Informant: For Christmas, ever since I was a kid, my mom would make, uh… Rigatoni… It was two dishes. One was Rigatoni alla Norma which is like, uh, an eggplant dish. It’s Sicilian and her dad like passed down the recipe. Um… And then she would also cook sausage and peppers? Which is kind of like a stew, almost… I don’t know if it originated anywhere or if it was like Sicilian or Italian at all. It was just something that like, at Christmas we knew we were gonna have that.
INFORMANT’S RELATIONSHIP TO THE PIECE:
Informant: I think it’s nostalgic. Um… I think especially those dishes, I remember my mom talking about the Rigatoni alla Norma, her mom and dad would make that for holidays when she was a kid. She never, like, ate it on her own. It was only when she had kids and a family that she wanted a tradition. My mom’s really big on traditions, like having certain things that we as a family do for the holiday. And food is a big part of that… I think it’s definitely nostalgic. I don’t think it’s just because of the holiday ‘cause my family’s not religious… It’s just like we know that on this day we will all have this meal together. It’s really about togetherness.
Interviewer: Do you think when you have kids you’ll do the same thing?
Informant: I don’t know if I’ll stick to those dishes. Because, like, even though I’m Italian… I don’t like pasta… Um… But even if I didn’t like the pasta, those meals still have a special place in my heart. Just because my mom would slave in the kitchen all day just so we could all sit down and have time together, and it was always really like… Sweet. And I want that for my family. The appreciation. The coming together gratefully with food on the table.
In Folk Groups and Folklore Genres: an Introduction, Elliott Oring writes, “Eating is one of the earliest interactive behaviors of a newborn, persisting as a situation for intimate human interaction throughout life… [W]e are likely to bring a great fund of emotion to the behavior of eating” (34). There is an emotional quality surrounding food, and eating is a highly social activity. The informant does not enjoy the taste of Rigatoni alla Norma, yet she has an emotional attachment to the dish because it is part of her family tradition. However, she does not plan to make this dish a staple of Christmas dinner with her future family. Instead, her focus will be continuing the tradition of coming together to share a meal. The informant does not seem to feel that the tradition is diminished if the dish changes. To her family, the Christmas dinner tradition is primarily about “coming together gratefully with food on the table.” If her children do not like the dish the informant prepares, perhaps they will change the dish too. And so the tradition would continue to vary, and yet, the heart of it––the togetherness––would remain intact. This demonstrates how traditions can change overtime (adhering to Alan Dundes’ definition of folklore as demonstrating multiplicity and variation), and also that foodways are concerned, not only with specific ingredients, dishes, and food preparation, but with why and how people eat.
Source cited above:
Oring, Elliott. Folk Groups and Folklore Genres: an Introduction. Utah State University Press, 1986.