Tag Archives: feast

Apple Harvesting with the Family

Background: The informant is a 55 year old mother of three who was born in Pennsylvania. She currently lives in Chicago, Illinois. She moved to Chicago when she was 28 years old. She lived in Pennsylvania until she was 10 years old, but would go back every year to visit her grandmother. Her grandmother lived in a small Pennsylvania town in a house surrounded by an apple orchard.

Context: The context was the story was shared over the phone, brought up during a discussion about foods. The informant seemed happy to share old stories.

Text:

TC: I’m reminded of, when I was growing up, my grandmother lived in a big house surrounded by a huge amount of apple trees, basically an apple orchard. Whenever the apples came into season, the entire family and some neighbors would come over and pick all the apples. After we were done, my grandmother would make apple cider by herself, that’s why I love apple cider to this day. Oh, also, all of us would help her make plain doughnuts. You know, that’s why I always order plain doughnuts whenever we’re out at a doughnut shop. All together, we would feast on a meal of apple cider and doughnuts. 

Me: So, you did this every single year?

TC: Yes. I remember, even when some of us started moving away, my grandmother would still continue on the harvest. She would make her apple cider and doughnuts and share them with whoever was there with her… I forgot to mention, my grandparents were farmers, which was why they had many many trees on their property. They owned a huge area of land and it was the center, or the focal, point of where my family would gather.

Analysis

Informant: She views the tradition fondly as a time of her childhood. She didn’t think much of the roots but was focused on it being a time of familial gathering and a feast of sweets.

Mine: The family gathering together to pick the apples is reminiscent of old harvest traditions and festivals. It’s an excuse for everyone to gather together and bond through mutual work. Typically, whenever the harvest would be done in the past, apple cider would always be prepared and a feast would be waiting at home for the farmers. Given that the informant’s grandparents were farmers, they were likely aware of this tradition, even if they didn’t explicitly tell their family members. The meaning behind the cider and doughnuts didn’t matter, it was only needed to share time with family – it served as a gathering place. To this day, apple orchards are still used as a prime gathering place, many times field trips used as outings or friends go apple picking as an activity. Typically, sweets and apple cider are still served, emphasizing that while the tradition has changed in terms of farmers gathering the harvest of the year, it still remains to be a community event. 

To see another version, TIM STONESIFER. (2009). Celebrating an apple tradition The National Apple Harvest Festival begins this weekend. 1–.

Setting an extra plate during Christmas

Content and Context:
Informant -“I remember my mother did this several times. At the Christmas meal, my mother would set an extra seat and an extra place setting. Now the tradition is in case someone shows up, but I always associated it with the people who weren’t with us. That’s how I like to think of it.”

JK – “The people who aren’t with us. Does that mean people who have died or people who just aren’t there?”

Informant – “Either way. When I say prayers at home now, I always add that I ask god to take care of those who aren’t with us. That means your dead grandparents and those who are away.”

JK – “Did the Christmas tradition lead to this added prayer?”

Informant – “Maybe the thought did. Not consciously. It just seemed to me that our meals couldn’t possible be complete without recognizing the absence of those who couldn’t possibly be there.”

Analysis:
It’s interesting that the informant did not carry the tradition forward, but rather his interpretation of the ritual. While his mother wanted to be prepared for unexpected guests, the informant wanted a reminder of guests that weren’t coming.

Dropping cutlery brings guests

Content:
Informant – “If you are handling cutlery…flatware…if you drop a fork you can expect a visit from a woman. If you drop a knife, expect a man. If you drop a spoon, expect a child. And if you drop a bunch of silverware expect a bunch of people”

Context:
Informant – “I heard it from my mother. It’s just a superstition. I never felt that it was true. Although, you know, it could be that, when you are setting formal tables and all, it’s for feast days. And if you drop something during feast time, you are expecting people anyways. Sort of a self fulfilling thing.”

Analysis:
The association with knives and men is probably intentional (men are traditionally the warriors). And young children are usually spoon fed, so that association also makes sense. I’m not sure why women are linked to forks. It could just be the only item left.

Feast of the Seven Fishes (La Vigilia)

Informant: “In Sicily, well in other places in Italy sometimes too, but really in Sicily, on the Eve of the big holidays, so like Christmas Eve and New Years Eve, you’re supposed to eat fish, but in particular on Christmas eve. It was called the Feast of the Seven Fishes, though I actually think in Sicily they called it La Vigilia, for The Vigil. The real tradition is that you’re supposed to make seven types of seafood. So in Sicily, my mom and dad they always did this, so they would start cooking a few days before Christmas Eve. When we were growing up in Los Angeles, we would go down to Redondo Beach and my mom would buy all these fishes very similar to the fishes they would have in Sicily, so she would make calamari, like deep fried calamari. Oh, and one of the things she would buy is called baccala, which is like a dry, salted cod. I’ve actually seen it in some Italian places in St. Paul, they sell it in what looks like a big bucket, and it looks like just dried fish, and so you have to soak it in water overnight, and then you have to drain the water, and then you have to soak it again, and so basically you’re reconstituting the fish. And I think a lot of times people in Sicily have that one because there are a lot of poor people, and that kind of fish was really cheap. And so [my mother] would do that whole thing day after day after day, and then she would make this sauce that she would put this fish in like this tomato sauce, and then she would bake it. So she did baccala, she did calamari, she always did octopus salad. She would never make the kind of fishes that [my family has] like salmon, I never had salmon growing up. She would make these things called sand dabs, they looked like a kind of flatfish and she’d fry them, and anchovies and sardines, and she’d make this pasta with fennel and tuna sometimes… But she had enough fish to feed an army, when there were only six of us, but that’s very typical though in Sicily…What other fish did she make… oh, eel! She would always make eel. And I would have continued this tradition, except that [my children] don’t eat as much fish, that’s why I sort of incorporated it into [my family’s traditions], that’s why we always have fish on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, so some years I would make stuffed salmon with crab and so on, but I found that [my family] just really liked crab, so that’s why we always have crab, and I figured, that was close enough.”

Collector: Was the exact number of fishes significant?

Informant: “Well, so it was feast of the seven fishes, though sometime we’d do nine, eleven, thirteen, but it’s always an odd number. I’m not really sure why, but it was supposed to have something to do with luck, like you’re never supposed to do an even number. As for fish, I guess with Sicily being an island, it was really easy for people to just go out and catch fish, and so that’s why they had fish.”

Informant is a retired math teacher, and a mother of three. Her parents moved to the United States for the Italian island of Sicily, and she was born in the United States and grew up in Los Angeles. She still keeps in touch with her Sicilian relatives, and will periodically visit them.

Collector Analysis: This particular piece of folklore is interesting in that it shows how certain folk traditions can evolve when they are practiced in different contexts, in this case, how the amount and type of fish eaten changed when the informant was celebrating this tradition in different locations and with different people, and yet the tradition is still in many ways the same despite these changes. Also curious is the fact that in Sicilian culture, the number 13 is considered lucky, while the number 12 is considered unlucky, which is the opposite of many other European cultures.

Mound Parties

This is another story told to Marisol by a nanny who was from the Andean province of Ayacucho. The nanny told her that as a child, her relatives always warned her not to get close to parties or gatherings of people in the middle of the fields or on top of hills because these were there to take away wayward children, drunks and gluttons. She warned her that if she was out playing the hills and heard laughter and voices, she was to run away immediately and not get close to the table, no matter how delicious and abundant the meal or how inviting the people because if you ate any of the food or touched the guests, they would take you to the afterlife and the party would disappear and all that your family would find on the hill would be a rock.

This story serves to keep kids in line and keep them away from strangers and unknown places. It is a lot like the Irish tales of fairies. There is also the presence of a magical mound which can be found, most famously, in Irish fairy folklore.