Hello, Dishin' It Out fans! Ginger has ever so kindly asked me aboard, so here's my first post for the blog.
As we are just through the Christmas/New Year's period of over-indulgence (urp) I thought I'd talk about specialty food traditions.
My husband remarked, long about New year’s Eve, "Where did all these different foods for good luck for New Year's come from? I don’t remember that being a big deal when I was growing up."
We were down south this Christmas, where our kids and grandkids live, so everyone was chowing down on delicious pulled pork, black eyed peas and greens (either turnip/collard or today’s trendy rediscovery, kale). Pork, I always thought, was a southern favorite, but if you move north along the Appalachian mountains, you will arrive in PA where I now reside. Here, by German tradition, the New Year's dinner is pork and kraut. The greens (for money) and peas (for increase) come from the traditions of po'folks, both white and black. In PA, we were told that "the pig roots forward," leaving the last year behind him and boldly going into the future--although, once he's been through the smoker, he's not going much of anywhere except through someone's alimentary tract.
Grandpa grew peas so we had fresh ones when they were, briefly, in season. He also grew horseradish in his garden, so he kept us provided with the stuff, put up in small "recycled" glass jars. My parents ate that, but being a proper kid, I wouldn’t touch it, although with age I have learned better. Originally, I wasn’t a fan of winter's canned peas, either, which were an obligatory part of the meal, but in the era of frozen vegetables, I grew to really like green peas, especially if I was allowed to integrate them with the mound of creamy mashed potatoes and drown the both in pan gravy.
Apparently, the Hudson Valley Dutch were responsible for bringing us the tradition of open house on New Year's Day, one I do remember my parents honoring after we moved to New York State, where my Dad was in sales. In colonial days, the men would go out visiting from house to house to visit family, friends and business associates. Here they drank hot punch, and ate nieuwjaarskoeken--which are basically a butter cookie flavored with cardamom, caraway, coriander and honey, and decorated with a press. Originally, these presses were wooden, and created outlines of flowers or leaves. Later, the presses sometimes depicted famous men. Post-American Revolution, cookies were often decorated with the august profile of George Washington. There were also the delicious hot and puffy oleykoecks, ancestors of the still-much loved doughnut, carried out fragrant and fresh from the fryer.
And where were the women? At home, of course, serving the food--sliced meats, cookies, hot breads and refilling the punch bowl or perhaps pepping it up with the addition of cherry bounce or whiskey from the nearest distiller.
I've written three novels which revolve around the Revolutionary War in the Hudson Valley, and have enjoyed discovering the different life-ways this immigrant group brought to the United States with them. Alexander Hamilton married a lady from a respectable old Dutch family, and I've imagined her introducing some new notions as well as "new" food items to their ever-growing (8 children) family table. She no doubt had a hard time keeping her little boy's fingers away from the oleykoecks.