Recently I began leading the community kitchen in Tumbler Ridge where we delve into all things food related — from recipes to literature, from budgeting to time management. This month we are exploring the novel Like Water for Chocolate which begins each chapter with a recipe linked to a significant occasion or memory in the narrator’s life.
Like so much of many families’ lives, many of our family traditions are linked to the kitchen. When I was growing up, my mother instilled the importance of our family’s heritage at Christmas by having two special dinners — one French Canadian in honour of my father’s heritage and one British inspired where we enjoyed Christmas pudding and golden sauce recipes passed down from her mother.
As a parent now, this heritage blends with that of my husband’s in the traditions I pass down to my children. Mennonite dishes come out in summer along with stories of summer camps on the prairies.
Some of the best stories come out of family meals. My British born grandmother tried her best to make Chinese Chop Suey for her family, but with no understanding of the dish, created instead an Asian flavoured cream of hamburger. To this day we call it “Grandma’s Chop Suey” even though it is now Great-Grandma the kids are referring to. The dish, by the way, is one of my kid’s favourites.
I remember too, exploring other cultures with food as a child. My mother invited us one day to a meal where the table had been removed and we sat on a picnic blanket on the floor, ate with our hands and tried foods from Nepal. Today, because of the value my mom put on exploring other cultures, I have an openness to the value of traditions around the world, and share this with my children.
While each family needs a recipe for how they intend to make and keep special traditions, family heritage and memory building can happen anywhere and need not include food. My father was an avid hiker and loved to “rough it” in the woods with just what he could carry on his back. I grew up camping and sleeping in leaky canvas tents — or in the car when the rain was terrible and the tarp didn’t hold up. While I can truly say that I love camping, I was happy to adapt this element of my heritage to include the “luxury” of a tent trailer! But I share the stories, and the values of appreciating nature down to the next generation and good old Grandpa’s canvas tents won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
Pictures are another wonderful way to look back in time and tell stories of what transpired and the why. In today’s digital age it becomes easy to take so many pictures that they never see the light of day, outside of a few posts on social media. Sometimes we can undervalue images when they become commonplace. However, speak to a scrap-booker and they will show you a lovingly created book of the very best images. Making a family scrapbook or story book can keep family heritage preserved and passed down.
Family is bigger than just the core family in your home. A few summers ago my children and I had the joy of experiencing a family reunion on my maternal grandfather’s side. For the first time, my children felt the connection of something stronger and bigger as they met not only cousins their own age but also older relatives and saw where they fit on the family tree in relation to everyone.
Children are never too young to be involved in celebrating family heritage and traditions. However your choose to celebrate, it is important to incorporate young and old into the celebration, passing on the stories from generation to generation. Make the time a fun and joyous event. Include others who share your heritage in your community or take this time to bond as a family.
Family Day in BC is celebrated this year on February 8. What a better way to spend it than to celebrate what makes your family unique.
Colette Ernst is the Success by Six Coordinator in Tumbler Ridge