The squeak of the screen door drew my attention and another hungry soul sauntered inside Bertha's unofficial family cafe.
"Oh good," mother said to Bertha as she stepped into the kitchen. "You made boiled cabbage and red potatoes for lunch."
I sunk in to my chair. Boiled cabbage and red potatoes...yuk, I thought to myself: not a nine-year-old's favorite treat.
Cherished family recipes passed to each generation are not only heirlooms; they are genealogical goldmines. Dishes you remember as a child, prepared by your parents and grandparents, likely reflect a smidgen of ethnic traditions. And though tweaked, pinched and improvised by each generation; favorite family recipes whisper hints of your immigrant ancestry.
My grandmother Bertha's kitchen floated with the aromas of pies, puddings, stews and yes, boiled cabbage and red Irish potatoes. Apprenticed by a mother of Irish customs, Bertha's dishes reflected her heritage. And though ethnic hints were subtle, I now understand the legacy of her cooking.
Study your family's cherished recipes and you will find sparks of immigrant cultures passed to you. Rice pudding, crumb cake and chicken and dumplings are favorites of the Pennsylvania Dutch and Germans.
The British and Scots gave us chicken and beef pot pies; the Hungarians gave us recipes of hearty goulash, and French cooking is heavily reflected in Creole dishes.
An then there are our Irish ancestors. Grandma's big cast iron pots boiling with cabbage and red Irish potatoes; chunky beef stew simmering on a lazy Saturday afternoon and home baked soda bread and butter spread across the kitchen table. It all feels like home and yet; grounded in a culture a thousand miles away.
Sift through your favorite family recipes and you will likely find a glimpse of your ethnic inheritance: A genealogical landmine stuffed within your grandmother's old recipe box.
As a child, on days my grandmother served plates of boiled cabbage and red Irish potatoes, I twisted my nose and quietly retreated. But strangely, as I have grown older, I find myself craving the dish: perhaps derived from a need to feel wrapped by home or just my Irish heritage sprouting its head.
Either way, my stomach and I have come full circle, cherishing the recipes passed by my Irish ancestors, on to my grandmother, and then on to me.
Keep searching for answers,