Friday, December 24, 2010

Food Traditions

I am pretty sure that gardeners think about food more often and in different ways than a lot of non-gardeners. Since I am the only vegetable gardener where I work, and I get to choose most of the news “briefs” that go into the little newspaper for which I work, it wouldn’t be a surprise to any of my gardening friends that the paper contains a fair amount of food related news.

However, a week or so back, a non-gardener asked why we’ve included so much news about kosher foods (it’s a Jewish publication), threats to kosher food rules around the world, new certifications, and sources of information about keeping kosher. My thinking is that food plays a very important role in tying people to their cultures and to their families. The laws of kashrut (kosher lifestyle) are an important part of Judaism, even though not all Jews follow the rules in their daily lives.

Many less observant Jews, though, do follow the kosher laws to the best of their ability during the High Holidays, the holiest days for the community. My belief is that food traditions are a strong connection to community and to the past, that following the food traditions of Judaism during these times provides a great connection to the Jewish community, and can even light a way back to the community for people who have not been actively Jewish in the rest of their lives.

Since I think that community is important for the happiness and well-being of people in general, I keep including information about kosher foods and laws.

I am not Jewish, but my family has some food traditions, too. One that is important to me is making egg-noodles for holiday meals. The dough has to be rolled out, dried for an hour or so, cut into noodles, and then dried some more, so making these noodles doesn’t exactly provide instant gratification, but taking the time to make them connects me to a kitchen-full of older female relatives --an assortment of aunts, great aunts, and grandmothers, now all dead-- who put together huge holiday meals in Claremore, Oklahoma. The noodles, cooked in broth made from chicken “parts,” also connect me to the frugal frontier cookery of my family’s past.

Of course, we have some other food traditions that are less frugal. One is Aunt Mickey’s fruit salad, which includes Jello, whipped cream, and a whole lot of fruits that are not all in season at the same time. I don’t make this one any more, but my Mom does, and so do some nieces (who learned how from Mom/Grammy) and probably a sister or two. We also eat a lot of pie during most holidays, and some of us have convinced ourselves that pumpkin pie, in particular, is a healthful breakfast food.

As a gardener in the Southern US, the foods I grow in the yard help connect me to the South. Sweet potatoes, especially, play a larger role in my winter diet than ever before, because they grow so well in my yard. I’ve been eating more greens, all kinds, and in summer I’ve had tomato sandwiches after my neighbor-across-the-street, a Southern girl, told me how much she likes them. If I had a bigger yard, we would have more corn and more crowder peas.

I would say that these are also foods that mostly grow well in Oklahoma, but when I was a kid we ate a lot of magazine-inspired meals that involved cans of cream of mushroom soup. Holiday foods were an exception (except, obviously, for Aunt Mickey's fruit salad).

As I begin to put together my garden plan for next year, one of the things on my mind is making sure that the varieties are totally appropriate for the place where I live, the Southern US. I’ve made a lot of progress in this direction over the past almost-twenty years, but I sometimes get pulled off-track by the amazing descriptions in seed catalogues. If I choose carefully, though, the foods I grow will be great ingredients for traditional Southern meals.

In this way, gardening and then eating what grows in the yard serves as a reminder of my connection to the geographical and historical place where I live and have raised my family, and to the community that is here.


  1. I agree with you that I talk so much more about food now that I grow it. It does go hand and hand. I think food traditions are important, I know for our family I always look forward to the holidays because of the food traditions. Pumpkin pie is healthy isn't it? It has lots of pumpkin in it. Hahaha.
    Happy holidays.

  2. meemsnyc,

    Pumpkin pie not only contains a vegetable that provides lots of beta carotene (future vitamin A!) but also contains eggs and milk. How bad could that be?

    I hope you and your family have a peaceful, joyful holiday season, with plenty of good food.


  3. Hi, Do you have suggestions on the types of sweet potatoes that grow in Atlanta? I would like to try them for the first time. Thanks for any help you can provide. I like reading your blog...


  4. Hi Kayla!

    I'm glad you like the blog. Writing it keeps me from boring my family quite so much with garden-conversation!

    I am pretty sure than any kind of sweet potato will grow here. I grow Beauregard (that I originally purchased from Home Depot several years ago) and Puerto Rican (from a friend whose wife's family has been growing this particular strain in Cobb County for 100 years).

    The Beauregards are more like the sweets that are available in grocery stores.

    At the Plant-a-Row-for-the-Hungry garden where I volunteer, we have also grown Vardamon. Those worked well, too, but they weren't as productive for us as Beauregard, and a major goal for that garden is the production of a lot of food for donation.

    I am thinking about adding another variety this year, but I haven't decided which to try. I have heard that there are heirloom varieties out there that have flavors worth trying, but the couple that I tried one year didn't survive (it was a bad year for sweets in my yard; we had a roly-poly infestation that was unbelievable).

    I will probably order one from SandHill Preservation, but it won't be one that I rely on for a major crop this summer, because they send out slips so late. It would just be one little bit of the sweet potato patch.

    Let me know what you choose--I would love to hear how your year of trying sweet potatoes goes!


  5. A sweet potato-related note from my Mother:

    "Have enjoyed reading Amy's garden blog (she printed a copy of her 2009 notes and had it put in a binder). What she might want to add for 2010: The sweet potatoes, she helped plant in Choctaw, did great. We have been eating sweet potatoes regularly and still have more left. For Thanksgiving, one sweet potato fed eleven people, with leftovers. For Christmas, one sweet potato fed twelve people, with leftovers. Those were some sweet potatoes!"

    Her sweet potatoes, Beauregards, were enormous. Some were grown in the ground (she has sandy soil) and some were in big half-barrels.

    Mom doesn't usually read my blog online, so she must have missed the post that shows me holding one of her giant sweets (I helped my youngest sister dig them up when I was visiting in Oct.).


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