Do you associate specific foods with different holidays? Easter for me conjures images of baked ham, roasted asparagus, green bean casserole, ambrosia salad, and coconut cake or pie. Fourth of July is all about the barbecue, and Christmas is roast beef and chocolate covered everything – nuts, truffles, coconut balls, peanut butter balls, pretzel.
Maybe your food associations involve days of the week – if it’s Tuesday it must be meatloaf! Growing up in the south, country style steak and gravy with mashed potatoes was my favorite meal served only on Sundays.
Or perhaps it involves outings. Pool-side cookouts of hamburgers and hotdogs, picnic lunches of fried chicken and potato salad, or creek-cooled watermelon eaten in huge smile shaped slices while the juice rolled down your arms and the fishing rods bobbed in the water.
Cold weather seems to call for casseroles, chicken pie, savory soups, pumpkin pie, mulled cider. Summer says simple salads, champagne cocktails, mojitoes, frozen watermelon margaritas and pina coladas. Autumn dictates apples and pork chops. But spring, lovely tender spring, calls for soft and delicate greens, pasta in creamy sauces and lamb.
I’m blessed to be southern yet that carries many food traditions. Things as simple as tomato sandwiches, homemade biscuits, red-eye gravy, salty country ham, sweet tea, corn bread, vegetables cooked into submission, and fried options that span the food pyramid – we can even fry bread dough and make it into heavenly hoe cakes.
Travelers may associate foods with their travels. Ever had a papaya in Mexico still warm from the tree it was picked from mere moments earlier? Croissants in France? Pizza and gelato in Italy? Morton Bay Bugs in Australia, New Zealand meat pies (Cornish Pasties) or their breakfast sandwiches layered in egg salad, lettuce, tomato,and bacon; or their simple cheese-cake style tarts topped with fresh fruit like kiwi – naturally?
Or maybe your food associations involve people – one grandmother made abnormally large sugar cookies while her cakes were tiny, individually decorated delicacies, the other grandmother was known for her apple stack cake, my father had a signature barbecued ham that he prepared on a rotisserie, a neighbor who was always on a diet could be counted on for Tab (the diet coke of its day) and some weird tasting diet cookies that were shaped like windmills.
Food traditions were probably born from the availability of ingredients in a particular region at a specific time of year. So tender asparagus would naturally be on a spring menu, or peaches and melons at a summer soiree. But we don’t really think about that as much as we think about the associations we have with food and the hands that prepared it.
Why is it that the same recipe prepared by different people will taste a little different? Or that Thanksgiving without turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie would seem like a different holiday? As we took over the Easter menu for my aging mother, we were conscious of recreating her signature dishes – right down to the pickled eggs! It just wouldn’t be Easter without them!
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