Words by Natelegé Whaley.
Across cultures, food connects people, especially around the holidays. Recipes passed down from generation to generation are a point of pride for those who want to connect to their heritage in a world where cultures are blending more and more. Other times, a new generation of family members, significant others, and friends who find themselves becoming more like family, start their own traditions. No matter how they come to be, making and preparing food with someone you love is a powerful way to bond. “Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly,” M.F.K. Fisher, the late food critic, one said. As we kick off the holiday season, here are five people’s stories about sharing the foods that bring them closer to loved ones.
Pumpkin Loaf Cake With Chocolate Chips
It’s an old family recipe my mom got from her mother, and every year she makes it as gifts for others. I’ve tried and failed to make it alone, but enjoy helping mom make it when she does, especially for my birthday [which is] the day after Christmas. I probably will not [make it for the holidays] since I butchered it the last time I tried, but I’ll definitely enjoy it when I spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with my family. —H.A.LYNN, 29
Macaroni and Cheese
It’s a recipe from the deli of a small grocery both my sisters and I worked at in college. One of my sisters stole the recipe and my family has been obsessed with it since. To date, it’s the best mac and cheese I’ve ever had. That sister passed away 18 years ago, and every time I make it, usually around the holidays, it brings back a lot of emotions. In fact, I still have the handwritten version in her own handwriting. It brings her presence to the holiday. It’s a nice way of keeping her with me. I will be making it this year for a Thanksgiving potluck. — Kerry C., 34
We’ve been eating noodle pudding (or noodle kugel, as it’s often called) during holidays for as long as I can remember. It is a very common Jewish dish — though the recipes can vary in numerous ways. What makes the dish special to me is that it’s something we’ve always eaten as a family, and something I know started long before I was even born. It makes me feel connected to my family, and to my Nana.
It’s one of my favorite dishes — probably because it satisfies my unrelenting sweet tooth — so at some point, perhaps in high school or maybe early college, I decided I’d learn how to make it and take on the duty at our family holiday celebrations. It was only then that I really started to connect the dish to my Nana, who passed away when I was very young. I didn’t get much time with her and don’t have many memories of her, but the noodle pudding recipe we use was hers. I have the recipe in my email. It was originally written up by someone else in my family and at the end, it says “think of nana and smile!!!” It reminds me every time that this was something she used to make, and helps me feel connected to her despite never having made it together. — Emma Sarran Webster, 34
So my mom is black American and grew up in Brooklyn with a lot of Puerto Rican friends. She would drink coquito, a Puerto Rican drink that is usually made during the holidays, as a kid and adult. My mom then started to make it during Thanksgiving and Christmas and we really started to bond over it. Once she says, “I’m making some coquito. Get me some rum,” I get excited. But what makes it really a bonding moment is when I always ask, “So mom what was it like having all Latino friends?” We always seem to start our discussion about family and friends right after our first sip. And of course, I already got the ingredients needed for the holidays coming up.
My mom is the one who usually makes it and I usually watch. I help with preparing the drink. So I’ll buy what she may need and help her put everything out for her. Once I do that then I help drink it haha. It’s special to me because it’s a blend of my families. My mom is Black and my father [is] Puerto Rican, which for me shows that my cultures have somehow blended in my home. My mom has been exposing me to another culture that is part of me and something that she adopted to our household and to our family traditions. — Joseph Perez, 30
As a child, the smell of pernil would fill the house, and that’s how we knew it was officially Christmas. It is a traditional Puerto Rican dish of slow-roasted marinated pork, usually the shoulder or leg. No one knew how to make it like my grandma. When I got older I taught myself to make it, and I kept playing with the recipe until it tasted like I remembered. You have to cook it just right in order for the skin to get crispy. (We call it cuero). It took me a few tries but I finally got it down to a science. I will most likely make it this year. It’s not Christmas without it! — Jen Leigh, 27