Eating Stories

Dwarf blueberries in the subalpine ripen in late summer and early fall

My breakfasts tend to be simple, toast and a bowl of fruit. This morning’s fruit was stewed dwarf blueberries (Vaccinium cespitosum) that had been picked last summer or early fall. The distinctive flavor that came with that first bite brought feelings of warmth and gratitude along with blurred impressions of that place and my experience there. I think I was a little surprised by this, and gave a moment or two to recollect the two picking trips I made (to the same place) this year, one with my dad, the other with my kids and brother.

It didn’t take long for my thoughts to turn towards the rest of the day, but that evening, spurred by the morning’s experiences, I thought I would share some memory food with my kids. We got out more of those same kind of blueberries and some whipped cream. Before we ate them, I asked them to share with me their memories of that trip to pick berries we made together with their uncle. It was interesting to hear their recollections, some things I remembered when they mentioned them, others that I didn’t recall at all. I was a little surprised at their enthusiasm in sharing their memories, though perhaps I shouldn’t have been (they are motivated by dessert), and I’m glad I felt inspired to do this with them. I shared some of my memory of that trip with them, and we enjoyed the berries and cream together.

As I write this later, it occurs to me that we also ate some seaweed we gathered during dinner. I hadn’t made the connection while we were eating, but during dinner we ended up talking about where the seaweed came from, as they were both on that gathering trip back in early April.

In the work I’ve done with 8-shields over the past several years, there have been various routines and/or practices that I have learned about where food and stories are wrapped together. I recall hearing about a hunter-gatherer group for whom the story of the hunt was as important culturally as the food that resulted from that hunt. Every year in the fall, I’ve heard about various ancestor honoring traditions, usually centered around food (often with the addition of a fire) and stories that go along with it.

In reflecting on today’s experiences, I feel like I’ve made a connection for myself (though whether I hold on to it remains to be seen). Although I grew up in a family where a significant portion of the food we ate was grown, caught, shot, or gathered, sometimes even with my participation, I do not recall consistently experiencing eating of that food linked with the story of that food, at least not in a way that stuck with me as a practice (though now that I’m thinking back, I do remember some stories going with food, at least on occasion).

I now find myself wondering about the power of eating stories instead of just food. I feel like there is probably something to be gained through this practice. Ingredients that are grown or gathered by ourselves or people we know, and the story of how it came to our plate. Food that has a connection with people or places we’ve known (or would like to), even if we don’t necessarily know the stories of those particular ingredients. I wonder how I can make stories a greater part of my meals. If you have thoughts/ideas, or your own experiences to share, please leave me a comment.

3 thoughts on “Eating Stories”

  1. Thanks for posting – as I read, I paused to remember the blueberry picking trip you mentioned with your dad – I stayed behind in the comfort of the car enjoying the quiet of a mountain parking lot and its surrounding activities and scenery and reading a book. It also brought to mind other trips to gather, harvest, and catch food over the years – my part more like Rowan’s (observer and occasional participant). Still very meaningful as an activity with family and friends.

    I also don’t recall consistently talking about the source of food over the years. It seems those conversations occurred when eating something special/unique or from someone special (this is the biggest potato dad grew this year; these are the last of the fresh raspberries for the year; these carrots are ones that the kids helped plant; these are the apricots we canned years ago; grandpa brought us these veggies, cantaloupe, watermelon, beef that he butchered; this is king salmon from our friend, and we got this special recipe from…).

    And mentioning recipe … using recipes we have from family and friends can be a catalyst to talk about the person and how/why we came by the recipe and if there are special events/times associated with that food. So now I think I will go look up a couple of Christmas dessert recipes from family/friends and make something – then make an effort to share this additional information as we eat it.

  2. Thanks for the response – I do remember some of the things you mentioned, in particular if we had company dad (or you, but seems like usually dad) would tell people about the food that had come from (generally his) hunting, fishing, gathering or growing. I don’t really remember much in the way of stories, though my mind does link eating moose (heart) with story telling, perhaps because the moose heart was novel (so I remember it) and I have memories of Grandpa Goff’s stories of the moose hunts, but I don’t know if I actually heard stories with the moose heart meal.

    As I reflect more, I can think of some other stories that were associated with food but were not stories of where the food had come from. We hardly ever ate parsnips, but sometimes dad’s parsnip story came out when we had mashed potatoes, perhaps especially at holidays. I remember that cream puffs were something your(?) mother used to make on those few occasions we ate them. Also the Christmas sugar cookies you did with your grandma. Dad’s story about turning ice cream when he was a kid. Another one that was kind of funny but maybe not really so linked to family or food lineage (though I guess it could become linked if I continue to tell it) came out when we had pepperoni pizza – the time dad made it but forgot to take the plastic wrapper off.

    So there were certainly stories we had with food (and almost certainly more I am recalling now, perhaps you, dad or Jonathan remember others), and I appreciate that you and dad shared those stories. I feel like there is something of value in these stories, and suspect it’s worth making a routine out of, so I think I’ll give it a try.

  3. I think you guys have covered a lot of the types of food stories I remember growing up. I don’t remember eating moose heart, but I do remember hearing deer and moose hunting stories particularly when we had guests over and were eating venison. I also remember dad’s parsnip story and I also when he tricked us by telling us they were white carrots. I think about that sometimes when I occasionally eat parsnips now.

    I guess I have made some of our food traditions into food stories now. In particular I am thinking of when I have made party potatoes, blueberry cheesecake, blueberry cobbler, or ice cream. When I make those things and share them with others I generally talk a little about how they were special favorites – how we would have the potatoes every Christmas and Thanksgiving, how I had to bring back 3 and a half cups of blueberries if mom was going to make cheesecake, or how nice it was to have hot cobbler and fresh ice cream in the winter time. Also how I would be racing with you (though possibly it wasn’t a race to you) to keep up with servings of fresh cobbler and ice cream and how at some point (I think in college) I realized that I was barely savoring the flavor until I had slowed down on my 3rd or 4th serving and was getting over full.

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