Thanksgiving is already under our belts (or should that be bulging at our waistlines)? But as the rest of the holiday season approaches it got me thinking about food, and how it shapes our celebrations, mirrors our many and varied cultures, and is simply an integral part of how we come together at this time of year with family and friends.
One of my earliest holiday childhood memories growing up in England is being at Grandad’s house, to stir the Christmas Pudding (a mixture of dried fruits, candied peel, a few shots of Irish Whiskey and a bottle of Guinness stout). He would ceremoniously hand us a huge wooden spoon. The tradition was that each grandchild – eight of us all together - took a turn. Our job was to stir the thick, goopy, cake-like mixture, drop in a silver sixpenny piece (for luck!) and make a wish. If I close my eyes I can still smell the rich fruit spiked in boozy liquid, and hear the mixture slurping in the chipped earthenware bowl as we stirred. He told us it was a secret family recipe handed down from his great-grandmother. Sadly he never passed it on before he died and Christmas Pudding has never quite tasted the same ever since.
More recently I was delighted to be invited to share in the celebration of Hanukkah with my dear friend, Madeline. I savored my first taste of Latkes (potato pancakes) with applesauce. If I close my eyes I can still taste the crunch of the pancakes and the sweetness of the apple. There is also the bitter taste of defeat as I failed miserably at Dreidel!
It’s amazing when you ask people about food and how many memories that evokes. Foods they loved. Foods they hated! What foods do you remember from childhood that were always part of your family holiday celebration? Is it granny’s homemade apple pie; mom’s signature sausage and chestnut stuffing; auntie’s giblet gravy; dad’s sugar cookies; or is it boiled-to-death mushy Brussel Sprouts that your cousin insisted she make?
In this busy season take a few minutes to sit down with your favorite holiday beverage – a warm cup of apple cider; mulled wine; a chilled glass of Chardonnay, or even a nice hot cup of tea – and close your eyes. Think back. What foods do you remember? Can you smell it – was the odor sweet, or salty? How did it sound – did it sizzle in the pan? Can you taste it? Did it crunch in your mouth or did it melt? Did you eat it with your hands and get sticky fingers? Describe every mouthful. Was it delicious? Or was it disgusting (like the mushy Brussel Sprouts)?
As storytellers, we all like to share our heritage and there is no easier way to do this than with food. And if you can’t think of anything right now, then pay just a little extra attention this year to all that festive fare around us, and look for the stories behind it. I’m sure you’ll find at least one tale you’ll want to share.