Friday, December 19, 2014

Italian Christmas Traditions Part 2

Fish and grits, this and other fish recipes below

The seven fishes Italian Christmas tradition began in southern Italy. The tradition calls for serving seven various seafood dishes on Christmas Eve. In my research I found three theories all rooted in Catholic and biblical culture about why the tradition calls for serving seven fishes. Yesterday I talked about the first today let's talk about the last two: The seven deadly sins—pride, envy, anger, gluttony, sloth, lust and greed and the seven days it took Mary and Joseph to travel to Bethlehem where the baby Jesus was born. The fish feast on Christmas Eve can include among other dishes Lobster Ravioli, Tuna Fish and Cannellini Beans, Salmon and Chick Peas, Mussels Marinara, Fried Flounder Filet, and Fried Calamari. As the NPR story below illustrates, if you grow up in the U. S. south the tradition takes on a different taste. Please share your Holiday cultural tradition in the comment section below.


Seven fishes recipes from various newspapers:

Christmas Eve, A Feast, Fry Pans And Seven Fishes:


More on the History of the Italian Diaspora in the U.S. South and food:

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A New History and US and Cuban Foodways?

A slice of rum cake, recipes below
President Barack Obama has taken historic steps toward normalizing US Cuba relations. the two countries have been at loggerheads since the Castro regime embraced socialism and confiscated the property of US companies such as the sugarcane controlled business of United Fruit Company of Boston in the 1960s. After the Haitian revolution sugarcane became colonial Cuba's most important cash crop. Thereafter Cubans perfected the production of Aguardiente (distilled sugar cane spirits or rum) which they used in numerous ways besides as an intoxicating drink. Large and small producers used rum to trade for food staples such as salt, spices, and other prized goods. During the long struggle to end Spanish colonial control of the island, Cuban rum in contrast to Spanish wine, served as a marker of Cuban national identity. Cubans drank it and made special occasion treats like rum cake during the Christmas holidays. When I spent time in Cuba in 2004, I had a home-cooked meal in a rundown housing project as well enjoying food and many other spaces. I found the resourcefulness of cooks on the island fascinating and the food delicious despite the hardships that the US embargo had created.  It will be interesting to see how changes in US Cuban relations going forward, particularly trade relations, affects US and Cuban foodways as cooks in both countries gain access to new ingredients, recipes, and cooking technologies.

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United Fruit Company Stories & Recipes:

Holiday Stories and Recipes:

Cuban Foodways and Recipes:

A Savannah Christmas Tradition

Savannah red rice, this and other recipes below
When I see or smell certain foods they trigger me to think about Christmas. I recall the joy that came to the faces of senior citizens I interviewed when researching and writing my book Hog and Hominy. I asked them, what foods remind you of Christmas when you were a child? Ruth Thorpe was born in Harlem in 1932. Her mother migrated from Savannah, Georgia, to Harlem, where she worked as a professional cook. Ruth had vivid memories of her mother’s Christmas holiday cooking including or mother’s “[Savannah] red rice, okra, and tomatoes” dish. As in Cuba and low country South Carolina, low country Georgia folk viewed a huge rice dish like Savannah red rice as an absolute essential at any meal they served. Roy Miller, born in Harlem in 1924, said, “that’s interesting because that’s a crossover. Because my [Caribbean] aunts used to do red rice and all of that. I can’t say that is a purely West Indian dish, it may be part of an assimilation . . . it emanated from the South, but my aunts used to do that beautifully also.” My research shows that indeed Savannah red rice is an adaptation of a similar dish made all over West Africa called Jollof rice. Here are some related recipes below.

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Hog and Hominy

Rice and Beans and Peas and Rice Stories:

Traditional Savannah Red rice:

Vegan Savannah Red Rice:

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

British Influences on North American Food, Pie

Mince meat pie, recipes below
I came across a 1661 recipe in an English cook book for mince meat pie written in old English. The recipe can best be described as decidedly savory: “To make a minced meat pie. . . . Take a large Neats [ox] tongue shread it very well, three pound and a half of Suet [The hard fatty tissue around the kidneys of cattle and sheep] very well shread, Currans three pound, halfe an ounce of beaten Cloves and Mace, season it with Salt when you think’t fit, halfe a preserved Orange, or instead of it Orange P[ee]ls, a quarter of a pound of Sugar, a little Lemon Pill sliced very thin, put all these together very well, put to it two Spoonfuls of Verjuyce, and a quarter of a Pint of Sack [a dry fortified wine with brandy such as Port or Sherry].” My grandmother Lucy Opie grew up with the sweet interpretation of this recipe in Virginia. Her pie created a unique fruity and spicy aroma throughout her house. 

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Sweet Mincemeat Pie Recipe:

Vegan Sweet Mincemeat Pie Recipe:

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Christmas Cookie Baking In 1950s Wisconsin Part 3

Baking cookies, Library of Congress Photograph 
Spriz cookies, image from
Maria Birch remembers “when us children became old enough to join the crew that turned out hundreds of Christmas cookies,” in her Prussian grandmother’s kitchen in the 1950s. We would pile the cookies on plates wrapped in plastic to later share with family and friends as they left our house after a holiday visit. Grandma would store the baked molasses, gingerbread men, sugar, butter, spritz, sour cream, peanut butter, and decorated cookies in recycled gift boxes in an unheated upstairs bedroom. When it was time to start “making the plates,” which by-the-way were real plates, she would open the boxes, put them on top of the double bed and then begin selecting cookies. She knew who liked which cookies and made sure they got on their plate. Kitchen crew members then wrap and label the plate with the recipients’ names and store them upstairs in an unheated bedroom on top of ironing boards, card tables, and dressers. It was such fun to be sent scurrying up stairs by Grandma, rushing to retrieve the plate of goodies for a soon-to-depart family member or friend.

Christmas Cooking Baking in 1950s Wisconsin Series:

Monday, December 15, 2014

Christmas Cookie Baking In 1950s Wisconsin Part 2

Sugar Cookies, recipes below
Baking cookies, Library of Congress photograph
Maria Birch grew on a farm in central Wisconsin in the 1950s next to her grandmother’s house. Her grandma’s gifts often centered on her cooking and baking skills especially cookies! “During the Depression she and grandpa housed over 30 people on the farm and cookies served as Christmas treats for the guest.”  As the family, got "of age" and left home they would “request grandma's cookies as their Christmas gift and she was always happy to oblige. While the men hunted for deer on the Friday after Thanksgiving, grandma stayed busy making cookies. The list was endless, molasses cookies, gingerbread men, sugar cookies, butter cookies, spritzes, sour cream cookies, cut-out cookies, peanut butter cookies. And all of them specially decorated for the season. We all participated at the level we wanted, until we were old enough to know our way around the kitchen. Please, comment on your holiday memories and recipes, I'd love to read them. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Feeding The Revolution in Alabama

Fried Chicken, related recipes below 
As a college student in the 1940s, Civil Rights leader Ralph David Abernathy led a student strike to protest food inequalities between faculty and students in the cafeteria of Alabama State College (Now Alabama State University (ASU). Abernathy enrolled in Alabama State on the GI Bill after serving in the Army. His classmates elected him student body president in his sophomore year. He remembers the students at Alabama State eating “heaps of steaming pork and beans—and nothing more, not even a piece of bread to sop it up,” for lunch. Dinner was not much different: spam with unbuttered grits, while the faculty feasted on country ham. “After several weeks of this fare, we were sick to death of it and were dreaming every night of fried chicken and biscuits.”  Abernathy would go on to organize a successful student boycott of the cafeteria that resulted in student access to "huge platters of fried chicken" and other culinary improvements as well.  

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Civil Rights Stories and Recipes:

Feeding the Revolution Series:

Fried Chicken Stories and Recipes:

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Holiday Food Traditions in Central America

Tamales (courtesy of
Fred Opie tells a story about Christmas food traditions in Guatemala and suggestions for passing on family traditions to children.  He is a Professor of History and Foodways at Babson College. 

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Guatemala Stories and Recipes:

Tamale Stories with Recipes:

Holiday Stories and Recipes:

Friday, December 12, 2014

An Italian Christmas Tradition Part 1

Roasted Salmon, recipes below
The Italian seven fishes tradition comes from southern Italy and calls for serving seven different fish dishes on Christmas Eve. There are three popular theories about why seven fishes: the Seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church—baptism, penance, Holy Eucharist, confirmation, marriage, holy orders, and the sacrament of the sick; the seven deadly sins—pride, envy, anger, gluttony, sloth, lust and greed; the seven days it took Mary and Joseph to travel to Bethlehem where the baby Jesus was born. The fish feast on Christmas Eve can include among other dishes Lobster Ravioli, Tuna Fish and Cannellini Beans, Salmon and Chick Peas, Mussels Marinara, Fried Flounder Filet, Fried Calamari, and BaccalĂ  (bacalao in Spanish) served stewed, in a salad, or deep-fried. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Feeding The Revolution in Toledo, Ohio

Kroger Super Market, 1945 (Photo Courtesy of
The series Feeding the Revolution delves into movements for progressive change. The series is based on a larger book project that in part looks at the individuals, organizations, and movements to end discrimination in the food industry for customers and would-be employees. Todays chapter in the series turns to Toledo, Ohio. The Reverend W. Payne Stanley, pastor of All Saints Episcopal Church in Toledo, served as president of the Toledo branch of the NAACP. He led successful boycotts against the Kroger grocery and baking company chain for refusing to hire African Americans for other than menial jobs. The Cleveland Call (Also at times called the Cleveland Call and Post) served as an important African-American operated newspaper which served all Ohio's sizable population of African-Americans from the South as well as covered stories from around the country. The paper like others of its time had a food section with recipes reflective of a readership with roots in the Mississippi Delta and Louisiana. The following recipe is a case in point:

Chicken Gumbo Recipe
Serves 4

1 medium size chicken cut into serving pieces (3 lbs.)
Flour dredging
Salt pork for frying
1 onion finely chopped
4 cups of okra, cooked
1 sprig parsley
½ red pepper finely chopped
1 ½ cups of tomato paste
3 cups of boiling water
1 cup cooked rice
Salt and pepper
Herbs to taste—file, bay leaf recommended

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper, dredge with flour. Rend salt pork and sautĂ© chicken until tender. Fry onion in fat left in pan- add red pepper, okra and parsley. Cook slowly for 10-15 minutes. Add to chicken with tomato paste, water and 1 ½ teaspoons of salt and whatever other herbs you desire. Cook slowly until chicken is tender; add rice.
Cleveland Call and Post, May 20, 1950

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Ohio Food Stories and Recipes:

Feeding the Revolution Series: