Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: April 4, 2016
Primary Language: English
The informant is a Film Production and Biochemistry major at the University of Southern California, where he is in his third year. He is originally from Washington state, and his family moved there from North Dakota. Before North Dakota, his family lived in various parts of Eastern Europe. The informant says that is very much influenced by his grandfather, who is a professional storyteller.
In this piece, the informant describes how his family sees tomato soup—they have very particular thoughts on how it should be made and why.
“Both of my grandparents come from European places, and they’re very particular about their recipes and stuff. Like if you look at the way they care about their recipes, it’s just like equally the way that they would care about their folk tales. Like, we have the same borscht recipe that has been used since like my great grandparents. It’s passed down, you know, and it’s an old piece of paper and you can tell it’s been recopied over the years, but the most recent copy is in an old 1940s, it’s like an Eastern European cooking book that a bunch of the grandparent women, my family’s from North Dakota, so it was a bunch of North Dakotan Czech and German and Austrian, you know women and Russian and they all came together and they sat down at a typewriter and made, typed up all their family recipes from whatever cards or whatever.
So it’s kind of like, a little encyclopedia of like, a lot of family recipes, and my family’s borscht recipe, which is like a Russian soup, is in there. And it’s like, that’s like a very important thing to pass on, that recipe. And, you know, in like, I wish I had like a story I could say that they took from Europe, but that same preservation, like in a sense the recipe is its own like thing, and there’s a dill, like a dill tomato soup.
There’s like a little story about, like it’s like you know those grandparent sort of rant things about like “you don’t realize how important this is” but it like really changed, like, it’s like, they have this rant about tomato soup, and how like, how like Russia kind of invented tomato soup, and like how important, it’s like… Cause their version of tomato soup is um, there’s tomatoes, there’s dill, there’s sour cream, and like rice, and more like, substantial than just a regular soup.
And they kinda just like, this is like the original soup because you have grains for the soup that wouldn’t last because of mold and other stuff, you have tomatoes, which is like, were kinda hard to come by, so when you got those you just, cause it’s acidic and it’ll go bad, and like, they just talked, I don’t know, like, it’s just kinda a thing that they’re like, and you wouldn’t have tomato soup like this today, cause it’s just tomato soup in a modern sense. And this is another one of those recipes that they put into this book. I wish I had more of that rant off the top of my head.”
This piece brings up the question of ownership—when the grandparents talk about tomato soup, it’s to imply that Russian tomato soup is the “original” and most important tomato soup. The recipe itself is also interesting; though the informant did not remember the exact recipe, he remembered the specific reasons why ingredients were chosen, which gives the recipe much more context. To an outside listener, tomato, dill, and rice may seem like an arbitrary combination, but with the context that the tomatoes and grains would go bad unless made into soup, the reasons become clear. The way that the older women recorded these recipes for their descendants was also interesting, and it helped reinforce the importance that these recipes hold for them.