Happy New Year America! I love the fact that we live in a country where diversity is celebrated. I was reflecting on the traditions we use to celebrate New Year’s Day- for my family it’s black eyed peas, collard greens, corn bread and a big ham hock. We believe that the colors of the food represent money and eating them on New Year’s day will bring good luck and good fortune. Eating ham or pork of any kind on New Year’s day for good luck is done in several cultures including Germany. I lived in the Mid-West the longest, but my family was from the south. I’m happily married to a career Army man who’s job allowed us to travel extensively. My family’s tradition followed me through all the places we’ve lived, and I’ve always enjoyed sharing it with new friends. Although I’m quick to assure them that black eyed peas and collard greens are an acquired taste and not reflective of my culinary skills. Let’s face it- David Copperfield couldn’t make those peas taste good!
The one thing I have noticed in all the places we’ve visited and lived is that the food reflects the place. When people describe America we often call it the melting pot or the great mixed salad. We even describe our diversity through food. And I can’t think of a better way to understand what it means to be an American than to cook American foods.
Now I’m not by any means experts cook… although my husband thinks otherwise, bless his heart. I’ve just always loved cooking. Taking the raw ingredients and combining them into something completely different. I love the idea of nourishing our body and mind with foods that have been passed down through generations of trial and error. I inherited my grandmother’s recipes which are more valuable to me than anything. Reading her notes in the margins of each recipe, notes that are sometimes as simple as “good” or “from Betty”; I get a glimpse into her life. I see them as little snippets of history, of my history. When I read them I’m taken back to a different time and place. I also love to read cookbooks that talk to you- like Nigella Lawson or Maya Angelou. Both of those cookbook authors speak to you as if they are in the kitchen with you, sharing their triumphs, mistakes and experiences with each dish.
If I thought about it… and I have… a lot of our recipes came from someplace else from the people before us who lived through good and bad times. And depending on the region of the country we live in, what resources we have, what population of immigrants settled in that region- where we came from is reflected in our local cuisine. We have Americanized a lot of foods, just as we have Americanized a lot of our language. I find it fascinating the history of a food, especially of the foods our state is known for; where did it come from, why is it made this way, was it modified from something else? Since I can’t feasibly travel to all 50 states what better way to get to know all 50 states than to cook my way through them?
I’m not going to cook the fancy can’t-pronounce-them-so-they-must-be-stylish foods a city or state wants to be known for; I’m going to cook the comfort foods. The regional specialties of a state will inform my palette of its history and culture. Think of this as a form of genealogy in cooking. Once I find a recipe I’ll try to trace its lineage back to its original ingredients and maybe make them both for comparison. I want to be educated on the history of a dish, if it has a checkered past I want to taste it. And no road trip would be complete without meeting some interesting people along the road. So as I’m traveling virtually through all 50 states, I’d like your input as well. Each Sunday I’ll be featuring a state and a recipe it’s known for… but I’d also like to have you all share your favorite recipe from your home state. The best of the best will be featured on the Homefront United Network.
So for the next year I am going to cook my way through the United States. One regional recipe every Sunday, each Sunday I will prepare one regional dish from each state. Since I have 52 weeks to complete this task, I might even include Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. I’m going to take you on a culinary journey of the United States without leaving our kitchens. All I ask is that if you have a regional recipe that your state is known for, send it along… together we can have a grand adventure with food.
So Happy New Year America… let the journey begin!