Food can often be simply a backdrop to our lives. It’s something we need and constantly seek or make, but we don’t always recognize the pivotal role it plays in our lives since it is as common to us as breathing.
But food is at the heart of everything significant in our lives. Food is celebratory, representative, symbolic. Celebrations are marked with banquets, parents and friends communicate love by preparing dishes for others, cookies are left on doorsteps as a welcome gift. Think about it, all your fondest memories probably involve food in some way.
Food is especially important during the holidays, as it is a time of celebration, togetherness and remembrance. Every culture has different celebratory dishes related to religion, harvests or other significances. Here are just a few:
Many of our most common holiday confectionaries in the United States are descended from European tradition, as the majority of early immigrants to the Americas were European, and gingerbread is no different.
Now synonymous with Christmas, the first known recipe for gingerbread originated from Greece circa 2400 BC. The Chinese (were the spices originate) developed recipes during the 10th century. By the Middle Ages, Europeans had fully embraced their own gingerbread confectionaries with cookies and breads being decorated and sold in fairs and presented as elaborate desserts at royal feasts.
According to PBS, Gingerbread houses originated in Germany in the 1500’s, where their decoration became associated with the Christmas holidays, a tradition that continues today along with gingerbread cookies baked and decorated into different shapes.
A traditional food eaten during the Jewish celebration of Hanukah, also known as Chanukah, the potato latke of today didn’t actually appear until the 18th Century when potatoes became a staple in the European diet. Anciently, they were most likely made of lentils or cheese. However, latkes are one of the most recognized Jewish cultural dish. Made of potatoes, onions, eggs and matzo meal, latkes are fried in oil and served warm. According to Jewish Action, the tradition of oily foods during Hanukah is to evoke remembrance of the miracle of the small amount of oil that lit the Menorah for eight days when a Jewish army reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem during the second century BC.
According to the Smithsonian, fruitcake can be traced back to the Middle Ages, when dried fruits and nuts became more readily available. Almost every European country has a traditional fruited (and sometimes boozy) bread. In the United States, fruitcake has become the butt of many jokes and is seemingly universally despised, and yet the tradition persists. I personally have always been a fan of homemade fruitcake, but that may be because my grandma’s recipe included candy gumdrops instead of much actual dried fruit.
“Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat. . .” sings a traditional nursery rhyme. Meats and holidays are practically synonymous, with popular roasts including goose, turkey, ham, beef and lamb serving as the center piece of a meal. Meats are readily available to us now, thanks to modern agriculture, but traditionally only the rich could afford to eat meat often, and the majority of the population only ate meat on a special occasion, since it meant butchering or purchasing a valuable and expensive animal to do so.
There are doubtless many other food traditions observed by families and cultures around the world. What often makes them special are the memories and family stories shared around the dinner table.
What foods do you like to make or eat during the holidays? Which foods bring back good memories of happy times spent with family and friends? What new traditions will you start this year? Whatever they are, we hope they bring you and your family closer together. If you have questions about local food, about the Utah farmers and ranchers that produce it, or others, consider visiting www.utahfarmbureau.org/food to find out more.
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