Kitchen Tradition

Every now and then I hear a story about the secret code of ancestral DNA and how it shapes our being and I’m fascinated. There are sad tales of sickness and addictions handed down through the generations, remarkable stories of exceptional talent running deeply through a family line and quirky bits where relatives separated by years or lineage learn that they share a common habit or interest.

A Kitchen Tradition

I’m certain that I’m affected by some form of all three but I’m focused on the latter.

Our Thanksgiving was tender. I was able to travel with my family to the home of my 94 year old grandmother to spend the holiday. The kids played soccer and baseball in the yard. We snuck out to get in a workout, went to a late-night hockey game, and caught up on the comings and goings since we last got together. Our meal was traditional. We always include a family specialty of Elsie’s Cranberry ice and I made the pot-luck yams. The kids feasted on turkey sandwiches in the aftermath and I put away a few pot pies as easy meals for my grandma.

As my husband reached into a utensil drawer to help out in the kitchen, he first noticed it. “Look at this.” He was holding a fork with a wooden handle. Truly, it’s nothing remarkable. It’s just that when you reach into the utensil drawer at our home, you’d find the same one and it’s likely my most commonly used kitchen device.

This four tine kitchen fork with a worn wooden handle slides gracefully into my hand and is always used to pierce egg yolks, flip sizzling summer squash or test the doneness of a grilled item for the kids. It’s old. It’s simple and despite a lovely kitchen filled with gadgets, it’s what I reach for. And the other funny thing is, that it probably came from her kitchen but it’s been so long ago that I’ve forgotten.

Can a kitchen tradition like reaching for an old wooden handle fork run through our DNA? It might seem a stretch but not one that I’m willing to discount. I really believe that the reason it is so natural, is because it has been so natural for her and it’s likely that I began observing that at a very young age. In her book, The Sweeter the Juice, Shirley Taylor Haizlip, an African American, found white relatives who had no idea of their black heritage yet had a deep admiration for African art displayed throughout their home. I wonder what she might’ve found had she opened the kitchen drawer? I wonder what other quirky habits I have that I can point to the family tree for having developed. How about you?

Is there something that you do in the kitchen that’s been handed down without knowing?

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53 Comments

  1. The way we eat potato chips. One summer, we discovered that almost all the women on my mother’s side of the family eat them in order of size, smallest pieces to largest pieces. The reasons varied, though.

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  2. I throw salt over my shoulder if I have spilled some, my mother did it, my grandmother did and – no doubt – they learned it in their ancestors kitchens πŸ™‚

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  3. I always find it facinating when the simplest things trigger a memory, recollection or simply, a ‘feeling’ of familiarity. We are all connected in ways we can’t even imagine.

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  4. I found that I arranged my cupboard contents like my mom did. πŸ™‚ Thank you for sharing about your time with your grandma. That was tender and sweet. πŸ™‚

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  5. I recently reconnected with a beloved cousin I hadn’t spent time with since our teens and was amazed by our affinities and parallel lives. I do attribute these kinds of things to DNA, but I also believe in reincarnation, and sense far-reaching connections that spring from other lifetimes.

    I agree with Milkayphoto–we are all connected in ways we can’t imagine.

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  6. This is fun to think about. I’d probably be able to think of more if it wasn’t 1am, but I’ll just share one thing for now: reading recipes and then doing our own thing. My grandmother does it, my mom does it, and I most certainly do it. Most of the recipes I know by heart, and to eyeball a measurement or change and substitute ingredients when ever possible is something I enjoy so so much πŸ™‚

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  7. What a beautiful story – it is the simple things that connects us, in more ways than we know. πŸ™‚

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  8. I haven’t really thought too much about this yet. Except I do cook dishes that are uniquely my mother’s invention: a reflection how she coped with some North American veggies by putting her own Asian spin on it. This is back in the 1960’s when Asian groceries were rare.

    None of this is written down. I’ve just absorbed it. I also cut off pieces from a small chunk ginger root by holding a big knife mid-air over the sink. Something my mother did which I took for granted, but it amazes my partner when he sees it.

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  9. This is probably pretty common but, every time I do it, I feel a connection with my mother. Most of the time, when faced with vegetables to cut for soup or a stir-fry, I cut with a little paring knife, directly into the pan. Not fancy, definitely a little risk—it just feels right. Although it may seem like a choice that’s about efficiency, a cutting board and a big chef’s knife would be faster, usually. It makes me feel old fashioned, and I like that. I’m glad you got to spend Thanksgiving connecting with family and tradition; what a gift that is!
    Eleanor

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    • I don’t know if it’s common but I do think it’s one of those connections. As Nancy and Milkayphoto say, it’s bigger than ourselves.

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  10. Diane

     /  December 1, 2011

    So true! Once when our clan gathered, my Dad, y brother, my youngest sister and I – all of whom live in different cities – Had on the exact same pair of Timberland loafers!

    I like your story – the sense of both heirloom and genetic imprinting. So glad you got to be with your dear grandmother!

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  11. I think we never know the full extend of nature over nurture. The sweet tale of the beautiful fork, its tactile nature, the habits which have formed around it, will stay with me as I move around my own kitchen, Tammy. Beautiful. Thanks.

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  12. Sounds like you had a GRAND thanksgiving with your grandmother. Yay! πŸ˜€

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  13. This is such a fascinating topic! It’s just so hard to tell what’s genetics and what’s learning experience … In my family, there’s a trauma of escape and displacement passed on from my maternal grandmom to my mom and then me, because my grandmom had to flee 500 miles by bike to relatives in southern Germany at the end of WW2, when she was 17, and had to leave her parents and her home behind. Probably this is why I have such a hard time feeling at home and secure somewhere?

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    • Wow, that’s one of the “I heard it on NPR” examples. I don’t know where genetics ends and learning begins – that’s part of the fascination.

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  14. Great story. My parents were recently here for an extended visit, so noticed quirky things — like our shared affinity for applesauce and wearing slippers. Had to laugh when they admired my new cozy slippers. And, they loved our homemade applesauce.

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  15. what a thought provoking blog! I wonder if I have any of my grandmother’s traits? I will have to ask my dad πŸ™‚

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  16. It is a thought-provoking blog, and I’m enjoying pondering all the comments as well. I wonder, Tammy, do you and your grandmother have similar hands?

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  17. I, too, am vry interested in dna and genealogy. Thanks for this post.

    Linda
    http://coloradofarmlife.wordpress.com

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  18. when I met my birth mother for the first time we were both amazed at how many traits we shared and how alike we were – not just physically. We’re both voracious readers, complete grammar nazis, love going to the movies, enjoy travelling and usually fall for the wrong men.

    I don’t know what we have in common in the kitchen but we both have a sweet tooth and are too health conscious to indulge it very often

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  19. What a beautiful story. Well, apparently I do a lot of things that my granny B used to and mom kind of never did all that. I guess it just skipped a generation in my case but yes, DNA takes its liberty to express itself. Feels miraculous doesn’t it?

    One kitchen habit of mine is laying a cloth on the right hand side of the counter. Ma says granny used to do it exactly like that while ma simply wears an apron and tucks the towels in her pockets. Fun and funny πŸ™‚

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  20. I would swear my appreciation for wood comes from my grandfather! And thanks for the link to the cranberry ice, which I missed the first time through–a perfect holiday dessert candidate!

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  21. a lovely page, it is actually a comfort to know that we carry some collective memory passed down from our foremothers. That when I stand out in the barn talking to my naughty cow, some of that joy comes from knowing they did too, though in different barns and in far away countries.. c

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  22. I love this post. And how sweet that you spent the holiday with your grandmother!

    I’m not sure what might have been genetically passed to me, but I do have some habits I got specifically from my father. I use chopsticks for all kinds of things: pulling toast out of the toaster, browning garlic in a pan (and then easily pulling it out), mixing slurris of water and cornstarch for stir-fries. Not sure if those are learned or just common sense but they are certainly things my dad did in the kitchen!

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    • Those are great things. I laughed about using chopsticks to pull the toast – on another blog, someone used a slice of bread to pick up a hedgehog!

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  23. That’s great that you specnd your precious time with your faily & your grand ma! That(s what it all is about!
    What a lovely post! My grandma still has a spoon made by the Nazi’s!

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  24. Not that I can think of…
    Cool post, though!

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  25. Fascinating stuff, and this line of thought makes me question even more the sense in genetically modifying plants and animals. Imagine the confusion caused when, as in cold-hardy GMO tomatoes, a tomato gene is spliced with a fish gene. As medical scientists turn genes on and off in order to fight disease, I wonder what else they turn on and off in the process? We may never know what family personality legacies are lost and new ones created in this process.

    “Designer humans” are no longer simply the stuff of science fiction fantasy; this science is now being actively pursued. It’s quite possible that in a future filled with Sean Connery / James Bond men and Jessica Alba / Dark Angel women that these genetically modified people may have an inexplicable desire to use wooden-handled forks – though perhaps not for the purposes we do.

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    • Wow Rob, you bring a whole different perspective to this chat but you’re right! When genetically engineered takes over where do this small traditions (and dark secrets) go? What of the small wooden fork that fits a small hand?

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  26. I have always enjoyed going into my siblings homes (kitchens especially) and seeing all the familiar techniques and tools. Even though many years have passed since our mother was alive and even though she was not a terribly domestic mom, threads of similarities warm my sense of family.

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  27. Great post!

    Reply
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