Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Family Food Lore

Preserving Your Food Stories

How many culinary wizards are in your family? Regardless of whether or not they were gourmet chefs, the people in your family who were responsible for cooking and serving your favorite – or not favorite- foods make for wonderful food stories. These are the tales you want to share with others. So why not turn your remembrances of Aunt Rose, Grandpa Joe or your mother in the kitchen or at the grill into the stuff of food lore. These culinary kings, queens and paupers had a way with food that is for one reason or another unforgettable and preserving them can be as simple as spreading jam on bread.

Food lore is a category of folklore which refers to the traditional beliefs, myths, tales, and practices of a people (folk) that is shared in an informal manner (word of mouth, blog posts, etc.). Your food lore - funny, happy, sad - tells others about special people, places and events in your life.

For example, my cousin Douglas wrote a humorous food tale about the summer his dad brought home an ice cream machine. In the 1940’s this old fashioned hand cranked apparatus was the highlight of their family summer where, living in the north San Francisco Bay Area with its mild Mediterranean climate, outdoor dinners were commonplace.

The ice cream machine became more of a summer highlight for Uncle Bob than it was Douglas. In fact, my uncle’s explorations of various foods as ice cream flavors soon left the boy uninterested in ice cream of any kind. What kid doesn’t love the creamy texture and rich taste of vanilla, strawberries and/or chocolate, right? But surplus zucchini from the summer garden ice cream?

Douglas’ food lore captured Uncle Bob’s curious creativity. I myself would have never tried summer vegetables ice cream, but it was wonderful to read about my cousin’s experience. And Douglas really liked capturing this story so that his children and grandchildren could read something about Uncle Bob whom they never met.

So, if you’ve got a food story about how someone made the perfect (or worst) lemonade or sweet potato pie, take a few minutes to write down what you recall. You can include an optional recipe. But, remember, accuracy isn’t always the point of a food tale.

My Aunt Pearl measures ingredients with her hand. “A palm full of ground meat and a pinch of salt,” is how she determines how much of what goes into her delicious keftikas (meat patties). And she learned from her mother, an immigrant from Rhodes, who learned from her mother who didn’t use measuring spoons.

Events make for wonderful food lore, too. The boyfriend of a woman who loved to bake placed an engagement ring inside a bag of flour he picked up for her on his way home from work. It wasn’t until she got ready to bake a cake that she discovered his ‘proposal’. Now that’s a food tale worth telling again and again.

Celebrate the food lore moments of your life by writing them down or by recording them as a pod cast or video. Start with notes about a family reunion, wedding, beach picnic or campfire meal then expand them into sentences or paragraphs. In no time at all you will have chronicled your unique family culinary moments for all time. And, who knows, you may inspire others to experiment with their food ways – or at least discourage them from making homemade zucchini ice cream.

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