RITUAL DESCRIPTION: Consumption of lentil salad on New Years Eve to bring wealth.
INFORMANT DESCRIPTION: Female, 42, French
CONTEXT: This woman told me that her most prized ritual is that every New Years Eve she and her family would eat lentil salad in order to call wealth. She said the little lentils symbolize coins. Her mother and entire family did this as she grew up. The little “coins” are meant to be abundance and eating them is calling wealth into the upcoming year.
THOUGHTS: I see how lentils could be like little coins. I find this ritual interesting because lentil salad is popular in France but I never knew it had this double meaning. It seems to make sense although I’ve never heard of such an interesting food on New Years Eve.
Interviewer: So why do you celebrate Guy Fawkes Night?
Informant: It was a big part of my childhood. I remember going to Bonfire Night Parties. So the month prior to the 5th of November, the actual date, families and friends would gather old furniture and sweep up leaves, a lot of fallen leaves, and anything else that could be burned. And we would stack it into a huge bonfire. And then on the night of the 5th of November the community would come together and there would be fireworks and we would light the bonfire. But also during the month prior children would build a ‘Guy’ and a ‘Guy’ consisted of old clothes, that were stitched or pinned together and stuffed with newspaper and leaves to resemble a person. The ‘Guy’. Guy Fawkes. This ‘Guy’ would be carried around the community in a wheelbarrow or old pram, going door to door begging for pennies. “Penny for the Guy”. These children would then take these pennies and purchase fireworks.
Interviewer: That’s kind of irresponsible.
Informant: I know! I was wuss and I hated loud fireworks, so I always purchased sparklers. There was always traditional food served at bonfire night parties: mugs of soup, oxtail, or tomato soup, and sticky Parkin Cake (Ginger cake). Adults always lit the fireworks and the bonfire, but you could throw things on the fire, basically we were pyromaniacs for a night and it was socially acceptable. Another thing that was a tradition, the dummy you made, you would always put a mask on it of a political figure. Typically one you disliked. Part of my memory of the thing, is that you stood as close as you could to the fire so your face was almost blistering and your back was wet and freezing, cuz this is England! Guy Fawkes night was THE THING for us, Halloween was ‘eh’ but Bonfire Night was it, cuz it had fire!
Context: An earlier conversation that was discussing a different English Tradition made my informant remember this part of her childhood.
Background: The informant learned the tradition from her community, there was no one person who taught her about it. She enjoys it because it’s fun. “It only gets remembered if it’s fun”. To her it’s a little “encapsulated perfection” part of her childhood and it captured what it was like to grow up in rural England.
Thoughts: It sounds like a very interesting holiday, the informant seemed to go back to the high energy and joy of that holiday. I personally wish to be able to go to her home town to see this tradition myself.
NS, my father, is a 55-year-old Dutch immigrant to the US. He grew up in the small town of Delft. He told me about this new year’s eve food tradition that is observed where he grew up.
NS: New years is one of the most important holidays
for the Dutch. On new years’ eve, we would gather together, there would be on
the TV a comedian doing a run-down of the year, and we would have oliebollen
(oil balls). They are a food you only eat during new years and you can get them
from a stand on the street in late December. My mom used to make them. To make
them, you put some flour and yeast together in a bowl with some sugar to let
the mixture rise. Then you add all kinds of stuff in it: nuts, apple, raisins,
cranberries, other dried fruits. You plop them into balls and fry them in oil.
Then once you’re done you can put some powdered sugar on them.
The informant, even though he now lives in San Francisco, makes this treat every year as a member of a global nationality. He likes oliebollen because he associates the taste with childhood memories and festivities. He told me that the new year is one of the most important and elaborate celebrations for the Dutch, so it makes sense that he wants to keep this foodway alive as he carries out his identity as a Dutch-American. I have eaten them every new year as well, the informant is my dad, and I have to say that the taste definitely reminds me of that particular time. Since they are only consumed once a year for this event, they take on a special significance and anticipation which leads me to savor each bite when I get the chance. The food tradition is a way for my dad to keep his sense of Dutch-ness alive as he lives abroad in a foreign land.
Pannenkoeken (pun-nĕ-koo-ken) are a traditional Dutch meal. They are large and flat pancakes with the thinness of crepes. In my family, we enjoy them for dinner on special occasions such as birthdays and holidays. I collected this piece from my father, who emigrated to the US from the Netherlands as an adult and grew up in the town of Delft. I asked him to show me how to make the recipe one night at our home in San Francisco.
NS: “Alright first you start by putting on some
vegetable soup, I do some bouillon cubes and whatever vegetables you have lying
around. Then you start the pannenkoeken by putting flour in a big bowl.
JS: “how much flour do you use?”
NS: “Just some flower, as much as you want. (laughs)
and some salt. mix it up a bit to get rid of the clumps… there, perfect! Then
crack an egg into it and mix it up, add two eggs or so mixing in between.”
JS: (I add three eggs absentmindedly)
NS: “Haha, perfect, you want to get it nicely mixed…
then add some milk gradually. You want to mix it all the while so that it stays
(I mix vigorously, adding milk little by little until
we have a soupy batter)
NS: “Then we heat up the pan. You want to move the
bowl over here near the stove. Rub butter around in the pan and then pour in a
spoonful of the batter, and you want to start moving the pan to spread the
batter almost as soon as you start pouring.”
(I pour in the batter. the pan is not hot enough, so
the batter just sits at the bottom.)
NS: “Ok yeah we tried a little too soon. Just wait
until the pan heats up a bit.”
He puts a plate on top of the simmering pot of soup
and explains that this is where we will put the finished pannenkoeken to stay
hot. I pour more batter once the pan is hotter and then tilt the pan back and
forth to spread the runny batter all the way around the pan. This takes some
practice, but I eventually work out a way to make nice, even, golden brown
pannenkoeken and set them on the plate. My dad shows me how to fill the last
few with Gouda cheese and fold them over on top of each other. I heft the pot
of soup along with the full plate on top and set it on the dinner table. We eat
the soup first and then start on the cheese pancakes, topping them with cumin
and nutmeg. They are rich and creamy. We then set ourselves upon the “sweet”
pancakes underneath, topping them with maple syrup, brown sugar, walnut pieces,
and cinnamon. In the past, we have used berries and Nutella as well. I ask my
dad where he learned this recipe and what it means for him.
NS: “My mom used to make them for the family, it was
always an exciting treat for the kids. I like them, sometimes I just get the
JS: “Are there any differences between the way you
make them and the way your mom used to make them?”
NS: “No not really. The soup is essentially the same and the batter too. The one thing I changed was folding them over onto the cheese, putting it in the middle. I think my mom put the cheese on top. That was my contribution to the tradition. (laughs)”
Eating pannenkoeken is one of the cherished traditions in my household. It is one of the few Dutch recipes that we continue to perform. A recently naturalized US citizen, this piece of folklore helps my dad to remember his family from the country from which he emigrated, many of whom have since passed away and some of whom he keeps in touch with long-distance. The environment in which he grew up, the small town of Delft, is radically different from the American city of San Francisco, and I think traditions like these help him to maintain his sense of identity as an expatriate. For me, who grew up in San Francisco, this tradition gives me a sense of my dad’s history as well as my own Dutch heritage, a means of holding on to what makes one special in a country of immigrants from all over the world. The task of making the pannenkoeken requires some practice, and while the recipe is simple and often approximated, one must have a feeling for how the batter flows, what temperature the pan should be, how to store the finished cakes so that they stay hot, when to add butter, and how much batter to add per pannekoek. The process is like an elaborate choreography in the kitchen so it feels much more special to make them well since doing so requires practice and instruction. The differences between my dad’s and his mother’s pannenkoeken are dependent on the available ingredients: my dad might make the soup differently, and my grandmother might have used different kinds of cheese and, as my dad mentions, a different technique for making the cheese pancakes The cheese we use at home is imported from Holland.
Food has an intimate relation with memory and identity. What we consume is what we are made up of, and tastes can connect us intimately to a community and way of life. Making pennenkoeken is one way my father retains his identity as a Dutch-American immigrant, and a way in which he transmits this identity to his American-raised children, passing down a memory of warm family dinners.
I asked a fellow classmate if he partook in any traditions regarding a specific holiday, and the conversation was led to the topic of food:
“Every year at Passover dinner my family and I eat the same food. There will always be a traditional Seder plate which will have around 5 or 6 items on it like bitter herbs, egg, and some sort of vegetable. My Nana will also always make her homemade brisket which is what her and her parents did for Passover in Romania where she’s from. And we always have Matzah Ball soup too.”
I then asked how long this tradition has been in his life and where it started in his family:
“I have had this meal on Passover since the first Passover I can remember. And my Nana is the one who brought it to our family.“
Background Information: Matthew is a 19-year old male born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. Both of his parents are Jewish.
Context: Matthew shared this story with me in a conversation about holiday traditions with our families over coffee.
Analysis: Growing up in a Christian home, it was very interesting to gain an understanding of a cultural tradition, that for me, is unfamiliar and never personally experienced. It led me to think about my own traditions with reference to food and the meals my family will consistently have year after year for specific holidays or events. Attached is a picture the actual Seder plate Matthew’s family provided at Passover dinner this year (2018).
The seder plate at Passover dinner this year (2018)
For more information of a traditional Seder plate served at Passover : https://www.chabad.org/holidays/passover/pesach_cdo/aid/1998/jewish/The-Seder-Plate.htm