Thursday, December 31, 2009

Food Traditions

Growing up, my Grandmother was in charge of New Year's Day dinner. It was a tradition that could be counted on each year like clockwork. My Grandmother was a first generation American raised by German parents and surrounded by German relatives. Through this holiday meal, she shared with us, the traditions that her parents taught her "from the old country".

Dinner was always a pork roast (luck), sauerkraut (gelt), mashed potatoes with gravy, spinach (wealth) and apple sauce (health). Once all the food was on the table, my Grandmother would remind us that each of the items on the table held a special significance for the coming year. The pork was for luck. The sauerkraut represented gelt or money. The spinach was for wealth. Grandma doubled up there to make sure we were covered. Apples were to ensure good health. I cannot remember what the mashed potatoes and gravy were there for except that she always served mashed potatoes and gravy with her meals. No matter how many times she told us, we were always asking the same question each year -- "what does spinach represent?", "what is the sauerkraut for?", etc.

For the turn of the century, my husband and I were in Germany. In the back of my mind, I was expecting to find that my traditional New Year's meal was an American amalgamation of German tradition kind of like corned beef and cabbage to the Irish -- not really something they ate in the home land. I was surprised to find how close my Grandmother came to the traditions on saw on menus and all around me. It was comforting to know that despite some interpretations, our family meal was true to the culture from which it came.

My Grandmother is no longer with us. Sadly, lung cancer took her in 2002. But, she is always with me. Especially on New Years. As I shopped for my holiday groceries, I couldn't help but think about all the New Year's Days when she was standing in the kitchen making her gravy and talking about the New Year's Days gone by with her family. Tomorrow, I will again, honor her memory with my meal. Although, I do make some tweaks -- apple sauce is replaced by apple pie, red cabbage has been added to the menu this year, and I cook fresh spinach instead of the frozen chopped spinach loaded with butter that was a staple of her meal.

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