Sanders: Foodie traditions
As I put a roast into the oven this morning I knew I would later add potatoes and carrots. It caused me to wonder how we come up with our meal combinations. Most often it is because that is how we grew up, yet past that, I wondered how traditions begin.
Many time-honored customs are carried on within the confines of the kitchen. This anecdote illustrates how some of them started because of a practical matter.
There was a woman who always cut her ham in half before she put it in the oven to bake. When her husband asked her why, she replied, “Because my mom did.”
The son-in-law asked, “Why did you cut the ham in half?” She replied, “Because my mom did.”
By now he was intrigued. Was it a procedure that produced a better tasting ham?
At the next family gathering, he got his chance to ask grandma the big question. “Why did you cut the ham in half?” She responded, “Because I didn’t have a big enough pan!”
That story made me wonder about other traditions, such as food pairings, how they got started and why they are seemingly so important.
Let’s start with the Thanksgiving meal. Traditionalists serve turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, fruit salad and later, pumpkin pie as basic elements that are expected. Common additions to this list are green bean casserole, dressing and homemade rolls.
Those of us who have a background in cuisine know the guidelines for meals include contrasts in color, texture and temperature. This Thanksgiving meal pretty much ignores all of those parameters. The nearest thing there is to texture differences is the fruit salad. But the way our family makes it — bananas, grapes and diced apples drowning in actual whipped cream — is mostly a soft food, just like everything else on the menu. The salad adds color and temperature contrasts, but just barely. Yet a traditional meal loved by families, including mine, guidelines be darned. We compensate by adding a plate of carrot sticks and celery pieces, which are cold, crisp and colorful.
How did we arrive at the match of grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup? Mr. Google says soldiers in World War II ate — and liked — the cheese sandwiches. They were inexpensive and easy to make, and after the war, schools started serving them with tomato soup, which added necessary vitamin C to the diet. During the war it had been discovered that vitamin C prevents scurvy, a problem particularly prevalent on ships at sea where fresh foods with vitamin C were non-existent. At that time 2 ounces of protein was considered ample for a meal. Even today the soup and sandwich combo fills the belly with hot food that satisfies
Scalloped potatoes and ham, peanut butter and jelly, macaroni and cheese, fried chicken and potato salad, biscuits and gravy, bacon and eggs, burger and fries, pizza and beer, cheese and crackers and ham and beans are other medleys that come to mind. These are all traditional dishes enjoyed for years and that is the only understanding we need — we like them. ❖