Have you ever reflected on who you really are? Not from a psychological perspective, but from an ethnic and ancestral one. I believe that food is among the first elements that connect us to our past and defines who we are.
I can relate to this firsthand. I grew up in a three-generation household with my Italian grandparents and my parents, of course. Food was the centerpiece of our existence. My Nana and Baba were always referring to their parents and grandparents. In particular, it was generally a discussion about food and recipes. Or, what it was like back “then,” when the family had come over “on-the-boat” and settled in the Bronx. While I think they described to me the hardships they faced, I know they also romanticized it a bit.
We were told stories of how all the relatives pitched in to make the Thanksgiving feast, which was really an Italian-American feast. I’ll never forget my grandmother’s mantra, “Many hands make for light work.” Turkey, by the way was an optional menu item. All the foods present were from recipes and techniques handed down through generations. A typical menu consisted of an antipasto, a soup course, some pasta with meatballs and gravy, a roast of some sort with vegetables, nuts and fruit for dessert along with Italian pastries from a nearby bakery. My mom, to this day eschews Turkey. It just isn’t her idea of Thanksgiving. For my ancestors, Thanksgiving was a time to reflect on how grateful they were to be here in the United States. However, they clung to their ancestral roots like a worn, cozy baby blanket by serving their time-tested heritage foods.
My story is not unique. I’ve interviewed scores of people who bring their ethnic foods to their Thanksgiving table to honor their ancestral traditions. A family recipe brings a wonderful sense of nostalgia, love, belonging, connection and roots that cannot be denied. Take Brazilian born Ellie Markovitch, for instance who now lives in Troy, NY. She makes her Brazilian cheese bread, “Paeo de Queijo,” on Thanksgiving to keep her food roots alive. She told me, “We celebrate the Thanksgiving meal with recipes and stories from around the world. That is because all the members in our family were born in a different country. I was born in Brazil, Dmitri in Estonia, Lina,who is 5 was born in France, and Lara, 2, was born in the US.” And Loring Barnes, a 10th direct descendent of William Bradford, the first governor of Massachusetts and the person to declare the first Thanksgiving, makes her family acorn squash recipe and the Barnes Family Baked Chocolate Pudding – both recipes can be linked to her pilgrim ancestors.
So, if you are wondering who you are. Why not start with your ancestral foods? I bet some of them will be on your Thanksgiving table!
This blog post is from our guest blogger Carole Murko of Heirloom Meals