If you tell me what you eat, I can tell you where you're from
by Carole Bumpus
While traveling in Europe, have you ever strolled down a cobblestone street, passed an open window and heard laughter flowing out to greet you? Have you ever stopped to listen to the banter while wondering what it would be like to live there? In that house? That village? And, oooooh! What is that wonderful aroma? Say, what are they eating? I did too.
My book series, Savoring the Olde Ways, is a compilation of intimate interviews, conversations, stories and recipes I had the good fortune to gather from European families as I traveled throughout their countries. Part culinary memoir and part travelogue, these books are the personal stories told to me by individual families—from inside their homes along those very cobblestone streets.
As a retired family therapist, my initial interests were about the families themselves. But as a lover of traditional foods and home cooking, I discovered that favorite ancestral foods brought both French and Italian families together—not only for holidays, but every day—at their own family tables.
What sure-fire recipe did I use to open a topic of conversation? I asked my hosts to tell me about their favorite foods as children. Or, I asked if they could share with me the treasured recipes they prepared when first married. But I quickly learned that I needed to prepare myself. I needed to have pen and paper in hand, along with my trusty tape recorder. (Yes, I still used one.)
I also needed to quickly pull up to the kitchen table, because, without fail, I was headed for a most passionate journey. You see, once I posed my question, the fondest of memories immediately rose to the surface—moments of delight of holidays past, favorite family foods, cherished traditions and beloved family stories—all would come bubbling forth. And, before I knew it, my host would jump up, eyes bright with excitement as he or she would rush to the kitchen to snatch up a favorite recipe.
‘Voici!’ I would hear exclaimed in French, or ‘Ecco qui!’ in Italian. ‘Here it is!’ they would shout as they made a beeline back to my side. And there, clutched in hand, was a recipe card, all smudged with past efforts and spattered with passionate conviction. Immediately, and because I’m only fluent in English, their arms would fly in all directions with mixing motions sweeping the air as they enacted the preparation of their favorite recipe.
By collecting recipes, I learned about their culture, their history, their loves and their sorrows. I learned the favorite way to celebrate family was to return to the recipes of the past—the cuisine pauvre (French) or cucina povera (Italian)—the traditional cuisine of the family. And, I learned that if you tell me what you eat, I can tell you where you’re from.
Thanks for stopping by to share your food for thought, Carole!
You can find Carole here: