The Impact of Food….Or Family?
At my home, our eating habits as a family have changed a bit over the years. I am the oldest of seven children, and as a result our household is one of constant, noisy hustle and bustle. My dad is a hard worker, and has worked his way up in the company that he is a part of, therefore we are reasonably well off. We don’t really have to scrimp and save to get what we need. However, my parents both come from families that had to live frugally while they were growing up, and so they both have the habit of frugal living etched into their DNA. The kinds of food that we eat and the close ties that I have with my family help to enrich my experience with food. It is very safe to say that it is not the food itself that keeps me coming back to certain places and certain dishes, but the strong memories and pleasant experiences that I have had over the same plates and in the same restaurants with my family and friends.
I was born in upstate New York, the state my parents love, and also a state that is known for it’s cultural foods. My Dad is a great lover of pasta and pizza, and pizza is a favorite food of my family’s. One favorite pastime of ours when we go to New York to visit our extended family, is to meet at our favorite pizza restaurant and to catch up on the latest events around a fresh, hot pizza pie. Thin crust is, of course, the way to go in New York, and it is usually topped with flavorful sauce and heavy mozzarella cheese, with the occasional topping of pepperoni, mushrooms ,bacon, or sausage. I have countless great memories of the restaurant, which my parents and grandparents have been providing with service since that day that it opened it’s doors. I have countless pleasant memories with pizza in general. I have spent some time up at Castleton University, since it is where one of my numerous brothers goes to college. One of the first things we did together was explore the various places to eat in the area. To our great delight, we found a wonderful little pizza shop only about 10 minutes away from the college. As soon as we opened the door, thick, warm, and familiar scents of tomatoes, cheese, and meat flooded our nostrils. Smiles instantly leapt onto our faces as we cheerily said hello to the staff. It was an environment that made us feel at home, and it was just one more pleasant experience with this wonderful food.
This brother and I are very close, he is only a year younger than I, and we’ve had our fair share of experiences when it comes to food. When we were very little, we used to spend a lot of time in our Grandmother’s blueberry patch. We call it “hers” because it is conveniently right across the road from her house, however it is entirely wild. My Grandfather painstakingly grooms it. He is always keeping the grass around the huge blueberry bushes mowed short, and is constantly making new pathways upon which to walk through and around the bushes, and lengthening, widening, and improving existing ones. The blueberry patch is quite large, and my Grandparents share it with other animals of the forest. Bears, deer, rabbits, turkeys, foxes, and countless songbirds are all appreciative of my Grandfather’s work at making the blueberries accessible, and they can be found in among the bushes on a daily basis. My siblings and I have many fond memories of walking through this blueberry patch with our Grandma, oftentimes joined by the occasional Aunt or Uncle. We would comb through the bushes, looking for the biggest and ripest berries, which we would pluck and place in a bucket to bring home. Grandma keeps large quantities of berries in her freezer for the off-season, and she uses these to bake into pies, muffins, or pancakes, which she always treats us with whenever we visit. Her pancake recipe is one that she has perfected, and is one that my Mom uses to this day.
This same Grandmother keeps a large garden, in which she grows corn, peppers, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins, radishes, and any other vegetable that she decides to grow on a given year. My mom has a small garden every year as well, but Grandma’s garden has always been the garden to us. She is always finding creative ways to cook vegetables from the garden into her home-cookies meals, and she also takes great pride in her pickles, which she makes in batches every year from her cucumbers. These cucumbers were always a source of pleasure for me as a kid. I looked forward to being able to pick and eat them whenever went to Grandma’s house. They are the perfect snack, crisp and crunchy and as fresh as they could possibly be. Half of the fun was hunting through big, thick, and rough cucumber leaves to find them, and then snapping them off the vine and washing them thoroughly with the garden hose before eating them. She gets all of her seeds from a local market which is open at certain times of the year and contains all manners of plants and seeds, along with locally produced syrups and honey. This market is another favorite place to visit for us, and whenever we go to visit my grandparents in the fall we usually make a pit stop there at least once or twice.
When it comes to cooking, I would like to say that I’m decent, although my cooking skills have never really been put to the test. I can read a recipe and produce an edible result, but my Mom is the one who does most of the family cooking. Usually, her meals are pasta-based since these are the meals that my Dad tends to enjoy, in fact, if he ends up cooking for some reason or another, we will most likely end up eating spaghetti (or pizza). My Mom makes all manners of pasta, from the favorite spaghetti, to lasagna, ziti, or stuffed shells. When she doesn’t make pasta, she’ll make savory roast beef or sweet and salty pulled pork, or she’ll make various dishes with fish. She is quite a creative cook and has a whole bookshelf dedicated to cookbooks. She is always looking for new recipes that the family will like. My Mom used to be a lot more strict when it came to junk food than she is now. When I was little we almost never had candy or soda. Now, although it is still by no means prevalent in the home, it is not sanctioned as heavily as it was back then. My cooking tends to include lots of pasta as well. I’ll usually make penne, bow tie pasta, or spaghetti, and serve it with marinara or vodka sauce along with meatballs if I have them. I also make a splendid teriyaki salmon dish, which is made with maple syrup and teriyaki sauce marinated and baked into it to give it a wonderfully sweet flavor. I also make salad a lot when I’m with my friends; iceberg lettuce combined with carrots, cucumbers, broccoli, cheese, and croutons topped with caesar, ranch, or french dressings. This is by no means the healthiest salad in the world, but we consider it a healthier option than fast food at least.
My brother and I used to be somewhat explorative with our early cooking. Mom used to let us play around with ingredients and make our own homemade soups. We would gather our desired ingredients, usually a mix of vegetables like peas, corn, beans, and potatoes, and we would usually use hamburger and beef broth and explore how these ingredients worked with each other to produce unique flavors. Mom would always be close by and would assist us if she felt like we needed more experienced help. Once, when Mom was out of the house, my brother and I decided that we would try our hands at baking a cake. Unfortunately, we had little to no knowledge of baking, and I have since forgotten the exact ingredients that we used. All I know is that we used far too much cocoa powder, and the result was a disaster of a “cake.” Mom returned as we were contemplating where we went wrong, and she was extremely amused. Years of living with many kids have taught her not to be surprised when we do things that she’s not expecting.
These experiences that I had while growing up have shaped me to be the person that I am. Walking through the garden and the blueberry patch with my Grandparents, creating wonderful failures with my brother, trying different pizzas and pizza shops with my Dad, eating my Mom’s home cooked meals; these are all positive encounters with food that I have had that have moulded my culinary techniques and tendencies. Our experiences with and around food are some of the strongest ones that we have, and these memories with those that we love are what keeps us connected to the foods that we eat.
Jacob wrote this yesterday for college composition.
I was making homemade meatballs while he worked.