Tag Archives: Foodways

Manton, California Tradition: The Pig Roast

Interview Extraction:

Informant: “So the infamous family get together… so every year at the time of the fourth of July, the Forward family would hold a reunion back up at our cabin that is near Lassen in Manton, California. And that is an area that was homesteaded by our great-great-grandfather, who actually was at West Point when the Civil War broke out. And he decided that he couldn’t choose between the North and the South, so he packed up the wagon and headed out to California to avoid the whole Civil War.  Any event, they settled in Oregon originally, and then they moved down to Northern California where Manton now is. And they eventually built a lumber company there, a saw mill. So uh, in any event that is where the family homestead is and we would go back every July 4th to the family homestead, and my grandfather and his brother, my uncle, would hold a big barbecue. And the way they would barbecue was that the meal was typically on Sunday, or whatever, but the day before you would dig a big pit and you would buy tri-tip and you would put it in burlap sacks. You would season the meat, put it in burlap sacks and wet it, and you built this pit. And the day before you would get some firewood, it had to be oak to get the right coals, and you would fill that pit with the coals and then would dig out the coals, throw in the meat that is in the wet burlap sacks and wrapped in the pit, and then you would throw dirt over those, and then throw the coals over that. So it is kind of like the Hawaiian pig roasts, they way they burry the pig. And then that cooks all night long and through the next morning. So part of the fun was digging the pit and keeping the fire going. And the men would stay up all night, until usually 1:00 in the morning when they would put the meat in. And they would drinking whiskey and tell stories.  There were no women allowed, this was just a guys thing. So then, we would dig up the meat the next day that had been cooking for 8 hours and we had this beautiful tri-tip that had slow cooked for 8 hours in the earth. And then we would add some more seasoning, and that was the main meal for our big family reunion party every year. And the family reunion was always done at the cabin near the lower pond. We actually had built a little picnic area just for that one party, every year. The other fun thing we used to do is there is no refrigeration but there is a creek that runs right by the picnic area, so instead of having to bring ice or anything, the creek was cold enough with the water coming off Mt. Lassen. We put all the food that had to be cooled in the creek, so the kids would have to build a little rock dam, a little pool so that the stuff wouldn’t wash down the stream. And we put watermelon in there, and put all the beer and pop bottles there, all the stuff the water wouldn’t hurt. And that was their kind of fun thing that was the kid’s responsibility every year.”

Analysis:

“The Pig Roast” as it is called serves as a way for the family to reunite every year.  The 4th of July was chosen for the reunion date for two reasons. One, getting to celebrate Independence day with family is a fun way for the family to reflect proudly on their American heritage.  Another reason why the date was chosen was because it is a time of year that is easier for family members to travel back to Manton, because the children are out of school for the summer and July is not a busy month for farmers, and ranchers, which is the occupation of many family members.  The pig roast is always held on Sunday of the 4th of July weekend, because Sunday is traditionally a day of rest and family time.

The special method of how the pig is cooked is also part of the reunion’s ritual.  The pig is generally slaughtered from the family’s farm, and then it is prepared in a special method that has been repeated since the first Manton pig roast.  The fact that only the men in the family are allowed to prepare the pig represents a strong patriarchal value in the family, which still holds true today.  When a boy in the family is finally allowed to stay up late with the men and drink whiskey and share stories, this important event represents that the family has accepted the boy as a man.  This initiation into adulthood is also the men’s way of saying to the boy that they are ready to give him more responsibilities as an adult.

The fact that every group in the family, the men, children, and women, all have a specific responsibilities for the preparation for the pig roast is tied to the family’s history of being primarily farmers and ranchers.  Working on a farm or ranch requires a lot of hard work and responsibility so everyone has to do there part, including the children.

The Manton pig roast represents American traditions and values in that there is a strong emphasis on family, hard work, and independence, which is reflected in the origin story of the family homestead.  This is because the idea that their great-great grandfather was a pioneer in the West represents the idea that in America if you work hard and have the determination to do so you can accomplish great things.  This story is often used to inspire these ideas of success and independence in the family today.

My informant was born in 1957 Arcata, California to a high school basketball coach and his wife.  After earning his undergraduate degree in engineering from the University of California, Davis, he moved to southern California to obtain his MBA in business from the University of Southern California.  He now a partner at Ernst & Young. He lives in Manhattan Beach, CA with his wife and has two children.

 

German Fermented Vegetables

An interesting tradition my mother recalls from growing up is that when she and her family visited the (paternal) grandparents, the Rahenkamps, her grandmother would always serve some kind of relish or pickled item along with the evening meal.  Since the Rahenkamp family is of German descent, this is not surprising – one can hardly imagine German food without thinking of sauerkraut and pickled cucumbers.  However, Germany is only one of many countries where these types of foods exist.  In fact, most if not all cultures prepared and ate at least one of these items at one time or another.  Unlike the prosperous free world today where we think of these items as condiments that we add to our food because they are tasty, past cultures kept these foods, which were originally fermented, out of necessity.  Fermentation was a way to preserve foods for months without refrigeration, and to make foods that are hard on the bowels (like raw cabbage) more digestible.  Adding salt to vegetables to prevent mold growth, and allowing the bacteria and yeast in the local environment to take over, our ancestors could preserve items for long trips and cold winters.  The friendly microbes in the vegetables (or fruits or milk or other foods) break down the sugars and convert them to acids as a defense mechanism, producing a complex, sour flavor.  Eating such foods fortifies the immune system and gastrointestinal tract with beneficial bacteria, and the acid and enzymes released during fermentation aid in the digestion of the rest of the meal.  My informant, my mother, believes that her grandmother served these relishes as part of the tradition of using them for good digestion.  Unfortunately, most pickled items seen today are not fermented, but merely canned in vinegar (including those my great grandmother used).  They carry none of the health benefits and are sterile instead of crawling with friendly microbes.  The real fermentation process actually increases nutrients – sauerkraut, in fact, was used to prevent scurvy on long voyages across the Atlantic, due to its high vitamin C content and its ability to keep for months without spoiling.

Annotation
  The Great Physician’s Rx for Health and Wellness, by Jordan S. Rubin, page 10, concurs that “Every sauce and condiment has its beginnings as a fermented food and throughout history has always been healthy.”  Several fermented foods are mentioned, including ketchup, which is credited to the Chinese, who began it as a fermented fish brine.

Guanti – Fried Snack

The following recipe is for a traditional holiday treat from my father’s sister.  She tells me, “Your great grandmother made these by the bushels at Christmas and Easter.”  It seems every culture worldwide has devised a unique way to fry dough and satisfy the sweet tooth: funnel cakes and doughnuts in America, beignets in France, churros and sopapillas in Spain and Mexico.  This particular cookie seems familiar to me, but I did not realize it was from Italy.  In my father’s family, food – especially pasta and sweets (unfortunately for someone like me who avoids sugar) – has always been a central unifying aspect of culture.  Indeed food is one of the central aspects of ethnicity and heritage, and my informant says this is especially true in Italy.

 

Guanti (Wands)

 

Beat 3 eggs with 2T of sugar.  Add:

 

1t lemon juice

1T evaporated milk

6T vegetable oil

½t salt

 

Add 2 c plus 2T of flour.  Knead on floured board.  Roll paper thin.  Cut into very thin strips and shape each strip into a loop.  Fry in vegetable oil 5 seconds.  They’ll be golden in color.  Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with sugar.

月饼 (Mooncakes)

During the Mid-Autumn festival, it is customary to eat mooncakes (月饼) while drinking tea and admiring the moon. Mooncakes are essentially pastries that are filled with lotus seed paste, red bean paste or mung bean paste and a salted duck egg yolk. It is said to originate during one of the dynasties to ensure that a secret message to coordinate a rebellion were hidden as a message in the mooncakes.

                  This was practiced by my informant ever since he could eat solid food. It has been part of Chinese culture since at least the Yuan dynasty. However, this practice has been becoming less frequent due to the fact that one of the essential ingredients to making traditional mooncakes is lard; and in today’s health conscious society not many people would like to eat something so very fattening.

                  Even though mooncakes are a very traditional sort of food, it has begun to change in the last couple of years. Now, there are all sorts of mooncakes made with all sorts of flavors and materials. In Asia, Hagen Daaz sells chocolate coated, ice cream filled mooncakes and in recent years, there have been snow-skin mooncakes with the outer ‘skin’ being made out of glutinous rice paste.

                  It is interesting that the mooncakes have changed so much in the recent days with the introduction of more varieties in fillings and crusts. There are even mooncakes for the heart healthy because as mentioned above, many people now don’t want to eat fattening mooncakes.