Tag Archives: Family Lore

Taste the Soup

BACKGROUND: GH is the interviewer’s father.

GH: “ “Guy goes into a restaurant, orders soup. Soup’s delivered. After awhile, he signals the waiter. The waiter says “sir, is there a problem with the soup?”
The man says, “taste the soup.”
“Is it too hot?”
“Taste the soup.”
“is it too cold?”
“tASTE the soup.”
“Is it too spicy?”
“Taste the soup.”
“Is it too bland?”
“Taste the soup.”
Finally, the waiter, now exasperated, says “okay.” He goes down to taste the soup, and says “there’s no spoon.”
The man: “A-HA!
My dad used to tell me the joke, and I used to say “taste the soup” when someone finally came up with a solution to a problem, often one right in front of us. No one ever got it.”

ANALYSIS: “Taste the soup” is a traditional folk joke, one that has become specific family folklore. Eddie Murphy performed it in Coming to America, but my father had heard it for decades prior as a young boy. The punchline has been appropriated as a short-hand, which shows the joke’s dexterity and cultural staying power (even if not many get it).

Why We Cut the Ends off the Pot Roast


This piece is not actually a recipe, but a humorous anecdote about a family recipe.

Main Piece

My mom would would tell about how her grandmother I believe it was had the recipe for a pot roast that got passed down and it was, you know, it was dictated by her and written down and continued for a couple generations which, uh, included, after the, the general preparation and seasoning, uh included the instructions “cut off the ends of the pot roast” and then put in the oven at whatever temperature it was supposed to be cooked at. They did it dutifully until somebody, someday asked, finally: “I don’t understand what this does to it — cutting the ends off. How does that help?” And she said “Oh you know, otherwise it doesn’t fit into the pot!”


This story gives insight into how family/folk recipes are developed, and how a seemingly random or arbitrary part of the preparation may originate out of necessity: obviously, not everyone’s pot would be too small to cook an entire pot roast, but the members of this family followed the recipe verbatim out of respect and trust for the grandmother, even though the cutting of the ends only applied for her personal cookware.


Main Piece: The informant’s grandmother, whom many call Chuita, was a midwife and hero in the small town of Caazapa, Paraguay. Chuita only went to school up 1st grade (a very baseline education) and, instead of becoming a nun and living in a convent, she asked her aunt about how she could help the town. Learning under her aunt and looking at her own vagina in the mirror, Chuita learned female anatomy and became the town’s resident midwife, as the nearest hospital was miles and miles away. Using herbal medicine, she delivered over 600 babies without fail in her lifetime, never accepting any form of payment from the poor mothers she helped. “She literally delivered a whole town.” Later, Chuita received an honorary degree from National Health Ministry of Paraguay for having safely delivered more than 300 children during here life in Caazapa, but these were cases that were traced and recorded. “Chuita knows that she delivered well over 600 babies, never losing one. She had an extraordinary faith that her purpose was to serve others through God.” By the end of her lifetime, she was the town’s carpenter, farmer, engineer, civil advocate, emergency first responder, policeman, welfare service provider, tailor, chef, and household organizer. Her and her husband were often considered to be the local king and queen of their town.

Context: The informant (OC) is half Paraguayan and half American, and she speaks both Spanish and English. Her mother immigrated to the U.S. as a young adult, so the informant is first generation, but the rest of her mother’s side of the family resides in their home city – Caazapa, Paraguay – and are very well-known in their community. Her father’s side of the family are “classically Jewish” people from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, New York. Although she is not religious herself, her upbringing was culturally Jewish and Catholic. Our discussion took place in her home in Orlando, Florida while her mom made us tea and lunch in the background. The informant cites the following legend as the basis for her family’s legacy today, with her larger-than-life grandmother being their small Paraguayan town’s hero. This story was recounted to OC at her high school graduation party from her cousin, who believed that the informant was of age to learn of her roots and the lore that has kept their family devout in their values of hard work and faith. This legend is the basis of the matriarchal power that has been passed down through each generation in OC’s family. In fact, this story served as the inspiration of OC’s tattoo over her ribs, which depicts the mountains bordering Caazapa to honor her roots and larger-than-life abuela.

Personal thoughts: While it’s clear that not all of the astounding facets of this iconic grandma cannot be proven to be true (i.e. the 300 recorded vs. 600 theoretical babies delivered), this legend is rooted in the firm truth of her widely-known feats. The way OC tells this story is reminiscent of ancient legends with a heroic character conquering the impossible; one woman with barely any education becomes her town’s jack-of-all-trades through learning from the little resources she had access to (her aunt, who was her mentor, and her own mirror).Even the way OC phrases her grandmother as the town’s “queen” demonstrates her hero status among her people. Chuita, in typical hero fashion, overcomes her circumstances without complaint and rises to the occasion, setting a legacy of matriarchy and the power of perseverance for her family and town.

The Story of the World’s Smallest Church

The “Smallest Church in the World,” St. Anthony of Padua Chapel is in Winneshiek County, Iowa. It is a Catholic church and seats eight people. My informant, who is my Grandfather, told me the story of how the world’s smallest church came to be, which we had a family reunion at a couple years ago. The setting of the interview is my informant’s living room in a small town of Benson, MN. The “third party” was my Grandmother interjecting into the conversation.  My informant is very interested in family history, so he visits people in various towns and looks up archives to collect the family stories. He has been accumulating more stories and more details of the stories since my mother was a young girl. The conversation is as follows:

Me: Wait, do you know the story of the smallest church?

Third person: We’ve been there.

Informant: I don’t know if Rebecca has been there has she?

Me: Yes I have for the family Reunion. Anyways, what was the story of St. Anthony?

Informant: The story of Saint Anthony was uh, there was this guy, whos mothers said, uh what was his name…Gaertner. Johann Gaertner. He was drafted into the army with Napoleon, he was only 16 years old. But he was a rather big guy, 6 foot tall. So they made him a military police to take care of Napoleon when he was out and about. Anyways, his mother said that if he came back safely, she would build a chapel in honor of our lady. Well, he did come home from the war safely, she never built the chapel, he immigrated to the united states and his daughter said when he was 90 years old that, “you better get that chapel built before you die” and so that’s how we got the chapel built. He donated the first money and the stone, and… And uh they got the chapel built in fulfillment of his mother’s promise. And then they named it, they asked what should we name it? And some priest said, “well, name if after your alleged relative St. Anthony. Your [Rebecca’s] ancestor. So that’s what they did. And every year on the feast day of June 16th or whatever day St. Anthony is they have an annual meeting. So if you want to go down next year, I might be going! That was the story! Yep. They were supposed to build a chapel in honor of our lady and so the daughter is the one that got it done, not the mother.

Me: The daughter of the guy?

Informant: Yes the daughter of the guy. And 5 years ago, some relatives from Minneapolis came down with a gun… that this guy used in the Napoleonic War. So that was kind of interesting. It wasn’t a hand gun, it was a long riffle kind of a thing.

My informant tells this story because he is interested in history, but most importantly because it tells of our family history. He is the one person in the family that knows everything about our family history. He researches our ancestries and makes family trees as well as visit historical sites in various cities to find documents and records or certain events. This is difficult to do because our family is from a small town in Iowa, and we are not in any way famous so the stories are not well documented. My informant heard this story from his mother. My informant also modifies the stories as he learns more information. This is an example of family lore; my family even had a family reunion at the site of the church. My informant tells these stories to his children, in laws, nieces, and nephews when they visit Iowa and we all share the stories with each other. Most of my family knows this story, or at least that we are connected to the church, but my informant is definitely the active bearer; he is the one that we verify the facts with in any family story.

The Story of James McCone

My informant for this story is the same as my entries about the world’s smallest church and Smorum. He is “Bohemian but technically 1/4 German” as he puts it. The context is the same; living room of my informant in Benson, MN. My informant is very interested in family history, so he visits people in various towns and looks up archives to collect the family stories. He has been accumulating more stories and more details of the stories since my mother was a young girl. This story is about James McCone and how he came to Iowa from Ireland. My informant’s wife is related to James McCone, but my informant is an active bearer of the story.

Informant: James McCone came over from County Dairy, Ireland as a 6 year old orphan

Me: James McCone was Great Grandma’s grandfather?

Informant: yes. And his father died. And his mother went to the poor house.

Third Party: No she wasn’t, they turned her away.

Informant: Well they turned her away, she wasn’t poor enough, but she died, maybe she wasn’t healthy enough. Anyway, she died and so the priest, Father Duvont put him on the boat to come to this country. So he went to his cousin Sarah fall Holand in upper New York. So then he worked for the Civil War taking care of horses and then he followed the Railroad when they were building that, taking care of the horses, coming West. And Landed in Lawler as the blacksmith.

I think it is interesting that my informant is the active bearer of this story because he is not even related to James McCone. James McCone is related to his wife. My informant is very invested in our family tree and family history, even on the side of the family that are not technically related to him. As I discussed in my other entry, my informant is an active bearer of family stories. I looked online for more information on James McCone, and I found an obituary online that cited my informant as a source. Other people go to my informant to get these stories. My informant tells them because he thinks they are interesting, like putting a puzzle piece together with all of the parts of the story coming together, and he likes them because they are within the family. I find this story interesting because it is family lore and shows insight on how my ancestors came to this country.