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Recommended Reclaiming Family History and Traditions

Discussion in 'Survival Reading Room' started by john316, Dec 11, 2015.

  1. john316

    john316 Monkey+

    Spiced Peaches:
    Reclaiming Family History and Traditions
    by Glinda Crawford © 2004

    When I was a little girl in the 1950s, my Great Aunt Lu took care of my little brother and me, while our parents worked outside the home. I thought Aunt Lu’s 70 plus years made her really old, yet I saw in her a forever young and life-giving spirit. Mostly she just listened to our childhood talk, supported us along our journeys, and nudged us when we stepped too far outside the lines.
    The center of my child's universe was me, as I suppose it needs to be. But even my childhood spirit was receptive soil for the seeds she planted. They just needed 4-5 decades to sprout. One of those seeds was "Spiced Peaches", which she spoke about warmly especially during peach season. Little did I know that one food would someday cultivate an interest in reclaiming my own family history, traditions and in coming closer to knowing who I am.
    As I had moved out of childhood into adulthood, I focused increasingly on the "upward climb" into a material world, which seemed modern society's prescribed expression of self. As so many do, I strived to look the part of a modern and progressive woman. That meant “store-bought”. I did not know at the time, but this simple shift in focus meant rejecting the history and traditions of my family, my roots. Simultaneously, I was well on my way to becoming disconnected with myself.
    Middle adulthood arrived. I had gone through many stages of fashion: whatever was the latest, I bought, wore, spoke, ate. I was a tumbleweed chasing the latest trends dictated by some Pied Piper far removed from me. As the years passed, I found that store-bought life empty and unsustaining. Once again, I was seeking my place in the world. This time, my searching focused on where I came from, who my family was and is, and what things had enduring meaning to them and to me.
    This last July at 54, I began to think once again of Aunt Lu’s "Spiced Peaches". When I was home with my parents in northern Missouri, we visited an Amish country store not far from where I grew up. Peach season had just begun and those first boxes of luscious peaches were awaiting those who had spoken for them. A curving line of people and smiles was present at the till.
    When I returned to my home in North Dakota shortly thereafter, I wanted Spiced Peaches and I wanted to make them for myself. I was not even sure I had ever had them. I called Mother to ask about them, and of course, she remembered. Spiced Peaches were a special dish her family had when she was a child, some 70 years before. Both Aunt Lu and her mother had made them. I was full of questions: “What did they taste like?” “What were the ingredients?” “Do you have Aunt Lu's or Grandma’s recipe?”
    Mother went on a mission. She hunted through Grandmother’s things. Nothing. She called her middle sister on the west coast, next Aunt Lu’s grand-daughter (Mother’s cousin) in Kansas City, and Mother's oldest sister’s daughter-in-law and son. “Do you have Mother’s or Aunt Lu's recipe for Spiced Peaches?” she asked.

    While she was on her search, I looked through any reference I could find: Great Aunt Della’s extensive and mostly hand-written cookbook from the early 1900s, Aunt Mary’s 1966 Ball Blue Book: Easy Guide to Tasty, Thrifty Home Canning and Freezing, my husband’s Mother’s 1932 The Home Canners’ Text Book, my own 1965 Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook with its happy red plaid cover. Pages were misshapen and brittle from age and our 1997 flood, but recipes were legible, singing loud and clear to me. I also looked through Amish and Menonite cookbooks, thinking that those in touch with the old ways might have clues for my quest (Cooking with Wisdom: Wholesome, Delicious, Simple Recipes for Health Conscioius People-1997; The Mennonite Treasury of Recipes-1982)
    Mother’s conversations with female relatives revealed some insights. I was excited and so was she. At last, the family recipe for Spiced Peaches was emerging. This seeking and finding became an invitation to something even more precious than a simple recipe. It was as if I could hear voices from the past, see the pattern of their lives, and walk through a doorway of our family’s present and future.
    Many magical things began to happen. My mother and father (81 and 85) began speaking excitedly of foods they had eaten early in their lives. They told stories, some I had heard before, others I had never heard: Where Mother had grown up as a child, where she had gone to school, what they ate, how the foods were made, what they grew in gardens, what they looked for in stores (not much). Tidbits of lives were coming together for me: “Aunt Lu was Sunday School Superintendent at her country church for 40 years. Many told me Aunt Lu was the one who held that church together.”
    I was getting very excited. While names and stories of family members who had gone before had usually been quite fuzzy to me, these people and their stories were becoming real. The more I heard and saw, the more I wanted to know. The more Mother told me, the more she had to tell. She came up with more foods: “If you like Spiced Peaches, you will love Mustard Pickles.” She remembered her mother had a lovely glass dish on the table for Mustard Pickles. The family ate them as a condiment at the end of the meal, a “sweet” yet sour taste. The quest for the Spiced Peaches recipe became a quest for recipes for Mustard Pickles, Bread and Butter Pickles, and Pickled Beets. And more.
    Late that summer, garden harvests and farmer's markets were in full swing. I had recipes and I made them each and every one. I was so excited. In preparation for the next canning event, I would organize the recipe, ingredients, canning supplies. The kitchen became a magical place of revisiting and honoring the past, and developing my own skills of self-sufficiency besides. Sometimes I’d call Mother while in the midst of preparation.
    When complete, I arranged the jars of these lovely things in tribute to my family which was becoming increasingly known to me. Sometimes I would intermingle jars with their pictures. More pictures were arriving as Mother and the family network found still others to share.
    In October, I took time for a special trip to northern Missouri to give my parents a few pints of these treasures. They lit up like Christmas trees. The stories and questions continued to unfold. This time, I had digital camera, video, and audio going while they spoke. We started making plans for the next information we would seek.
    Many teachings surrounded these precious things. I came to know that family recipes, family stories, the stories and wisdom of women elders are disappearing. When we don’t pass on these things, we let fall through our fingers our unique family heritage. We do not give honor and value to the lived experiences of our family members. We do not even know we can or should. How strange!
    Over time, store-bought did not taste good nor was it fulfiilling in my life. These outside things could not define who I am. Instead, these humble family foods have given me a glimpse into where I come from, where I am now, and who I hope to be. They have opened a conversation with my family and with myself which is hopeful, happy, and healing.
    Reclaiming family recipes and stories have sprouted many magical conversations with others. Some of my students began reclaiming recipes and stories of women in their families. Heather spent a weekend canning with her female family members; she had never found time to do this before. As a result, she has begun to know her Grandmother in a new way; her Grandmother is now actively passing on family stories and recipes to her. Michelle spent time with Grandma learning to make Grandma's buns and do-nuts. Since she had not known her other Grandmother, she began reclaiming stories of her. She has found a shared characteristic between her Grandmother, Mother and herself: she comes from a line of very good cooks. Angela interviewed female family members and asked them about women’s wisdom they would like to share for the world at this time. They had plenty!
    Bonnie at work asked if she could have a pint of Pickled Beets for Thanksgiving; these purple pleasures had many memories for her. A neighbor can’t seem to get enough of the Bread and Butter Pickles which are like his Mother used to make. Someone commented: "You can now buy Bread and Butter Pickles in the store." We shook our heads and wrinkled our noses in that knowing female way. Store-bought isn’t the same and never could be.
    I gave Spiced Peaches to a 30ish woman engineer. She promised: “I shall never let this recipe die.” A tiny tear sparkled on my cheek. Nor will I.
    I asked one of my 20ish students if when she is 50, how would she feel if her children and grandchildren had no interest in the first 50 years of her life? “I would be mad,” she said. “That isn't even nice.” Yet we do it all the time. We deny the stories of our female family members. We deny their power and these stories are essential to knowing who we are.
    I smile. This simple journey in pursuit of a recipe for Spiced Peaches has yielded family history, traditions, sharing, and some roots into who I am and who I hope to be. Perhaps Aunt Lu knew it would. It doesn't get any better than that.

    Recipe for Spiced Peaches

    Recipe for Mustard Pickles


    In gratitude to all those who brought these things to our table and into our lives.

    Updated: January 2, 2004. Glinda Crawford is an author and teacher of "Living Lightly on the Earth". She can be reached through Department of Sociology, University of North Dakota, Box 7136, Grand Forks, ND-USA, 58202. Email: glinda_crawford@und.nodak.edu
    Sgt Nambu, arleigh, Ganado and 9 others like this.
  2. pearlselby

    pearlselby Monkey++

    Thank you @john316. What a wonderful story and thank you for sharing with us and the recipes!
  3. techsar

    techsar Monkey++

    Yep, it seems that the days of putting massive amounts of cucumbers into their huge crocks with a plate on top so they can make the transition into bread and butter pickles are, in far too many cases, a scene from yesteryear...the same goes for the seemingly endless prep of beets before canning them (at least for a pre-teen boy it was endless ;) ). Upon reaching a more mature age, these recipes and many others have helped to put an end to bland and likely unhealthful "store-bought" foods that had taken over much of our diet. Freshly made butter, bread hot out of the oven, eggs that came from a real live chicken rather than a plastic box...all form a much more tasteful start to a day than sugar infused "cereal" with an expiration date 3 years out...

    Cherish the treats from the past. They form a pathway to a more abundant future!

    Great find, @john316
  4. Aeason

    Aeason Monkey

    Thank you for sharing this it makes me think of past times growing up when everyone was canning and the food that I probably never will taste again as the cooks are no longer with us and had their secret recipes.
  5. tc556guy

    tc556guy Monkey++

    Thanks for sharing. Someone needs to try to preserve more of these unique recipes
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