Honoring the Ancestors through Food, Part One

I’ve always been curious about how our ancestors ate. I love the whole realm of food and beverage, from anthropology down to history. One of my favorite aspects of being in the wine business is that it is a traditional industry steeped (fermented?) in history and culture.

So I began pondering: How would eating traditionally connect me to the ancestors? Not just my temporally near ones, but what about my deep, genetic ancestors?  I honor the ancestors in my daily prayers, but it feels important to cultivate that connection in other ways.

My favorite aspect of all the holidays and Sabbats is definitely the food. I make butter on Imbolc, Colcannon on Samhain, soda bread for the Vernal Equinox. Not to mention the feasts of Yule, Christmas and Thanksgiving. So, if I like that connection so much, what about starting to extend it to daily life?

One of my favorite blogs, Hunt Gather Love, got me to thinking about food anthropology, and piqued my interest even more when she posted about a traditional Scots diet (basically, bleeding venison and kale).

So–first question–who are my ancestors? And where are they from?

Thanks to extensive genealogical research done by my maternal aunt, I know that my bloodline contains ancestors who arrived in America from France, Austria, Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales. I also have one flaming genetic marker for Celtic ancestry: I’m a red-head (and freckled).

Question two–That’s a lot of different cuisines and regions.

Sure…well, kind of. And it’s not like I’m trying to be a purist here. Hello, I’m an American whose family has been here since the 1700s. I could also add in Scots-Appalachian food (redundant, perhaps?) and traditional Southern into the mix. But since I’m mostly referring to deep ancestry, I think those more modern distinctions are less important.

Here’s what I’ve gleaned from research into a traditional Scots diet:

Grains: barley, rye, oats.

Vegetables: kale, cabbage, Allium crops (garlic, shallots, leeks, onion), turnips,  sea vegetables, wild vegetables (nettles, watercress), marsh plants (sea beans).

Fruits: berries, apples

Dairy: cream, milk, butter, cheese, whey

Meats: fish (especially salmon and trout), shellfish, game meat (especially venison), lamb/mutton, eggs, sometimes beef.

Sugars: honey

A traditional Irish diet would have looked much the same. In researching the topic I found more references to milk products, ducks, geese and beef in the Irish diet–but that doesn’t mean that the Scots didn’t enjoy these foods as well.

A more continental European diet would include beans and legumes, more grains (wheat, though not much, and millet), and a more diverse set of vegetables and fruits.

Traditionally, grains would have (most of the time) been soaked or fermented, which makes them easier to digest and shortens the cooking time.  Think of soured porridge, sourdough, and soaked oats.

Something else to think about–after the hunter/gatherer period of history, fresh meat would have been the province of the nobility, except for feast days. Food of the lower classes would have been grains, dairy and vegetables, supplemented with blood sausages and the like. It’s interesting to note that because of the emphasis on dairy, some of the dietary practices were similar to the traditional diet of the African Masaai tribe (like mixing raw blood, raw milk and butter together).

[Part II will discuss Application and will have a list of my resources and the Wish List Cookbooks]

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