There is beauty and joy to be found in traditions - especially ones centered around food and family. These traditions often establish a foundation for how and what we eat. For many of us, it's how we pay homage to our parents, grandparents, or other friends and family members.
For me, there are pretty strong memories associated with my family’s food traditions. Memories as simple as sitting on the back porch snapping beans or shucking corn. When you are younger and all the adults are doing most of the work, you just sit there and listen. Listen to the stories they are sharing. Listen to the laughter. It isn’t until you get a bit older that you start contributing to those conversations. There is something so lullying and peaceful about performing these simple tasks in the midst of a simple conversation with loved ones. You can just be in the moment and soak up the experience. It often helps build a strong foundation to the person you become, because you learn what family is.
Every time I make fried cabbage, I put a spoonful of bacon grease in the skillet. I no longer fry the cabbage entirely in bacon grease like my grandma did! I’ve changed this tradition slightly into a brand new one - one that better fits my lifestyle. Or, it’s adding mayonnaise to chocolate cake. Grandma did that, now it’s one of my ways of keeping her memory alive.
Lucky for me, I’ve inherited both of my grandmas’ recipe cards and cookbooks, as well as rolling pins and a few of their aprons. The most special recipes, to me, are the ones jotted down on a blank page in their own handwriting. Some of them are just a name and a list of ingredients. No directions were needed. Case in point, Divinity. The recipe for this heavenly holiday confection is a list of ingredients and a temperature (252 degrees). That’s it. Grandma Evelyn was the one in charge of making Divinity for the holidays. It always came out perfect when she made it. Not so much when anyone else tried. Part of the joy in these old recipes is figuring out how exactly they were made. Trying (maybe more than a few times) to replicate the taste memory. Making these recipes, using the rolling pins, and wearing the aprons are memories of mine steeped in tradition.
It was always a special treat as a child when Grandma Gwen let you help her in the kitchen. Each summer, she would buy countless bushels of fresh peaches. The whole family contributed to getting those peaches turned into jam or put up for the winter. A sure-fire way to get kicked out of the kitchen was if you cut too much fruit off along with the skin. Waste not want not. (Fact: Mom used to do it on purpose when she got tired of peeling.) And then there were the special times as a young girl that I even got to put on one of her aprons and stand on the kitchen stool and just stir and stir the jam.
Tradition is such a powerful thing. The rituals that we create as a family over the years, decades and generations help to define us and ground us all at once. They don’t anchor us in the past so much as guide us in how we create now and in the future. Making jellies and jams evokes those same memories for me. My apron may be different today, but the tradition is the same.
Hold tight to those traditions.