Tag Archives: Foodways

Low Country Boil

I don’t know why they call it a low country boil. Probably because it comes from Lousiana, in the swampland. Anyways, it’s a south eastern thing, and you do it outside traditionally in a big old pot. It is often accompanied by bonfires and lots of alcohol.

My dad fills the pot with water and Old Bay seasoning (very important) and fills it with snow crab legs, crawfish, shrimp, eggs, corn, spicy sausage, and potatoes. And, while it’s cooking everybody is drinking and playing games like cornhole to pass the time. When it’s finally done cooking, we pull the big foldable outdoor table out and line it with newspaper and empty the contents of the drained pot directly on the table. Everyone gathers around, and its basically a free-for-all food grab – usually without plates or utensils – where we talk and grub out.

Pro tip: the best way to eat is crawfish is to take it, twist the tail off and suck on the head, getting all the delicious residual juices of the boil.

Context: [informant] I was raised in Florida and we do this for family, birthdays, or whatever, usually in the summer.

Analysis: Having been to a low country boil I can attest that the informant is spot on with their example. The Old Bay seasoning seems to be a staple in a country boil, and the process can get really messy, but fun. Although the seafood is a central component, I think one of the biggest draws of the boil is the social aspect of being surrounded by friends and family, pigging out without the rules associated with traditional dinners. No body is judging you, food is falling on the floor, but nobody cares… you are just having a good time.

BUCHE DE NOEL

MAIN PIECE:

Informant: Well at Christmas we’ll always have Buche de Noel… Which is a French dessert. It’s like, “Christmas log…” And it’s like a cake, and it’s like a roll, you know? Where you roll it up? And you decorate it to like resemble a log, and a lot of times it’ll have like marzipan… Like little marzipan mushrooooms, or little like eeeeelves, or something, and there’ll be like powdered sugar to be like snoooooow. And they’re just like super pretty. And we always do that. 

INFORMANTS RELATIONSHIP TO THE PIECE:

Informant: We’re not French, but we always do it. My mom did a year abroad in France, so she’s big on France. We go there a lot. All I know is it’s just like a traditional French dessert to have at Christmas. 

Interviewer: Do you make it or buy it?

Informant: We always buy it. We always do catering for Christmas. Cooking or baking is too much pressure. We wanna be like enjoying ourselves. Like for me, I really love baking, but if there’s a lot of people around, I like hate baking. I’ll be like, “Get out of my space. Like stop it. Like leave.”

REFLECTION:

Buche de Noel began as a tradition because it represented the burning of the Yule log, which is rooted in Pagan rituals. The tradition then evolved from the burning of a log to making and consuming a cake, which has then become cross-culturally adopted, with a German-American family making this French dessert part of their family tradition. This demonstrates how traditions can change over time and become adopted by new people and groups. The informant is attracted to this Christmas cake even without fully understanding its ritual context and history. Instead, she appreciates it for its aesthetic appearance and sweet taste. This is perhaps why, as Elliott Oring writes in Folk Groups and Folklore Genres: an Introduction, “food traditions are likely to be tenacious and survive when other aspects of culture are transformed or disappear” (35). One does not always have to know a food’s ritual context to appreciate its taste or appearance. Thus, food can be adopted by “outsiders.” Buche de Noel is now a part of the informant’s family tradition, and has taken on its own meaning within the Christmas traditions and rituals of her family––a meaning that is separate from the context and meaning it might have to a French family.

ANNOTATION:

Source cited above: Oring, Elliott. Folk Groups and Folklore Genres: an Introduction. Utah State University Press, 1986.

Vermont Maple Syrup Foodway

Context: SF is a USC sophomore studying journalism and he’s also my classmate in Anthropology class. I decided to have a zoom meeting with him and talk about some folklore from vermont. 

YM: Tell me some folklore 

SF: Oh! Every year we have a food way 

SF: So maple syrup is massive in vermont, right ? because we have a lot of maple trees and maple forest. It the second biggest producing region behind Canada quebec, just cause its bigger um but we have the highest density per capita

SF And uh there’s this big tradition called sugaring which is the process of tapping trees and getting maple syrup.. And you have to do it at the right time of year because it needs to be cold at night and then during the day.. so the sap can melt and flow down the lines 

Sf: You have to collect a massive amount, maybe 60 gallons of sap for one gallon of syrup.. And then you just sit in this shareshack.. And you just sit there and boil it for a really long time 

SF: Basically an excuse to hang out.. Kinda like ice fishing .. with some buddies or something like that

SF: There’s this thing some people do when they’re sugaring, called sugar on snow.. Um that is you boil the sap beyond syrup but not all the way to sugar… and then while it’s still boiling hot and pretty thick you take it outside and you pour it on fresh snow and you take a stick and you stir it in the snow and it basically turns to maple syrup taffy

SF: And it’s so amazing tasting because it’s just sugar.. It’s just a really fun thing to do when you’re a kid or when you’re hanging out in the cold

YM: That’s really cool!

SF: And you know we are legit because trader joes sells vermont maple syrup

YM: hahaha.. So you grew up doing this? 

SF: haha yeah with buddies we would tap trees

Analysis: The making of maple syrup seems to be exclusive to Vermont and the practicing of sugaring is a form of socializing. It forms identity and cohesion within a community and the state. It is a tradition as people like SF grew up doing this to spend time with friends and family. The making of maple syrups is important in defining the culture, environment, geography and history of Vermont. 

Afikoman

Main Piece:

So a Jewish Tradition on Passover that we do is my dad will hide the Afikoman somewhere in our house. The afikoman is a few pieces of matzah bread wrapped in usually a cloth napkin. And after the seder dinner, my siblings and I would run around the house and try to be the first person to find it. It was and still is extremely competitive, and the first person who finds it gets some cash. But the cash was not even the important part it is definitely just a pride thing. But I believe the meaning behind it is kind of convoluted. I think the tradition was mostly created to keep kids engaged at Passover dinner, because it can be really long and boring depending on which one you go to. Like I don’t think most people our age still do this but it’s always been a big deal in our household and we have yet to grow out of it. But on the deeper level, it’s supposed to represent the Jews’ liberation from Egypt, and like despite the fact that we found freedom from that, we are still always searching for a deeper, hidden freedom yet to be discovered? Like I said, convoluted.

Background:

My informant is of Ashkenazi descent, and is a participant of Judaism. She grew up under Jewish parents and a household that practiced Jewish traditions from a young age- though not enforced, she definitely had exposure to the culture ever since she could remember. She currently lives in South Carolina, where Jewish American heritage has long history compared to other Southern regions of the United States. She also comes from a family of four children, her being the third eldest, and they’ve all been practicing Jewish traditions together. This sense of family, tradition, and rivalry amongst siblings definitely had a factor as to why her family kept this tradition of Afikoman alive, even though my informant is currently 19 years old, which is older than what most Jewish people would consider appropriate to practice this tradition.

Context:

My informant and I watched a 2019 film titled “Uncut Gems” together, a film starring famous Jewish American actor Adam Sandler. In the film, there is a scene involving this very tradition of Afikoman. Enticed by this foreign concept, I had asked my informant to explain what that tradition was. The conversation took place in the Uber ride on our way back from the theater, in a comfortable environment where the only outsider listening to us was the driver.

Thoughts:

Personally, I am a big fan of any traditions involving a ‘treasure hunt’ element. It adds so much engagement from participants, and it’s such a great tool to gather a large group of people. The tradition of Afikoman hunt has been a valuable one for my informant’s family, as it has been a source of entertainment and comradely amongst her siblings, and hearing about it was a great delight. With cash as the prize, I find no reason why her family should stop practicing this tradition.

La Guelaguetza

Context

The informant is an acquaintance of my father, and in a previous vacation invited us to watch “La Guelaguetza,” a performance of the many different tribes in Oaxaca and their folk dances. I made some time during my Spring Break to ask him about the festival once more.

 

Interviewer: Back in 2014, you invited my family and I to the festival of “La Guelaguetza” in Oaxaca. Would you be able to tell me about it, and why it’s such a significant festival.

 

Informant: Yes, gladly! For starters, I myself am originally from Oaxaca, and came to Mexico City to pursue my career as a lawyer. However, much of my family is actually native mexican, like many in Oaxaca. I make an effort to go back every July to watch the festival. “La Guelaguetza” is a festival where many different cultures come together to perform their folk dances, because Oaxaca has many different native cultures, not just Zapoteca. The festival spans almost a week full of plays and performances, but the most important part of it all is at the end of the event… In an open theatre, the different groups all perform folk dances, to music unique to each culture, donning their traditional clothes. Most if not all dances are for couples, a man and a woman. Probably the most famous dance is the “hat dance,” but there are many others.

 

(Note: The hat dance involves the man placing his sombrero between him and the woman, with both of them dancing around it in until they meet.)

 

Interviewer: Yeah, I remember the dances being very unique, but what I remember the most is almost getting knocked out by a mezcal pot during the festival. Could you also talk about the food at “La Guelaguetza?”

 

Informant: (laughs) Of course, of course. “Guelaguetza” is actually a Zapoteca word, which roughly translates to “sharing of gifts.” Other than sharing their music and dances, “La Guelaguetza” is also the place where everyone shares their native foods… but not in a buffet or a restaurant. They actually give samples of the foods in the middle of the dance performances.

 

Interviewer: They pass out the food in a very… uhm… unique manner, do they not?

 

Informant: Indeed, it would be extremely complicated and would most definitely interrupt the dance if they tried giving samples to such a huge crowd, so the performers often opt to throw their items into the crowd! Most of the time they’ll bring a type of sweet bread, but you can also expect mole negro, tamales, and yes, even pots of natively brewed mezcal to be thrown your way. “La Guelaguetza” is so significant for Oaxaca because it celebrates all the cultural diversity in the state by bringing us all together through music, dance, and food.

 

A video of “Jarabe Mixteco” (lit. Mixteco Syrup) one of the more well known dances performed at “La Guelaguetza”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ttlol6TZebE