This week in the U.S., people will be sitting down to eat together, and as they gather around the table, they will tell stories. They may be mundane, about how the washing machine broke last week or some guy cut you off in traffic. They may be informational, about how we could have won the game if only Jake hadn't dropped the ball, and I wish you could have been there to see it.
Best of all, though, are the stories of reminiscence, often sparked by the food itself. How Aunt Martha always made candied yams, even though no one liked them--including her. And Minnie made the best gravy. I watched her hundreds of times, but I never could get it just right. And Uncle Art's tie always got dipped in gravy as he passed it on to the next person. And how could you ruin the green bean casserole by putting water chestnuts in it? Remember the year we went to Great-grandma's and she cooked the turkey with the plastic wrapper on? woo--eee!
Well, some of those stories are made up, but I just heard about a new cookbook that is as much story as it is recipes--maybe more. Original Local: Indigenous Foods, Stories, and Recipes from the Upper Midwest was featured on NPR the other day and is reviewed on Debbie Reese's blog. Author Heid Erdrich says, "A recipe is a story."
Erdrich is best known as a poet, and I was fortunate to take a brief workshop with her a couple of years ago during the South Dakota Festival of Books. She uses exercises that, until you try them, seem easy. Then she makes you think, and then she cajoles you into making what you wrote better. She nods and encourages until you find the right phrase. Erdrich knows a good story when she hears it. In the stories, we see ourselves.
She is Ojibwe, grew up in North Dakota and now lives in Minnesota--wild rice country. Original Local devotes an entire chapter to it. Some people make stuffing with wild rice. Some use chestnuts; others use sausage or cornmeal. Each family is sure theirs is the right recipe.
What is the right recipe for stories with your family and friends as you gather this week? What dish--or story--is most loved or most despised at your gatherings? How does the food on the table reflect your identity? What's your favorite Thanksgiving food story? Do tell!