Thursday, December 28, 2006

On Curious Food Traditions

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!
One of the things that made our time in France last fall so wonderful was the wealth of new food experiences we had (like Jeff's chestnut creme Belgian waffle at right). Well, back here stateside, I’m stuck again with Chick-fil-a, China Inn and Tex-mex. While I’m quite fond of any of the above, they tend to blend into the humdrum of life.

Then arrive the holidays. That particular time of year when we gather with family, whether willingly or unwillingly, and somehow the nostalgia of it all seems to brush the rough edges a little smoother. And there is none so central to these holiday gatherings as food, and at no other time of year do more traditions make their way to the communal table. For example, my employer went all out for a traditional Thanksgiving meal (okay, well, it was a potluck. They bought us Turkey, I brought store-bought pecan pie). However, for Christmas, we had catered barbeque lunch. Call it bucking tradition, but who knows that for some of you, the smell of pulled pork and vinegar sauce means nothing less than Merry Christmas.

My family’s holiday table has never been too steeped in oddity, but we like tradition. Turkey for Thanksgiving, never anything made of sweet potatoes (to Jeff’s horror), and Sister Schubert’s yeast rolls. Christmas dinner tends to center around a pork roast or some sort of beef with a fancy name. I believe this year was “standing crown roast”. Methinks we should have all been seated in some royal hall, wearing pelts and fancy headgear lifting our goblets. Sadly, it was just my sister's kitchen table, though we did raise our goblets, er, glasses to Christ, since He is after all the reason we do celebratory things this time of year like indulging in crown roast and Sister Schubert’s yeast rolls (yes, we have them on Christmas too).

While I appreciate my family's traditions, one thing I love about being married to Jeff is the decidedly Amish-country bent that his family’s traditional meals have. Foods of which I could ne'er have dreamt have been gracing their holiday table for years. And now, I can freely say, I’d been missing out before I had them. Have you experienced home-made hamloaf? Think meatloaf, but with a sweet glaze and several lovely Mennonite women with head coverings joining you. Corn pudding is another Lancaster favorite. It joins the ranks with Himalayas Indian food as something Jeff and I will eat until we’re sick.

Then there are the food oddities that have nothing to do with Pennsylvania Dutch culture or the northeast, but are just Weaver. Jeff’s mum’s homemade pizza is always served with applesauce and peanut butter, unabashedly, as if these were natural pairings. Chicken Corn Soup is another favorite of mine, and in his family’s home, it’s always served with blueberry muffins. Logical, perhaps not. The warmth of tradition that makes all right in the world for an hour, absolutely.

We all have them, odd holiday meals that serve as benchmarks for us, funny dinner-table traditions that no one else could understand.

What are some of your family’s traditions or regional foods that may seem odd to us, but make you smile?