During the Fall 2012 semester at Chesapeake College in Maryland, Professor Eleanor Welsh asked her students to reflect on and recall some of their strongest food memories. Then she asked them to take it a bit further with a journal assignment to think about their food heritage and to consider what dishes and spices taste and smell like their respective childhoods.
The students were asked to talk to their families about ethnic origins and family recipes, and to do some research based on what they learn or guess about your their own backgrounds.
The students were also asked to think about the friend in the last section of Omnivore’s Dilemma who tries to recreate the tastes of his Italian childhood in California, Andrew Beahrs’s attempts to find the foods Twain loved a century ago, or Julia Child’s surprise that the French would have wine with lunch.
NOVEMBER 11, 2012
Just what are the dishes and spices that taste and smell like my childhood? That is not a difficult question to answer as I’m only 25 and my childhood was not that long ago. All of those childhood memories of taste and smell plus feel, sound, and sight are still in my food life. Also I have lived all of my life in the same area. Currently, I live three miles from my first home. So I have been eating the same food and produce my entire life. I am not like Angelo Garro, Michael Pollan’s friend who at age 58 was a long way, both in years and geography, from his childhood food memories.
My ancestors came from the European countries of Ireland, England, Germany, Sweden, and Austria in the 1800s. My grandparents were born in Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. By 1960, they were all living in Queen Anne’s County. While they enjoyed their meat, turkey or chicken, and mashed potatoes, they also loved the local seafood, wild fowl, and produce. One unusual food custom one grandmother followed was cooking black eyed peas with ham every New Year’s Day. She said it would bring, “good luck” My family still follows this practice every New Year’s day.
I can relate to Andrew Beahr’s and Twain’s ideas about food. Beahr wrote about Twain’s food coming from “distinct American places…” (p284). Living on the Eastern Shore of Maryland gives us the chance to get food from our gardens, our sky, and our rivers. Not all Americans do this. Beahr also states that “it takes work to know food.” (p287) I gather some of my food – like blue crabs. I also plant and then gather food like corn and tomatoes. Our family lives on a 20 acre farm and, each year, raises cows, Black Angus steers or Holstein from calves, and takes them to be slaughtered in Sudlerville. This meat then goes in our freezer. Working for our food and getting it from the local area is a definite part of my heritage. We also grow hay to feed our cattle and two horses. Getting up the hay is another example of how we “know food.” We also have a goose blind and a pond on our property.
The way you prepare food is part of your heritage too. Twain “…could still hear the cracking as a melon split…could still see the rich red meat and the black seeds… “(p287). This reminds me of an article we recently read about sounds of eating. Other sounds of today for me are the sounds of live crabs trying to claw their way out of a boiling pot and the sounds of crunching while eating an ear of hot, buttery corn. All of these sounds are part of my food heritage.
Roasted turkey, gravy, and cranberries, are still an important part of our Thanksgiving dinner just as it was in an 1827 novel mentioned by Beahrs. He includes a recipe for left over turkey, “…Pick meat off turkey…shred…pour over any gravy that was left, place it in a hot oven… all will agree that turkey is better this time than it was first…” (p249-250) The only change today is a microwave has taken the place of the oven for heating up leftovers. For as long as I am I can remember, we have been going to my mom’s parents for holiday dinners. In addition to the regular Thanksgiving food, we fry our own oysters and enjoy homemade blueberry, pumpkin, and white potato pies. The white potato pie is made and brought by Aunt Charlotte from Rock Hall. Christmas and Easter have special menus too. Christmas is beef tenderloin and raw oysters while Easter is ham and lamb. Also, the day after each holiday, we return for the leftovers just as Beahr described.
I never thought too much about my food heritage. I knew a little about my ancestors’ birthplaces. I am very fortunate to live in a place where so much food can be caught (crabs), raised cattle, hunted (geese) and farmed (corn) on our land, air, and water. Also, the fact that my mother and grandmothers loved to cook and try new recipes helped me explore new foods. Living on a small farm has been a good food experience too. I know as I get older these past and present food memories will stay with me forever.