a golf ball. Put them in boiling water and leave it for about 40 minutes. Then you put them in the soup, that’s it!”

I think this recipe is mainly interesting because it is recalled by heart by his grandmother. This shows how ingrained in the culture Matzo Ball Soup is. For his family and many Jewish families, Matzo Ball soup is a form of folklore in the sense that it is passed down through generations and verbally spoken and memorized. It is sacred in the sense that it commemorates a religious celebration (Passover).

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Swedish/Norwegian Meatballs Recipe

I asked my mom for any recipes that have been passed down/recipes that she did not learn from a book, but learned from others. She emailed me the following recipe, which was my grandma’s (her mom’s). Photos of my grandma’s original typed meatball recipe index card are attached. Now, my mom makes this recipe every year for Christmas Eve. The recipe also includes how to make a gravy. My grandma had Norwegian parents, but this recipe is labeled as Swedish with the Swedish word for meatballs, köttbullar, and Sweden and Norway are rivals, so I asked my mom about this discrepancy, as my grandma is no longer alive. AH is my mom, the informant, and PH is myself.

PH: Do you know where grandma learned this recipe?

AH: Her mother! Martha Hovda Haugen. From the farm [my great grandma, Martha, grew up on a farm], but I doubt they had veal??

PH: Do you know why they would have a Swedish recipe?

AH: Well they call them Swedish meatballs, but since they [my family] were Norwegian, they [the meatballs] are really Norwegian!!

PH: The word köttbullar is Swedish, though

AH: Grandma mom [my mom sometimes calls my grandma, her mom “Grandma mom”] typed it! Grandma [my grandma, her mother] never learned Norwegian because her parents would speak it when they didn’t want the girls [their daughters, my grandma and her sister] to understand. Kjøttboller is more Norsk. [My mom speaks Norwegian]

PH: Do you know why the Swedish word would be typed on the recipe or why it would say Swedish?

AH: Because people always call them “Swedish meatballs,” even if they are Norwegian. I use breadcrumbs and cream and onion, which is much simpler than that typed version, which I think is probably what mom and grandma Haugen realled used for everyday purposes. Also nutmeg.
Serves 8, from Arline Haugen Hales’s recipe box
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground veal
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup toasted bread crumbs (GF)
1-1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoon butter
• Combine beef, veal and onion
• Add water to crumbs
• Add crumbs, egg, salt, nutmeg, ginger, and pepper to meat mixture
• Mix well, shaped into 40 balls (about the size of a walnut)
• Dredge in flour (or arrowroot)
• Melt butter in large frying pan, add meat balls and brown on all sides
• Cover and cook slowly 20 minutes
• Remove balls from pan
To make gravy:
• stir remaining flour into drippings and loosen particles from edge of pan
• Add water, milk, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
• Cook, stirring constantly until thickenedScreen Shot 2018-04-26 at 1.22.54 PM Screen Shot 2018-04-26 at 1.23.25 PM

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Grandma Pat’s Shortbread Recipe

I asked my mom for any recipes that have been passed down/recipes that she did not learn from a book, but learned from others. She emailed me the following recipe, which is my paternal grandma’s recipe. My grandma is from Old Kilpatrick, Scotland (she moved to Canada, and eventually the United States, in her 20s), and shortbread is a Scottish specialty. I don’t like shortbread unless my grandma has made it, and anyone I know who has tried her shortbread says it’s the best they’ve ever had. Ironically, my grandma is absolutely terrible at making any other food, and she always has been; shortbread is her one dish. I was there when my grandma taught it to the two of us, going along as she went. She didn’t have the recipe written down and couldn’t write it down from memory, as she goes through the motions automatically. Although I collected this from my mom, she collected it from my grandma, so here is her information:

Nationality: Scottish
Primary Language: English
Other language(s):
Age: At the time of collection, 87
Occupation: Homemaker
Residence: Old Kilpatrick, Scotland, UK
Performance Date: December 14, 2015

The following recipe is what my mom wrote down from that experience, on December 14, 2015.

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups flour
Knead sugar and butter together with hands.
Add flour, continue kneading.
Press into cookie sheet with your knuckles. Make fork marks on top.
Bake @360 degrees F, 40-45 minutes until edges are lightly browned.
Cut immediately into fingers, okay to leave in pan (important to cut quickly!).
Sprinkle sugar on top!
Learned from Aunt Mary who sponsored her to come to Canada/Denver, 1952.


Christmas Cinnamon Rolls


In Tucson, Arizona, a family passes down the tradition of making a very specific recipe on Christmas. This recipe has been passed down for so many generations, the actual author of the recipe is unknown. The source has said that it traces back to their Mennonite and Pennsylvania Dutch ancestors. The recipe was given to the daughters and daughters-in-law of each generation as a rite of passage for becoming the official “woman of the household”. Every Christmas morning, those with the recipe would cook these cinnamon rolls for the entire family and those celebrating the holiday with them.


Unfortunately, when asked to record the recipe for documentation, my source refused to even let me see it. The secrecy behind this recipe is extremely important to the family and is viewed as a way of creating a bond between the women of the family and a true acceptance into the family. Me seeing this would be devaluing its importance.


I think this is a really unique coming of age tradition. Not only is it a way of cementing blood relatives as officially women, but it’s also a creative way of welcoming those who have married into the family. Because of this, I completely understand my source’s hesitance in letting me see the actual recipe.


The Best Banana Bread

  1. The main piece: The Best Banana Bread Recipe

Banana Bread

  1. Background information about the performance from the informant: why do they know or like this piece? Where/who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them? Etc.

“Basically, I have a sweet tooth, and, uh, my wife really loves me, and she knows I love banana bread. She meets a lot of people in her office, because she’s a physician. Even though she doesn’t like me to be eating desserts, one of her patients is a good cook, especially in baking, and when she found out she had a banana bread recipe from her mother, my sweet wife asked her for a copy.

“The patient gave my wife a printed banana bread recipe, and we never made a copy of that. Now, we’ve had it for 20 years, and it has all kinds of flour and oil stained on it. Whenever there’s a special event, like Father’s Day, we pull it out. In every bite, I smell my love for her!

  1. Finally, your thoughts about the piece

This piece of folklore is interesting because it combines a recipe with a physical artifact, used over and over and passed from person to person. The oil and flour stains on the photographed recipe show the great use it has been put to. The recipe has almost become a folk object, because instead of ever looking at a photo or copy of the recipe, the informant’s family must pull out this exact object when baking banana bread.

  1. Informant Details

The informant is a middle-aged Indian-American male, who grew up in an urban setting in India with three siblings. While he moved to the United States over 30 years ago from India, many of his family members still live there, and he enjoys maintaining his links with them through his heritage and Hindu religion.


Family Recipe

“My dad taught me this recipe, it’s not even an ethnic recipe, just a family recipe for this cool dipping sauce.  You combine paprika and garlic powder and a little water and then this other ingredient I’m forgetting, but it makes for this really good, kind of dry sauce that goes really well on a hamburger or something.  My dad said he picked it up from a diner he worked at, so I guess that means this recipe went from some unimportant condiment at a diner to a staple ingredient at all our family’s meals, which is pretty cool.  But I’m not sure he’s telling the truth about picking up the recipe from a diner, I feel like that doesn’t make enough sense for it to be true, because I’ve worked in restaurants before and no such recipe exchanging has happened around me, but nonetheless, now that sauce recipe is a staple of our family.”


This origin story of a family recipe is super cool because it subverts two common tropes of family recipes: that they are long traditions passed down from the ancestors of the family, and that they are secrets.  Not only did this family recipe start in a diner that the father of the informant just happened to work at of all places, but the informant clearly has no regard for who hears the ingredients, and they are listed very clearly above.  Still, the recipe has quickly managed to become an important part of the family, so it makes me think that maybe this is the beginning of what will become a long family tradition with this family.


Matzo Ball Soup Recipe

Informant is grandmother, currently living in Florida having lived most of her life in New Jersey. The following is a family recipe for Matzo Ball Soup which is a traditionally jewish dish served at Passover.


Ingredients (taken down from a handwritten note in the recipe book):

4 large eggs

•¼ cup “schmaltz” rendered chicken fat or coconut oil

•¼ cup chicken stock

•1 cup matzo meal

•¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

•1 to 2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger

•2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

•1 teaspoon Allspice


Directions (spoken to me in the kitchen as she prepares to make the soup):

“In a big bowl, put the eggs, schmaltz, chicken stock, matzo, nutmeg, ginger and parsley. Put in 1 teaspoon salt and Allspice. Mix a little with a spoon, and cover. And refrigerate until chilled. I do it overnight.”

“Put the matzo balls in a pan like this (she holds up a medium sized, deep pan) with salted water and boil. With wet hands— they have to be wet— take some of the mix and mold it into the size of a golfball. Put them in boiling water and leave it for about 40 minutes. Then you put them in the soup, that’s it!”


Mexican Recipe

Main Piece: Beer Battered Fish Tacos


For this piece, I asked my nanny of 18 years, Mirna, for a recipe, and being native to Mexico, she delivered. She prepared beer battered fish tacos, which consists of frying a white fish meat in a batter made from bread crumbs and beer (Corona, of course). It is put into a taco with a chipotle sauce, cabbage, and salsa. I asked if there was a set recipe she followed but there was not, she just cooked based off how she had done it in the past. The entire time she was cooking she was adding little bits of ingredients here and there according to taste, and nothing was perfectly measured. Once the fish was battered it was fried in a pan with vegetable oil, not a traditional deep fryer. There was no set time to cook or anything of the sort, just judging based on the look of the food and feel based on the cook.




This is a traditional recipe from my nanny’s home in Mexico, and she has been using it for as long as I can remember at home. It was a traditional recipe used when a successful fishing trip returned and would be cooked right away.

She learned it from her mother, who would generally cook for all of her brothers and sisters, of which there were 6 of them. She had many recipes she could’ve chosen from, having grown up in this large family and also having cooking as a big part of life for them. There was never really much take out or dinners out, so it was typically home cooked meals from her mother.




This time she cooked the meal for me, it was just one night for dinner, and did not have much contextual meaning. I used to fish a lot during the summer, and fresh fish was my favorite food for that span of time. I used to call my nanny as we were unloading the boat telling her what we had caught and she would prepare to cook it for me, and this became one of my favorite preparations of fish. She cooked a very large portion as it would serve as our family dinner that night, and had a sort of system going where she would be constantly breading the fish, frying it, warming the tortillas, and prepping the plates. She said that’s what it was like at home when her mother would cook for everyone, needing to feed many mouths.

When this dish was being prepared, my dad had a few different beers at home but none were a Mexican beer, so my nanny actually went out and bought Coronas to cook this recipe, which I think is interesting in that even though I’m sure other types would have worked, it is more traditional to the recipe that she used a Mexican beer for the recipe.


My Thoughts:


I had always thought this was just a random recipe my nanny had found and cooked for our family, but it turned out this was a recipe she had learned from her mother and brought here to cook for us. There are many more dishes my nanny knows how to cook from home and makes them constantly, but this one is hands down my favorite that she does.