Our Growing Roots: Connecting Across Generations Through Food Traditions
A Holiday Reflection
The inspiration for this month’s column came a few weeks ago when my grandmother surprised me at work with a fresh batch of her homemade applesauce. Coincidentally, I had forgotten to bring breakfast that day so you can imagine my delight! As I sat at my desk and enjoyed this unexpected treat, and all of the love and labor she put into it, I felt a heart swell of emotion. I imagined her in the kitchen, peeling each apple by hand, slicing, cooking, stirring, cooling…just to give it away to the people she loves. She bakes pies for the holidays, and surprises us with stuffed cabbage because she knows it’s our favorite.
So you can imagine how fulfilling it is for me to give back to her in that same way. She recently celebrated her 84th birthday and if I’d made her only one cupcake, she’d have likely given it away! So instead, I made a whole extra batch so she could share with her neighbors and friends, who weeks later are still raving about them! The compliment to my culinary abilities pales in comparison to the idea that this simple gesture has created such a ripple of joy.
It’s amazing how deeply food joins us to the people we love, to feelings of connection, and even especially to the memories of those who are no longer with us. Each of these memories tell a story. For example, give me a plate of poutine, and for a moment I will miss my grandfather, as this was his favorite. But then I will laugh as I tell the story about a hilarious mishap involving poutine during our trip to Canada. Every time I reach for the black pepper, I remember my Uncle Dennis and how his love of this spice often rendered his meals indiscernible under a thick black layer. For my husband, some of his fondest memories are of his own grandparents. The other day, as he searched through an old box for his grandmother’s famous blueberry muffin recipe, he told our daughters a story. He told them about the time his grandfather jokingly threatened to eat all the muffins. In response, my husband gobbled up as many as he could (he recalled it was over a dozen!) and became so sick that he couldn’t keep them down. With the smell of Gram’s muffins filling in the air, and the sound of my children’s laughter as they delighted in the story, the feeling of interconnectedness was nearly tangible. So while our girls never got the chance to meet their great grandparents, there was a piece of each of them with us in the kitchen that morning.
I have learned a lot from my grandmother throughout the years. By example, she has taught me that food can be an incredible expression of love. One that connects us not only to each other, but to our memories, and our ancestral roots. In the spirit of the holiday season, I encourage everyone to celebrate these meaningful food-based connections. This holiday, start a new tradition. Dig out your old recipe cards, and host a Holiday Food Share, where family members and friends cook a recipe that’s most meaningful to them, while sharing a memory of what makes it so special. What a great opportunity to bake that casserole your great aunt was known for, and to share stories rich in history and nostalgia. When our fondest memories come together, interwoven across the dinner table, we connect with the true meaning of this holiday season, and to the roots of who we are and where we come from.
Here a few more ideas to help enrich your connections this holiday season:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cheryl lives in Western Massachusetts with her husband and two daughters. In addition to freelance writing, she works as a private practice Mental Health Counselor in Chicopee. Cheryl is passionate about local and organic food. In 2012, she founded GMO Free Massachusetts, a grassroots organization designed to educate consumers about the benefits of an organic lifestyle while empowering people to make informed choices. Cheryl is also an avid theater-goer, a passionate writer, and aspiring playwright.
[Photo credit: (cc) Cheryl Przezdziecki]