Connecting to a Past

America is called the great melting pot and should you look at my own family tree, you’d find the pot bubbling away with good French wine, a German goulash, Irish soda biscuits, English cheddar and a bit of Scottish Drambuie.

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My family has lived in the New World for ages – like ever since my grandparents’ grandparents’ grandparents. I have been raised an American with no particular link to any European heritage despite the fond years that I spent in the UK. I think of baseball as the national sport, find cricket confusing, and lack the precision of the French kitchen. I thrive on the music of Patsy Cline and Michelle Shocked and Bruce. Verzeih mir!

I suppose that I had to be an adult to recognize it. Here I am in Deutschland. I’m admiring the neatly manicured flower beds and thinking little of the fact that I can name each one; alyssum, begonia, calendula, periwinkle, rose, labilia, fuchsia, geranium. I sit in the warm moist evening air and think, “shouldn’t there be fire flies?” It smells of freshly cut alfalfa and on the outskirts of town there are bales of hay.

I watch my own children as the German locals approach them neglecting to recognize in that second before they speak that they are from a distant land. Our German language skills are abhorrent. The boys giggle at each exit sign “Ausfahrt” and wonder who knew their father was coming. He retaliates by taking them to “Bad Gasse”. The thrill of the autobahn permeates their senses.

The accordion player in the biergarten pumps out a polka just like the ones that stream across the airways in the Kansas heartland where my grandparents grew up. The sparkling yellow lager or pils or dunkel has often played a part in our family relaxation times. Pretzels, yeah, well, not so much.

The meals are robust, reminiscent of a great grandmother’s Sunday dinner served at noon. There must be potatoes, dumplings, noodles, stewed meat, pickles and bread. I remember my grandma’s kitchen teaming with tiny cucumbers and Mason jars. The afternoon cakes are not too sweet and full of fruit like rhubarb. Kolhrabi is present in every garden. The precision handwork displayed in crafts like doilies beneath the dishes is all too familiar.

Suddenly I’m connecting dots across time and an ocean and realizing that so many of these incidentals are in fact, connections to a heritage that I’ve not appreciated. Admittedly, I may draw similar conclusions if I visit other lands. Denn jetzt werde ich Suppe!

Vegan Zucchini Soup
adapted from Tandy Sinclair
Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • several medium zucchini, trimmed and cut into chunks
  • freshly ground black pepper to season
  • handful of fresh thyme stalks
  • several cloves of green garlic, peeled and sliced
  • olive oil
  • 5 cups of your favorite stock
  • crushed red peppers
  • Parmesan cheese for garnishing (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350. Scatter zucchini chunks, garlic cloves, and thyme on a cookie sheet and drizzle with good olive oil. Salt and pepper.

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Roast for 30 minutes or until soft and remove from oven. Remove thyme stems and place in a large pot. Add stock and crushed red pepper.  Heat through and then begin to blend either in a food processor or with an immersion blender.

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Top with parmesan cheese if desired. Garnish with something bright and contrasting.

Have you ever had an “aha” moment connecting you to your heritage?

Leave a comment

76 Comments

  1. Love the CSA concept. Is that common in Germany?

    Reply
    • I’m not certain how common it is but it is definitely alive and well in most of the large towns. We’ve spent quite a bit of time in Munich and it is certainly happening here. In addition, one of the individuals credited with bringing CSA to the US was a German.

      Reply
  2. Wow, I love your adaptations! All except one of my grandparents are from Europe and I love the connection I have to there through them :)

    Reply
    • You can’t imagine how much of this soup is in my freezer! Thanks for the inspiration and I love your new gravatar photo.

      Reply
  3. My husband’s been in Munich, working, since the beginning of June, and my son was there with him taking a language class for about 5 weeks. Too bad I didn’t connect all of you! How wonderful you were all able to go and drive around and connect with your heritage. The memories will be treasures forever.

    Reply
    • Shoot! That would’ve been fun. One of the great benefits is that my children seem genuinely interested in learning a language now!

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  4. Love this!!!

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  5. I so need to go there. My family kept a little of the language as most of the Germans from Russia did when they settled in the middle of the two Dakotas. Many times when German is spoken on tv shows I understand at least parts of it. What fun for you to be there and finding all those connections. Enjoy!!

    Reply
    • Wow. I had no idea that language had been retained that long. You do need to visit here.

      Reply
      • The descendants of the Germans from Russia have passed on their language very well. The area around the central border between North and South Dakota is filled with towns where many people still speak their old dialects. Sadly it isn’t real common among those under 40.

        Reply
  6. MMMM,…What a lovely soup this surely is! refreshing & so tasty too! I also love Tandy’s recipes! :) This was a lovely post to read too! ;)

    Reply
    • So easy and such a great use of squash. Of course, you could really make it with anything.

      Reply
  7. Your blog is one of my favorites; there are many reasons, but the one this post calls up is your ability to weave a story. Really took me there.

    “Suddenly I’m connecting dots across time and an ocean and realizing that so many of these incidentals are in fact, connections to a heritage that I’ve not appreciated.” Wow! What a revelation.

    Reply
  8. I’m happy you’re enjoying being in Germany! I have French and Scottish ancestors as well, however I don’t know about any Irish. Your last sentence made me smile, it means “because now I become soup” in German.

    Your zucchini soup looks wonderful! I’m just afraid I’d eat all those roasted zucchini and onions right away from the baking sheet and wouldn’t get around to blending them! :P

    Reply
    • I went back and forth on what German to use but the idea is that I am part of the melting pot or the soup, right? Having a great stay. Thanks for asking.

      Reply
  9. You made me giggle picturing your kids focus on the “Ausfahrt” and “Bad Gasse” signage. Sounds like you’re having a lovely time. Yay!

    And that soup looks fantastic.

    Reply
  10. Lucy

     /  July 25, 2013

    For a second there, I thought this photo was taken in Leavenworth, WA …but then I remembered you are actually in Germany!

    It’s fantastic feeling to discover a deep, personal connection to a place you’ve never known before. Have you ever read Ethnic and Regional Foodways in the United States: The Performance of Group Identity by Linda Keller Brown and Kay Mussell? It’s a collection of editorials written by social scientists involved in food studies before it was cool (printed in 1984.) I read this in college but it helped me define my scholarly and professional interest in how people form their own cultural identity through food – through time and transculturalization vs assimilation.

    Reply
    • That sounds like a fascinating read! I’ll put it on the list if I can find a copy. Love that you used it to define your own future.

      Reply
  11. Wow, loved reading EVERY word and especially enjoyed the recipe’s ingredients. Thank you for sharing!

    Reply
    • It’s so easy. I’m not sure what you’re getting in your CSA but this time of year, the squash come on strong.

      Reply
  12. Tammy – we are similar mutts – I’m Irish, Scottish, Norwegian and Dutch. And I have,in fact, visited all 4 countries from which my ancestors came and i TOTALLY can relate. Particularly in Ireland and the Hebrides west of Scotland (Iona, to be precise) – my soul felt its most at home ever there. Enjoy exploring your heritage!

    Reply
    • Yes, I spent time on Skye and loved it but am afraid that I was too young to connect the dots at the time.

      Reply
  13. I have never been to Germany but I would love to go there. That first image is gorgeous. When I do get there, my German language skills will be more abhorrent than yours! I’ll be hoping everyone who approaches me is fluent in English xx

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  14. What a lovely trip Tammy! Sometimes word jokes make the best fun. We still kid our youngest about her question on the roads approaching the Grand Canyon, “What’s a dee aye pee?”

    Reply
    • Ok, I’ve got to think about this. I think the joke is over my head at the moment.

      Reply
      • The signs said “DIP” (which meant literally a dip in the road), and she was trying to convert each letter. Of course, since she was a bit of a “dip” to ask that just added to the fun ;-)

        Reply
  15. Lisa H

     /  July 26, 2013

    Looks like an awesome trip! Hopefully next summer we’ll be traipsing around Germany with the kids. I connect most strongly with my German roots (which amounts to a big German meal once a year with family, a tradition my German grandmother started in Calif.). Looking forward to hearing the details and viewing more photos!

    Reply
  16. What a wonderful trip! HAVE Fun! We are all looking forward to the photos!

    Linda

    http://coloradofarmlife.wordpress.com

    http://deltacountyhistoricalsociety.wordpress.com

    Reply
  17. What a beautiful photo! Looking forward to more.

    Reply
  18. I know when I lived in Europe I sure felt more like I ‘fit in’ than when I lived in Asia–probably growing up with ethnic flavors helped me to connect as well.
    Thanks, Tammy!

    Reply
    • Yes, I know that feeling from the time I’ve spent in Asia but I sure love their flavors!!

      Reply
  19. I think I am so close to it all, and always have been, that I do not stop enough to take full account of the legacy. Though British cooking does not traditionally have a great reputation, I shall find it interesting looking out for English heritage in the dishes I cook! Great post.

    Reply
    • Yes, I imagine that is the case Kate. You’re in the thick of it. I do have a couple of brilliant cookbooks from Cedric Dickens though that might be inspirational.

      Reply
  20. You are much nearer to my home now, Tammy ! Munich is not that far away from the Swiss border. All you mention is familiar to me, especially when I go to the German speaking part of Switzerland. Europe is becoming more and more a big melting pot although each country likes to keep its own culture and traditions. Which is great. Including of course local culinary art. Thanks for the zucchini soup recipe.
    Alles Gute und schöne Ferien = All the Best and happy holidays.

    Reply
    • Thanks Isa. What a beautiful part of the world you live in. It was fun to connect with you even if it was not in person.

      Reply
  21. I also felt very much at home in southern Germany. Even on my first trip many things seemed immediately familiar, and you’re absolutely right: so much was reminiscent of previous generations of my own family too. The influence of German culture on our own can’t be denied, even for those without German roots in their families. This reminds me of maps and timelines of Indo-European languages spreading across the continent; following such maps allows you to trace not just language but customs and traditions too.

    Have to admit that in Germany (and other places) I’ve been disappointed to see American companies, hear American music, and see American clothing – I’ve traveled all that way to experience another culture, not to experience corporate America’s global footprint. That’s me being a curmudgeon. To be fair, I enjoy eating the foods of other countries and browsing stores with interesting foreign stuff, so why should I deny those pleasures to others? I wonder if the difference is that most of the interesting little places we visit here are little privately owned places rather than global outposts of corporate behemoths? Hmmm.

    Reply
    • Yes, that is the difference. Love Southern Germany. My b-i-l and his wife are living there now and they were perfect guides.

      Reply
  22. Hi Tammy-it’s fascinating to discover (or uncover) connections, all those things that we bring forward into this life from who-knows-all-where. so much goes into forming our affinities. in my life, I’ve recognized certain French and Cajun pulls, drawn from my father’s side of the family. It sounds like your family is having a marvelous adventure.

    Reply
  23. Looks yummy :) And thank you for checking out my new wordpress! I have another one I just started and will be looking for new friends.

    Reply
  24. Hi Tammy,
    Thanks for dropping by my blog. I have not a drop of German blood in me, but nevertheless I am feeling “the connection.” I did spend part of my college junior year abroad in what was then West Berlin — amazing times, unfortunately have never been back, but now I have the nostalgia attack looking at your picture and reading your blog!

    You asked about the squash blossoms — our CSA here in northern Colorado has had squash blossoms for a couple of weeks now. The filling I use is ricotta cheese with a little fresh-ground pepper and whatever fresh herbs I happen to have on hand mixed in. I remove the stamen from the blossoms because they can be bitter, stuff the blossoms, twist the top close, roll them gently in egg, and then in homemade bread crumbs (the latest batch of bread crumbs were a combo of rye and whole wheat). Instead of frying them, I bake them at 400 degrees for about 10-15 minutes. They are absolutely marvelous fresh out of the oven — who knew a flower could taste so good :-) BTW, I have used the convection setting for the oven, but straight baking (IMHO) seems to work better for me.

    Cheers,
    Opie

    Reply
    • Brilliant to bake them! I’ve never received any but have a favorite restaurant that has them a couple of weeks out of the year.

      Reply
  25. Tammy, I expect you’ll be interested in this book:

    http://nrhatch.wordpress.com/2013/07/30/a-rich-spot-of-earth/

    Reply
  26. Melissa

     /  July 31, 2013

    I’d love to go explore the countries of my ancestors someday, particularly Ireland and Germany. I enjoyed reading of your experience and your aha moment.

    Reply
  27. yum! this looks absolutely delicious :) Can’t wait to give it a try.

    Thanks for sharing and linking up!

    Reply
  28. That soup looks amazing! It sounds like you’re having a wonderful time. Based on their last name, my mom’s family used to think they were German, but my grandfather did some research a few years ago and found out that our family was actually from France. It was really interesting to read his research!

    Reply
    • I had something sort of similar happen and was really surprised to find a branch of the family from France.

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  29. This looks out of site. I love how easy and healthy it looks. Yum-o!

    Reply
    • And it freezes really well. Tonight I sauteed some carrot, leeks, garlic potato and then threw in a couple of jars of the zucchini soup. Everyone loved it.

      Reply
  30. What a delicious post Tammy, reminding me how much I’ve missed your blog! Our family melting pot also bubbles strongly with Scottish heritage, as well as Welsh, English and Dutch. I didn’t expect it but was similarly struck by profound intuitive connection visiting England – especially through the food, which was all so familiar. Not so the weather :-)

    Reply
    • Great to see you Naomi and thanks for reading. I know what you mean about the weather.

      Reply
  31. I love the writing style of this post. The opening really paints a picture with humor and style.

    My heritage is strongly from Germany and France/Germany (depending on the border that year!), though my grandmother likes to place a disproportionate amount of emphasis on our British background. :) However, I did feel a sense of connection on my trips to England. I have never visited the areas of Germany or France where my ancestors are from, but I would love to! I did have a similar experience to your children when I visited Russia. Multiple times I was approached as if I was Russian (probably the fair hair, fair skin, and less trendy clothes than the rest of my teenaged American tour group).

    (And thanks for commenting on my new blog!)

    Reply
    • I think I’m like you in the “where’s the border issue”. Russia sounds fascinating and I never have trendy clothes!

      Reply
  32. I too have German heritage and tonight channeled it by making pork tenderloin with potatoes and homemade sauerkraut. You paint a beautiful picture with your words. Thank you!

    Reply
  33. Tammy, I have been meaning to hop over and visit your blog for weeks now, and I finally made time to do it! I had no idea you were in Germany! Wie fantastisch! Seit wie lange? (Er…well my German is a bit rusty, but if you want to start an email correspondence, maybe we can practice together!)
    This soup looks delicious…so sad that zucchini season is basically over around here! Well, maybe I can cheat on my CSA and pop down to a farmer’s market….
    Thanks for sharing :)

    Reply
  34. Bravo to you for knowing all the Latin flower names….I gave up years ago.

    Reply
  35. Have You spent Your vacations in Germany? I am not good in German, but when on road trip, it helps very much with my German. My wife has learnt it more than ten years and she solves German crossword puzzles from the magazine (Freizeit Revue) she ordered from Germany.

    Reply
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