Bon Appetit! Using Food for Research
Growing up in Southeastern Massachusetts, I spent many an afternoon watching our local culinary hero on Boston’s PBS channel. I learned how to cook at the arm of my mother and her mother, both excellent in the kitchen. And watching Julia Child on The French Chef was a passion for many people, and arguably one of the best-known women in America. Tomorrow marks the one-hundredth anniversary of her birth.
Food can also play a role in genealogy. Holidays often revolve around food, and certain dishes are often served only for certain holidays. I remember my mother teaching me how to make tourtière. This French-Canadian double-crust meat pie was traditionally served at the reveillons celebrating Christmas and the New Year. The name comes from the name of the pan it was originally cooked in.
Originally made with passenger pigeon, tortière is now made with other ground meats, especially beef and pork. It is also made with onion, garlic, and spices. When the Great Depression hit, families started adding potatoes to the pie to make the meal stretch further.
What is interesting is that the exact recipe changes from area to area within Québec. The exact spices and proportions of meat can vary greatly. For example, my maternal grandmother’s recipe includes a larger portion of beef. My paternal grandfather’s family, however, made pies that were predominantly pork (and used no potatoes at all).
Not only are these family traditions, but knowing you’re the recipes are made can help you genealogically. Some foods are limited to certain areas. In other cases, like the tortière, knowing how the food is prepared can help you identify a more specific region where your family may have originated.
Start looking at the food handed down in your family. What is it called? What are the ingredients? What proportions? How is the food prepared? All of these are clues. Research these things, and perhaps they will lead you to more evidence to identify your family’s origins. And you can celebrate your findings with a great meal serving up these delicious dishes. As Julia would say “Bon Appetit!”