It Must Have Been Something I Ate

I need a hoagie, from Lee’s, the Cheltenham, really; I need one, right now. Other people who grew up in Philadelphia need a cheesesteak fix occasionally, not me, I need that hoagie. If you’re driving up this way and you have a cooler they’ll pack it up for you, with the meat wrapped in aluminum foil and the special oil, the onions, and the hot peppers in separate little containers.

If you read my posts you won’t even bother to ask how this relates to genealogy. We will get there eventually.

Actually it’s just a short trip from food to genealogy. Food roots us in time and place and culture. I have never met anyone who doesn’t have at least one childhood food memory and most people are more than willing to play the Ten Best Meals You Ever Ate game. If you’ve never played please remember that a meal isn’t just about food; it’s also about where and when you ate it and the people who shared it.

As much as the fast food industry has tried to obliterate it America is still a land full of regional cuisines and specialties. For me it’s the hoagie and the cheesesteak and water ice. Water ice is called Italian ice here in New Haven. It’s very fine ice with flavoring. You eat it out of a paper cone or cup. Lemon is traditional, but now you can get mango or cantaloupe or just about any fruit flavor. Pat and I went with a friend to her hometown of Binghamton, New York and had our first spiedies. That’s marinated lamb or beef done on the grill and put on an Italian roll. I am partial to the vinegary pulled pork that constitutes barbecue in North Carolina, but I won’t turn down Texas beef. I grew up in the East where salmon is salmon. Then I went to the Northwest where the debate over whether we should get Silver or King raged. I don’t remember which we had, but we caught it ourselves and it hit the plate a few hours later. This is an entirely different fish than the red colored stuff from the grocery store. Don’t even ask a New Yorker about the best bagels or corn beef unless you have a lot of time. Even though I told you not to ask I must say here that a bagel is not just a piece of round bread. A bagel requires chewing, and despite what your local grocery store or Dunkin’ Donuts or my daughter may tell you, there is no such thing as a blueberry bagel. Sorry, it’s a sore point.

I could go on forever, but you get the idea.

What about time? I hate to date myself, but when I was young the microwave oven did not exist. In those dark days of yore fast food at home consisted of the TV dinner, a metal tray with compartments of different foods that had to be heated in the oven. The fast part came from not having to prepare it yourself. Food fads come and go, the ones you remember best will probably date your teenage years fairly accurately.

And now we come to culture. The closer you are to the immigrant generation the more familiar you are with the traditional food of the home country. Immigrants clung to the foods of their homelands; those who came to the new world to turn a fast buck and go home would eat whatever the local environment provided. If you’re going back it doesn’t matter; if you’re staying food is a way to preserve your roots. English colonists tried to grow wheat and eat wheat bread in land that didn’t grow wheat well and where corn thrived and was plentiful. They turned their noses up at lobster too.

Food from our heritage gets handed down through generations. Is there anyone who doesn’t have a grandmother or a great-grandmother who cooked these wonderful foods without a recipe? Even if you have a recipe it doesn’t taste as good; memory is a powerful flavor enhancer. I have been privileged to live in an international community and have sampled the food of grandmothers around the world many in special shapes.

So, I invite the genealogy community to participate in my newly created holiday, Triangular Food Week. Many cultures have triangular foods. If you’re Jewish you eat Hamentashen on Purim. Hamentashen are triangular shaped pastries traditionally made with a sweetened prune filling. They commemorate the shape of the villain’s hat. If you’re Chinese you eat zonzi during the Dragon Boat festival to remember the death of the poet Qu Yuan. This is rice formed around a sweet bean filling or a savory filling with vegetables and chicken or a small piece of Chinese sausage. The rice is shaped into a triangular form and wrapped in a bamboo leaf. Indians eat samosas, deep fried triangular morsels of goodness with spicy potato filling. You get large ones in restaurants, small ones at home. There are certainly many more triangular foods. So I invite you to eat a triangular food this week and tell us about it. Sandwiches cut on the diagonal don’t count.

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