I grew up in Oklahoma in a non-gardening household. Now, though, as a gardener in the Southeastern U.S., the foods I grow in the yard help connect me to the South. Sweet potatoes, especially, play a larger role in my winter diet than ever before, because they grow so well in my yard. I’ve been eating more greens, all kinds, and in summer I’ve had tomato sandwiches after my neighbor-across-the-street, a Southern girl, told me how much she likes them. If I had a bigger yard, we would have more corn and more crowder peas.
I would say that these are also foods that mostly grow well in Oklahoma, but when I was a kid we ate a lot of magazine-inspired meals that involved cans of cream of mushroom soup. Holiday foods were an exception, mostly.
My family food traditions
One food tradition that is important to me is making egg-noodles for holiday meals. The dough has to be rolled out, dried for an hour or so, cut into noodles, and then dried some more, so making these noodles doesn’t exactly provide instant gratification, but taking the time to make them connects me to a kitchen-full of older female relatives –an assortment of aunts, great aunts, and grandmothers, now all dead– who put together huge holiday meals in Claremore, Oklahoma. The noodles, cooked in broth made from chicken “parts,” also connect me to the frugal frontier cookery of my family’s past.
Of course, we have some other food traditions that are less frugal. One is Aunt Mickey’s fruit salad, which includes Jello, whipped cream, and a whole lot of fruits that are not all in season at the same time. I don’t make this one any more, but my Mom does, and so do some nieces (who learned how from Mom/Grammy) and probably a sister or two. We also eat a lot of pie during most holidays, and some of us have convinced ourselves that pumpkin pie, in particular, is a healthful breakfast food.
Growing food that connects to local traditions
As I begin to put together my garden plan for next year, one of the things on my mind is making sure that the varieties are totally appropriate for the place where I live, the Southern US. I’ve made a lot of progress in this direction over the past almost-twenty years, but I sometimes get pulled off-track by the amazing descriptions in seed catalogues. If I choose carefully, though, the foods I grow will be great ingredients for traditional Southern meals.
In this way, gardening and then eating what grows in the yard serves as a reminder of my connection to the geographical and historical place where I live and have raised my family, and to the community that is here.