Author Archives: Katherine McCormick

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.

Jinxed

This is about a folk belief that my informant has about the notion of acknowledging something, and by acknowledgement causing the situation to change for the worse.

“The only superstition that I only kind of semi believe that I don’t believe at all, but if I were going to believe one this is the closest I come to believing one, is when you say something and acknowledge it you jinx it. Like, when Simon came with a new machine for the credit card, and he said “oh yeah it’s got bigger print and everything so you can read it”, and I said “oh but does it work?” And it didn’t work. Or you go outside and say it’s great weather and then it rains. It’s something about acknowledging it out loud and then all of a sudden it goes away. But I still don’t really believe that. But sometimes I actually don’t say something because I’m afraid if I say it then I will have jinxed it.”

Despite the informant’s protestations that she did not ascribe to this folk belief, she ascribes to it enough that she actively modifies her behavior in order to avoid its potential consequences. It’s expressing the idea that some things are simply too good to occur, and if one acknowledges it then the universe might pay attention and take it away, or perhaps that a stroke of good luck can be removed by acknowledging that one is having it. It’s almost a type of magic, wherein one acknowledges a reality and that acknowledgement will change the existence of that reality.

Kings

This was received via Facebook message from my informant, and is a drinking game that she played with her friends in the UK during university.

“Kings… A deck of cards in arranged in a circle facedown with an empty cup in the middle. Before you play you decide what each card value is… Some are normally agreed upon, some vary per group…So like 2 is you (pick somebody to drink 1 fingers worth of their drink), three me, four floor (whoever touches the floor last drinks), 5 guys drink, 6 chicks drink, 7 heaven (point up), 8, 5 fingers of never have I ever, 9… There are lots of random ones like funny accents (must speak only in an accent til the next 9 is picked), 10 waterfall (first person drinks, next, etc, until the first stops, then next stops… Etc), j make a rule (can’t say “drink”, can’t point, can’t say first names… Etc. break one and you drink), and some other random ones for Q and A, king you put some of your drink in the middle cup. Last king picked has to drink the cup. That is pretty common across the UK, with varying rules for each number. Also fun if you can help design (so I don’t like accents and we normally don’t use the cup because its gross)”

This drinking game is very complicated and flexible, changing every time it is played and changing based on who is playing it. Essentially, each card drawn from a normal playing card deck has a rule assigned to it, and that rule must be obeyed. If that rule is broken, the person who breaks it must take a drink. This game is popular because it is highly adaptable, can be used with any type of alcohol, and only really requires alcohol and a deck of playing cards. It’s also easily customizable, as the players can assign their own rules to each card to incorporate inside jokes. This kind of drinking game is a bonding experience, as the players will get increasingly drunk together while playing a potentially embarrassing game in which alliances are often formed between players against others. It isn’t one generally played with strangers, as other drinking games such as beer pong can be; rather, it is meant to cement already existing friendship ties among a medium sized group.

It can also include other drinking games within it, such as the reference of ‘five fingers of never have I ever’, which is a drinking game in which one person says that they have never done something, and those in the group that have done it take a drink (or put a finger down, as in this case where they would each have five fingers up).

Baseball-Inspired Game

This is a game played by my informant in his childhood in the 1950s in Guadalupe, CA, inspired by baseball.

“We used to play this weird game where one guy would be a first baseman, and he’d stand on the sidewalk in front of our house. Down on kind of the far side, and then the other person would be on the front yard of the house next door, because there was no fence between the two. And then the guy who was the firstbaseman would throw a ground ball that was really hard to get and you would try to field it, and the firstbaseman would count to five. And if you got it back before the time he counted to five it was an out, and if you didn’t it was a hit. The assumption was you have to get the guy before he gets to first base, and he would get there in five seconds. Then friends would come over and visit, and they would play, and it just kind of spread. It’s a bit tough because you need two yards, and not everyone had access to that, so it was played most often at our house. Or you could just use a big yard but again most people didn’t have it, but yeah. I tried to teach it to Jacquelyn, but she didn’t like baseball.”

This game is a variation of baseball, in which the players don’t have access to a team or a bat with which to hit the ball. It kept the children playing with the ball and thinking about fielding, mimicking the fieldwork that perhaps one would use in a real game. Baseball was one of the main sports of choice in this town in my informant’s time, and thus it could fuel the children’s desires to play and keep them practicing early. It’s quite resourceful, and demonstrated the importance of the sport given how much of their leisure time they spent mimicking it.

Friday Pizza

Every work week from 1978 through 1998, my informant had pepperoni pizza on Friday nights. It changed pizzerias as the informant moved (Melo’s in Pleasant Hill, and then the main pizza place on Bainbridge Island), but the custom remained the same. The informant stopped when he moved to Hong Kong because he couldn’t find decent pepperoni pizza there, and then shifted the practice to the weekends when he returned to the United States.

This pizza was a celebratory event, a treat at the end of a work week no matter how stressful or easy that week was. It’s subconsciously carried on in his family, as Friday night is the most likely night on which they order pizza for celebrating the end of the week, relaxing afterwards and preparing for the week ahead. It’s an adaptable tradition, as it changed over time when other factors in his life changed.