Tag Archives: Foodways

Stollen – Traditional German Sweet Bread

About the Interviewed: Julian is a senior at Calabasas High School. He’s passionate about Oboe Performance and Theatre. At 18 years of age, Julian is also my younger brother. He generally identifies as Caucasian American, but like myself, he has a close ethnic lineage tracing back to Germany and Ireland.

My brother commented on a food tradition he picked up on.

Julian: “Every Christmas our Mom makes the same dish every year. It’s called Stollen, and it’s a traditional German sweet bread. It’s tastes like a crunchy fruitcake, but it’s not bad. Mom’s been making it for as long as I can remember. I’ve helped her make it before, so I think I can tell you what goes into it.”

“Stollen is made out of dried fruit, cake mix, marzipan, nuts, and gets powdered sugar thrown on top.”

“From what other people tell me, it’s sort of an acquired taste. I can imagine why, but I just like it a lot so I don’t really care what other people think. My mom got the recipe from her mother and so on so forth.”

Summary:

Stollen is a traditional German Sweetbread eaten as an alternative to fruitcake.

I one-hundred percent agree with my brother here. Stollen is a delicious food. Everybody’s always got that one thing they like that’s traditional. It doesn’t taste amazing, but it has that familiar flavor that just keeps you coming back. 

 

Banoonooed

The informant provided the following as a tale his father would tell him before bed,for the purpose of making sure he didn’t eat too much before going to sleep.

Alright, so, when I was a kid my Dad, (first of all my dad’s family is Philippeano. my dad is full Philippeano.) So he would tell me that, uh, if I ate right before bed I’d, what would happen was, it was called “banoonooed.” [ban-noon-noon-ed] and what that means is that if you eat before bed when you go to sleep you’ll have a bad dream and your entire hair will go, just like… white. So yeah, anyway, if you eat before dinner and if you eat too much, er, sorry, if you eat too much before you go to sleep it will give you nightmares, and those nightmares will be so scary that your hair will just go completely white and I think that’s, like my dad didn’t make it up, but I think it’s to stop people eating before going to bed and… yeah. 

As the informer notes, this tale is not specific to his family, but it does seem to be a Philippeano tale in general as opposed to one which has spread across cultures. As the informer noted to me, large meals are a significant part of Philippeano culture, and a tale warning against their consumption before bed is likely more relevant to their culture than others. Furthermore, the scare-tactics and over the top consequences for eating too much before bed, make it a good children’s story, and that gives its moral a context.

Thanksgiving Tradition: “Trashcan” Turkey

Informant: “It’s from the Florida Keys, I don’t know how old it is. I don’t think it’s that old. It might only go back to like the 50s and 60s. But, it’s a way to cook food for a bunch of people quickly and easily because the trash can turkey is all about 2; a 20 gallon trash can, metal of course, a 20 pound turkey, and 20 pounds of charcoal for 2 hours and anybody who has ever roasted a turkey on thanksgiving knows that doing one in the oven takes a damn sight longer than 2 hours. But in the trashcan oven you can do it in 2 hours and it comes out really good. It holds in the moisture and the bird comes out pretty tender and every time I’ve ever done it, it comes out good. But basically what you do is you take the bird and you have to stand it up, sort of, and so in the true red neck fashion that started this whole thing, you use a jack stand from a car, you know like you would jack up a car and then put a stand underneath it so it will stay there. So, you take one of these things and cover it in tinfoil and basically set the bird on top of it so he is sitting there sort of with his wings up and his legs down and this thing is sort of up the cavity of the dressed bird. So anyways, then you set that on the ground, on top of another piece of foil, and you set the metal can over the top of the bird and then fold up the corners of the foil, and in some cases, they say you seal it up with sand. And then, you take your 20 pounds of charcoal and then you spread it around the bottom of the can and take half a dozen or so briquettes and set them on top of the can and you use a charcoal lighter, and because you don’t actually expose the bird to the charcoal lighter flame, you don’t get any charcoal lighter taste in the bird. So, you cover the briquettes, you light them off and then, just like you would a charcoal fire in a grill, you let it go. And, of course, that stuff burns pretty hot and gets the inside of the can really hot and it roasts the bird and, you know after that, after about 2 hours, maybe a little longer, but around 2 hours, the charcoal is pretty much all reduced to ash. There may be some red cinders inside it, but it’s mostly ash at that point, you’ll take the can off and the can is freakin’ hot so be careful, and then be careful not to get any of the ask on the bird, but you will find the bird inside golden brown and really moist and so there you go redneck trashcan turkey.”

 

Interviewer: “And who did you learn this from?”

 

Informant: “My redneck parents. (laughs) My parents retied to the Alabama coast or what my father affectionately refers to as, he lives in LA, Lower Alabama, or otherwise known as the Redneck Riviera. So on the Alabama coast, apparently they learned about it from some other retired friends of theirs who apparently spent quite a bit of time in the Florida keys and they learned about cooking the turkey in the trash can and of course I didn’t believe this at first but my dad came over and showed me and I found, how about that, it actually works.”

 

Interviewer: “And you like this folklore because the end result tastes good?”

 

Informant: “Oh yeah, and its easy, its really easy. All you’ve got to remember is 2. 20 pounds of turkey, 20 gallon trash can and 20 gallons of charcoal for 2 hours.”

The informant is a middle-aged man, who grew up in East Windsor Connecticut with his parents and two sisters. From there he attended the University of Connecticut and then lived in France for about a year and then in Montreal for about two years. From there he moved to California where he lives today. While the informant was in college his parents moved to Georgia and then to Alabama where they currently reside. Both the informant and his parents enjoy cooking.

Every year the informant’s parents visit him and his family, occasionally the informant will travel to Alabama, usually around either Thanksgiving or Christmas. The informant learned this folklore when he and his family visited his parents in Alabama. The informant’s father had learned the recipe from a friend and practiced the technique to use for Thanksgiving. The informant then decided to continue using this technique for Thanksgiving back in California because, as was stated in the interview, the end result tastes good and doesn’t take nearly as long to cook as other turkey recipes.

Because I have had the opportunity to try a “Trashcan Turkey,” I appreciate this lore. It is interesting to see this lore in action because it is literally a trashcan with charcoal on top of it (see images below). In addition, there are a few requirements to cook the turkey properly. Most importantly, there needs to be a place where the turkey can cook; this is usually over a small pit of sand or dirt. Also, achieving the proper cooking conditions can be difficult because rain or excess wind can blow out the flames and prevent the turkey from cooking. In addition, if you have pets, you need to make sure they stay away from the flames.

 

           

Traditional Christmas Dinner – Lutefisk

Informant: “My family for Christmas, we eat lutefisk. Which is cod soaked in lie. It’s cod soaked in lie and then you cook it, and its this gelatinous thing that is, its indescribable, and anybody coming into the family has no idea what’s going on, like why are you serving this for Christmas dinner. But you put it on mash potatoes and you mash it in there and you put drawn butter on top and its good, but if you eat it by itself, it is like, I don’t know, its absolutely disgusting. They cook the cod in lie because you were in the Midwest, these were all Norwegians who fled Norway, and you didn’t, I mean there was no where you could really fish, I mean you could ice fish or whatever, but these were all people that grew up with an abundance of fish in Norway and here they are in the middle of the Midwest with no fish, so they would transport this cod from the east coast. But to keep it OK  they would keep it in lie, which is you know a poison, and that’s how they would keep it and transport it.”

 

Interviewer: “And it’s safe to eat?”

 

Informant: “Yeah you cook it and eat it, with lots of butter, it’s very good. It looks like no fish you have ever eaten; I mean it is like see-though, gelatinous fish.”

 

Interviewer: “Why on Christmas?”

 

Informant: “I don’t know, but there are these huge lutefisk dinners in Minneapolis and St. Paul. I mean like people pay like 50 bucks to go have a lutefisk dinner.”

 

Interviewer: “How was it to have this tradition be apart of your yearly Christmas experience?”

 

Informant: “Well I mean for me I grew up with doing it, so it is very traditional, it is like how we felt like we were connecting with our heritage. It is important to carry it on. Like this year , my aunts were like oh, lets do something different, lets do like lobster or something like that and all of my generation was like ‘No, were are doing lutefisk,’ because to us that is like the traditional Christmas dinner and we want it. Regardless of the fact that nobody else would ever come to your house and eat that. That’s it yeah.”

 

The informant is a middle-aged mother with three boys. She grew up in Minnesota with a large family in the suburbs of Minneapolis. As stated in the interview, the informant grew up eating lutefisk for Christmas and she associates the food with Christmas dinner.

Lutefisk is a traditional dish from the Nordic Countries like Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland and has been carried over to Nordic-North American areas of Canada, the Finnish community at Sointula on Malcolm Island in the province of British Columbia, and the United States, particularly in the Upper Midwest and Pacific Northwest.

Lutefisk is made from cod, and to make it, the skin and bones need to be removed, then the fish is salted and hung to dry for several weeks until it hardens. Then, it should be soaked in lye for several days. (Merriam-Webster: Lye – strong alkaline liquor rich in potassium carbonate leached from wood ashes and used especially in making soap and for washing). According to the informant, lutefisk can be served with gravies, green peas, mashed peas, (boiled, baked or mashed) potatoes, meatballs, lefse, gravy, mashed rutabaga, white sauce, mustard sauce, melted butter, syrup, or cheeses, though they usually serve it with mashed potatoes and butter.

I think this collection really emphasizes how people can become attached to their traditions even if they don’t necessarily like them. The informant is determined to continue to have lutefisk dinner on Christmas because she feels that it ties her to her heritage and it is an important tradition for her, even though she considers the fish itself to be “disgusting,” .

Plate of Lutefisk

The informant sent me this picture of Cream of Lutefisk soup after our interview

Interestingly, Lutefisk is present in many different popular culture genres, for example in movies and music. A movie was released in 2011 called “The Lutefisk Wars” directed by David E. Hall and Christopher Panneck about: “A rural frozen food delivery man is mistaken for someone else and ends up in the middle of an ancient feud between two Norwegian Mafia Families” (IMDb). There is also a music band called Lutefisk which released an album in 1997 called “Burn in Hell Fuckers.” Lastly, a parody song concerning lutefisk called “O Lutefisk, O Lutefisk” was created by Red Stangeland to the Tune of “O Tannenbaum” by Ernst Gebhard Anschutz.

Movie Cover

The Lutefisk Wars. Dir. David E. Hall and Christopher Panneck. Perf. Ken Baldwin, Haynes Brooke, and Regan Burns. Sojourner Pictures, 2011. Film.

Album Cover

Lutefisk. Burn in Hell Fuckers. Bong Load Records, 1997. Audio CD.

« Les Oreilles de Christ » Traditional French Canadian Food

In the following quote, the informant describes an outing where he visited a “maison de sucre” known, as a sugar house in English, and ate traditional French Canadian foods.

Informant:  “One night in well essentially it’s in Quebec they call it la maison de sucre, and they make maple syrup from the tree sap. Usually, you go and ride snow mobiles to go out there. So, out in this far away place, you can’t get there with a car, there are all of these people and they are making food. In the middle of the night you go over there and you get breakfast, this special kind of French Canadian breakfast. It’s in the middle of the night and well everybody’s drunk and it’s crazy. And they had a couple of different foods that I had never heard of, one of which was “les oreilles de Christ,” or “the ears of Christ,” and what they were, were chunks of fatback that were fried and then they would curl up like an ear, and they were fabulous, (some disgusted faces from the audience at the dinner table) no, no it was like bacon from heaven.”

 

The informant is a middle-aged man, who lived in France for about a year and then in Montreal for about two years. He speaks French fluently and has French Canadian heritage, as his family traveled from French Canada in the 40s and 50s to Maine and Connecticut. He appreciates learning about history, and he especially enjoys experiencing and learning about French Canadian culture because it is his heritage.

The informant lived in Montreal when he was around 25 or 26. During this time, he met several French Canadians who told him about and shared various traditions with him. On one occasion, as described in the conversation selection, the informant traveled late at night on a snow mobile to visit a “maison de sucre” with his wife and his French Canadian friend. The “maison de sucre” or “cabane à sucre” is also known as a “sugar house,” “sap house,” “sugar shack,” “sugar shanty,” or “sugar cabin” in English. These small cabins or series of cabins, are usually located on the property of someone who has a lot of land, typically a farmer with “a lot of maple trees.” The purpose of these cabins is to collect sap from sugar maple trees and boil it into maple syrup, which produce sap during the period between October and early April. Sometimes, the sugar house would serve breakfast foods late at night to people in the surrounding community who knew about it and could get there. The breakfast foods would all be accompanied with maple syrup, and would include foods like ham, bacon, sausages, baked beans, scrambled eggs, and pancakes, along with more uniquely French Canadian dishes like “les oreilles de Christ.” As stated by the informant, this food is not very difficult to make as it is just slices of fatback, smoked pork jowls, or salt pork that has been fried until it curls and becomes a golden brown color. Personally, the informant does not make this food, although he fondly remembers eating it. The informant also said that these houses are usually small traditional family run businesses, though there are some large commercially operated ones.

These houses are popular places to go during the winter and spring. Although, sometimes these cabins do not open until spring because if the temperature drops below zero it is very difficult to collect sap. Thus, sometimes the sugar shacks and traditional foods served with maple syrup are associated with Easter and other springtime festivities.

Language Notes:

According to the informant, the English translation of this food is called the “Ears of Christ,”  “oreilles in French means ears, and Christ in French means what it looks like.” Phrases similar to this are not uncommon in French Canada because many curse words are terms that refer to Catholicism and the Catholic Church. According to the informant, this is because in the early 19th century these was a strict social control of the French Canadian people by the Catholic Church. Thus, words that referred to God were not supposed to be said because they were sacred. Originally taboo, these words eventually were used to vent frustration and began to transform into profane words. In fact, I have heard the informant use words like baptême (baptism), câlice (chalice), crisse (Christ), tabarnak (tabernacle) in anger. Thus, calling the food “les oreilles de Christ” would have been somewhat ironic and humorous. However, while looking into the meaning of “les oreilles de Christ,” I found there is another interpretation about the origins of this name. Apparently, “Christ” in French sounds like “crisser,” which means to squeak, squeal or grate, so “crisse” could have been used to refer to the sound the food makes as it fries as well as the sound the crunchy chips make as you eat them.

I think that this language background is very apparent in the name of this foodway and adds another meaning to it in French Canadian culture. Moreover, this food is popular in small shacks that cater to a younger audience and would be an appropo food (with its name) to serve there.

Bowl of “les oreilles de Christ