Use Italian Recipes and Food To Preserve Your HeritageFrom risotto to fish, our food gives us a glimpse into our past. Discovering our heritage is an important part of developing and shaping our self identity. Although this applies to anyone regardless of nationality, in our case we are referring specifically to Italian heritage. Where our ancestors originate from, and the struggles and challenges which shaped and directed their journey through life, is not only part of our history – but the story of why we are where we are today. Oftentimes, it is not until a person has the opportunity to look into their heritage, that an appreciation begins to form. Much of this appreciation and respect can be cultivated early on in life through simple practices in the household, specifically the kitchen. Little nuggets of information of one’s ancestors can easily be passed down generation through generation.
The Link Between Culture and FoodThe role of food in Italian culture is instrumental in preserving a family’s heritage and traditions. Our ancestors from generations ago may not have realized their simple recipes were going to be passed down from family to family, but it is these recipes which give us insight into who they were and where they came from. For example, we know that there are many regions in Italy where the food they prepare is specific to that region. Northern Italy is known for their rice dishes and use of vegetables. They also use less pasta than their southern neighbors, who although enjoy vegetables as well, their diet consists of more pastas and red tomato sauces. Take a look through your family recipes and you will find they will probably reflect the culinary styles of that region where your ancestors originated from.
Let the Food Tell the HistoryFish on Fridays Serving fish on Friday was typically practiced unilaterally throughout Italian culture. The reason behind this is that most Italians come from Catholic backgrounds. In the Catholic tradition, Catholics abstained from meat on Friday to honor and remember the sacrifice of Christ. Meat was often replaced with fish. If your ancestors were Catholic, this is a tradition they most likely practiced. By practicing this now, we are letting the food give insight into the spiritual background of our ancestors. Sauces – Not Everyone Used Tomatoes For many today, even Italian-Americans who are unattached to their past, it is believed all Italian use red tomato sauce on their pastas. If your family comes from the northern part of Italy, odds are red sauce was not used until just a few centuries ago. This is because tomatoes did not gain popularity in Italy until the 17th century. Odd enough, tomatoes were believed to be poisonous and the plants were used for ornamental purposes. It would be much later that the use of this new fruit would make its way up the Italian boot shaped country to the northern regions. The northern regions were more familiar with rice and grain dishes, and pasta was generally in the form of macaroni. They were more influenced by other countries along their northern border. As you can see, the types of recipes your parents or grandparents prepare hold valuable geographical insights into what part of Italy they were from. Fruits and Vegetables Our ancestors in Italy relied heavily on the land to produce the food with which they would feed their families. Vegetables were not chosen as an attempt to remain healthy or meet their daily requirements of vitamins as is the case today. They learned to plant, grow and harvest their food supply because they had to. It was a way of life. Teaching our children the value of growing and harvesting our own food supplies is a trade which can be traced back to past generations. From learning how to dry tomato seeds, to planting garlic in the fall – we have our ancestors to thank for such practices. The role of food in Italian culture is strong and for most, a symbol of pride and self identity. Passing down authentic family recipes from grandparent to parent to child is how it was done in the past, and how it is done today. Hopefully it will continue to be done in the future – thus preserving our customs and heritage. The more a person learns about where their ancestry is from, the more a person desires to reconnect with the past – whether it be through studying food, visiting relatives in native countries, or simply researching their ancestry through genealogy services. Bear in mind, once you start, it is a wonderful and even addicting process one will never regret. This article was contributed by SimpleItalianCooking.com, a website resource for easy Italian recipes and Italian pasta bowls.