Celebrating Diversity of Flavors and Traditions this Holiday Season
Like many married people, I often face the question of “your family” or “my family” at holidays. This year, we chose “none of the above” and headed south to the California desert to spend the holiday weekend in the warm sunshine and celebrate Thanksgiving with a group of friends.
Our Thanksgiving meal was an incredible mix of many creative culinary contributions. As I filled my plate it struck me that my dinner was a mix of many families’ traditional recipes that were quite different than those I had grown up with. There was ginger in the butternut squash soup, jalapeños in the stuffing and bourbon in the pecan pie. Missing from the table was my grandmother’s cornbread stuffing with turkey giblets and the Le Sueur peas with cream gravy that my dad loved. Also missing were the biscuits that my father-in-law loved – those light and airy concoctions that seemed to defy physics as somehow a single teaspoon of flour properly baked was suddenly capable of holding two tablespoons of butter!
While many around the Thanksgiving table were close friends with whom I have shared many meals, others I had met just that day. But the common experience of sharing a meal and our memories of Thanksgiving meals past brought us all together and made the experience enriching for all of us. This ability of shared food experiences to bring people together is one of the most rewarding parts of my work at PCFMA. I see it happen in our farmers’ markets when strangers share with one another suggestions and insights about the fruits and vegetables they are purchasing. This shared experience also crosses cultural traditions as customers and farmers of different backgrounds share innovative ways to prepare and enjoy foods that are new to one but familiar to the other.
Since joining PCFMA I have been introduced to a whole world of foods that were not part of my Polish/German/South Texas upbringing and have merged them into my favorite recipes. Today I toss bok choy in olive oil and sea salt before grilling, sauté gai lan (Chinese broccoli) with balsamic vinegar and Portobello mushrooms, and mix slices of grilled Japanese eggplant with pesto and Romano cheese. While I sometimes prepare these vegetables – traditional among many Asian cuisines – in a manner respecting their cultural origins, I am more likely to mix them with other favorite ingredients in ways that defy any single cultural tradition.
My introduction to this world of unique vegetables came through the generosity of PCFMA’s Hmong farmers who insisted that I try unfamiliar vegetables. After more than 14 years of working with these farmers, I continue to be impressed with their generosity, their incredible skill in coaxing food out of the land, and their extraordinary work ethic which gets them out of bed well before dawn multiple days per week to fill their trucks and make the drive from the Central Valley to the Bay Area to be ready to sell at 9:00am when farmers’ markets open. In this month’s Market Thymes we pay tribute to these Hmong farmers and the delicious diversity of products they bring to our farmers’ markets. I encourage you to chat with them during your next market visit and buy something that may be unfamiliar to you. It could open up a whole new world of culinary possibilities.