A Lunch Conversation That Opened My Eyes

With the Cake Boss and a cake competition and large model kitchen in the Expo Hall, one obvious theme at RootsTech 2017 was food. Many presenters spoke about the need and how to preserve the traditional recipes of our families. Call me crazy if you want to, but I have a question.

“How do I preserve the number for Dominoes?”

My mother’s food motto was, “If it couldn’t be nuked, baked, or ordered in, it wasn’t done.” We ate a lot of take-out, home delivery, and frozen food. Sometimes we went crazy and had Hamburger Helper or Shake n Bake.  So, how do I pass down those recipes?

Often, I lament not having traditional family recipes to pass down to my children. This year ended that feeling after a lovely epiphany-inducing experience

Maybe my traditional recipes are from an expanded definition of family, or community. Maybe I could find recipes online that reflect that shared heritage of my community.

Let me explain.

On Friday, I had hidden in the speaker’s lounge to eat lunch while preparing for the afternoon labs Andy and I would teach. While eating, another couple was enjoying their lunch, and I engaged in small talk. Then Sherri Camp, the National President of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, entered our room and sat down with us. She wasn’t actually in the right place for her meal, but she was in the right place for me.

Sherri and the other woman at my table began talking and discovered they had a shared background. They were both from Missouri. Soon they were talking about “Missouri” food and how their families made each dish. Many dishes were similarly made, and both women seemed to salivate over the memories. Sometimes their mothers made meals differently, but both ate dishes were a mystery to this Texan!

Mind you I was a picky eater in my youth, so I don’t have fond food memories. Despite that, their conversation struck me. First, no matter your racial background you have cultural homogeneity with others because of where you lived (or live). Second, I had a similar experience when I talked with my Texas friend who had moved to Michigan as we reminisced about Kolaches and BBQ in and outside of our home state.

Kolaches … tasty breakfast treats made differently
in Iowa and in Texas!

Kolaches in Texas often have meat in them, and the dough is fluffy almost like a sweet bread roll. Kolaches in Iowa (pronounced like Ko – la- chez rather than Ko – la – cheese in the Lone Star State) are mostly fruit or poppy seed filled with a flat, dense bread almost like a danish. In Texas, our fruit or poppy seed Kolaches have the same fluffy sweet bread. But people from Texas and Iowa know their breakfast dishes (which are probably desserts disguised as breakfast) and love them. They bring a shared heritage, even if it’s not a family recipe.

Texans also do BBQ differently than New York or South Carolina. In South Carolina, I attended a community BBQ. Oh, how excited I! I hadn’t eaten brisket in 12 months! As soon as I approached the buffet table, disappointment slammed me. South Carolinians serve up pulled pork. It’s delicious and can be a little spicy but where’s the beef? In Texas, brisket reigns king and pulled pork is a great alternative if you’re not in the mood for country fried steak.

Texas BBQ involves Brisket (photo from Kingsford.com)

In New York, BBQ was similar to South Carolina, pork, and chicken, no beef!  Don’t get me started about the rodeo that served ‘authentic Texans BBQ” and messed everything up including the baked beans!

My mom and dad never made kolaches or brisket at home. We always went out to eat for these mouth-watering meals. So, I don’t have family recipes to pass down to my children featuring Kolaches or Texas BBQ. But they are available online! Time to see if I can find a recipe hack for a restaurant’s dish.

While listening to Sherri and her fellow Missourian, I realized that heritage is not just about family, but also a greater community. What a powerful experience I had when realizing that I should combine family traditions with social history and culture. Yes, my parents didn’t pass on any cooking skills other than how to operate a microwave or placing a Chinese Delivery Order. But my greater community of Texans does have common foods for me to reminisce. And that helps me bond with my family and with those around me.

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee is passionate about capturing and preserving family stories so no one alive today has to be researched, or forgotten, tomorrow. She has authored 6 how-to books, a memoir, two published family history biographies, and over 60 family scrapbooks. She's an enthusiastic speaker who energizes, encourages, and educates at the same time.

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