Visiting the grocery store this time of year, one can’t help but notice the boxes of matzos (unleavened crackers) that line the shelves of end aisles, a reminder to Jew and non-Jew alike that Passover has arrived. Most of us know that this “bread” made without yeast is a reminder of the haste with which the Israelites had to flee from Egypt during the Exodus. They simply did not have time to wait for the yeast to rise to bake bread for the journey.
And then, I was thinking, about how much food is not only directly tied to our religious traditions, but our own particular family celebrations, and our culture’s collective memory. When you come to think of it, food has not only the ability to sustain us physically, but to feed our spiritual selves as well.
My family of origin has been in the Northeast since the mid nineteenth century… a loud, slightly off kilter band of intelligent, fun loving but devout Irish Catholics whose gatherings always included “spirits” of some kind or another, and lots of hearty, but not so heart friendly FOOD! Salad, until recently, was an exotic afterthought.
We’re talking roast beef, oven roasted potatoes that brown a bit on the sides, buttered green beans, buttered carrots, actually sticks of butter in just about everything we ate. Apple pie, cinnamon rolls, and profiteroles (with homemade fudge sauce) just about every Sunday. My Granny always “did” dessert. In fact, she was so well known for her perfection in the art of pie crustery, I actually asked for one of her pies during my epic first childbirth….little did I know that was not going to be such a great idea!
How I loved to sit with my mind and soul pleasantly lulled with that warm and fuzzy afterglow of feasting and listen to my uncles argue about football or religion or tell outrageously politically incorrect jokes. Or if my cousins insisted, I would slink my body down to the paneled basement where there was ping pong and privacy from the adults. Sunday was not so much a day of rest for our family, but a way for the generations to be together in the profound way that only sharing a meal provides.
Listening to the stories of my friends and their Italian aunties who brought their own Lemoncello or women who watched their Nana lay out the phyllo sheets for her Baklava, I always hear affection, wistfulness, and a sense of connection. Likewise, I feel that sense of togetherness in our larger community in our national celebration of Thanksgiving. While households may differ on the menu, there is comfort and a sense of identity amidst the turkey and gravy, the stuffing and pumpkin pie.
I would love to hear from you and a memory of a meal or a food that just makes you go “ahhh.”
You know, it may be one that gives you a sense of communion with those around you, like my Granny’s Sunday dinners. Or, it could be that first cup of coffee that you look forward to each morning, a daily ritual signaling the start of a new day.
Book of the Day (forgot to add as I was traveling): Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl
Quote from the Book of the Day: “Teenagers like sweets best of all, and that year I discovered the secret of every experienced cook: desserts are a cheap trick. People love them even when they’re bad. And so I began to bake, appreciating the alchemy that can turn flour, water, chocolate, and butter into devil’s food cake and make it disappear in a flash…Boys, in particular, seemed to like it.”