Once again, it’s time for the annual Heritage Festival at my son’s school. At the risk of sounding both like a bad mother and politically incorrect, let me say that I dread this event.
Here’s the premise: the 8th grade social studies teachers host a multi-cultural lunch, with 8th grade students each donating an ethnic dish based on his or her heritage. Oh, and they must cook the dish and supply the recipe.
Right there, we have a problem (I never cook or bake what I can buy). But this is not why I dread the festival. I dread it because I don’t have family recipes that have been handed down through the generations. Well, I mean, I do, but not dishes of my heritage. My mother gave me a fantastic chicken and rice recipe, but she got it from a can of Campbell’s soup – not her mother.
I get the lesson, I really do! But our recipes are as American as…well, as apple pie.
Let me clarify what I mean: Somewhere six or seven generations ago (around the early 1700s, perhaps even as far back as the Mayflower), our families emigrated from Germany, Ireland, and England to America.
Where we live today, the population is very diverse, with a significant percentage of families who have immigrated to the United States in recent years. This means my son’s classmates have recent experience from which to choose. They’ll cart in dishes made from recipes that might have traveled far in miles, but not memory.
Our recipes, however, have long since been lost, both from the recipe box and from tradition. We don’t, for example, make corned beef (my Irish-American husband isn’t a fan); we do occasionally put on Oktoberfest and cook bratwurst. But this is a learned recipe from our honeymoon in Germany, not one passed down.
I’m so tempted to ask the social studies teachers (I hear an echo of my father here): What about American? Can we count American food? It’s like Ben Franklin says to John Dickinson in the musical, 1776: “We’ve spawned a new race here – rougher, simpler, more violent, more enterprising and less refined. We’re a new nationality, Mr. Dickinson – we require a new nation.” As well as new recipes of our own, too, right??
But, I get the lesson. I really do.
Still, we’ve been here so long that we’ve developed our own, unique traditions. Often, we’ve adopted – and adapted – these from other cultures not our own. We’re definitely not strictly on a meat and potatoes diet; we like to mix and match: tacos, pasta, sushi, and stir fry are part of our regular routine.
So each time the Heritage Festival rolls around, we’re stuck with the same conundrum. We’re aces at making faijitas, but we’re not of Mexican heritage; we don’t have a Grandma with a box full of “old country” recipes. (My grandmother was famous for her potato salad, but the recipe was her own and she had Irish and English roots.)
Our solution, unsatisfactory as it is, is to find an old Irish or German recipe online, and create it, often for the first time. This year – appropriately as it’s our last Heritage Festival – it’s Apple Strudel (or Apfelstrudel). But, I am so tempted to send in a tray of pizza bites.