Saturday, October 15, 2011

Blog Action Day 2011 - The Foods of My Ancestors

[Editor's Note: I'm participating in Blog Action Day 2011 where the topic is Food - here is my blog post contribution to the conversation]

Food has always played a major role in my family's history, from more recent times and stretching back for hundreds of years. Documented stories exist of ancestors who left Germany and Ireland in search of reliable sources of food. With potato famines in Ireland, and political unrest in Germany and surrounding states, the lack of food was one of those "push" factors for migrating to America.

In more modern times, food was also difficult to find. My mother, Jacqueline Austin MacEntee, grew up in a large family with 11 siblings during the Great Depression in Jersey City, New Jersey. Each summer, she and the rest of her brothers and sisters who make their way up to a small town in the Catskills - Grahamsville, New York - to get out of the city and to help her grandparents grow the food they all consumed.

My family history is filled with stories of that magical time - the squabbles over food with those hungry mouths to feed, and how there were no "seconds" so you took as much as you could the first go-around! Also, how one chilly morning my great-grandmother decided to go berry picking wearing her fur coat and my great-grandfather, thinking she was a bear, almost shot her!

Food was also the focus of celebrations, as you can see in the photo above.  My mother would often tell the story of how her siblings tried to throw a cake for her Confirmation celebration out the window.

For me, growing up, food was ever-present, even when there were rough times and we had almost no money. I don't know how Mom did it with just me and my younger brother, but we never went hungry. I learned to cook around age 9 when my mother went to work and I was expected to have dinner on the table each night.  I am so glad that Mom taught me a skill that would serve me the rest of my life and allow me to also prepare celebratory meals for my own family and friends. As a tribute to her recipes, I started a food blog called And I Helped! which features not only Mom's recipes, but the ones enjoyed by me and my family.

Finally, just as food is a necessity for life, food also has played a major role in my own family history, and I suspect, in the history of most families. And I am grateful that as I research the lives of my ancestors, their stories continue to feed me, to feed my soul.

Photo: Confirmation Cake In Flight, abt. 1954, Jersey City, New Jersey. Photograph, property of Thomas MacEntee [Address withheld], Chicago, Illinois, 2011.

© 2011, copyright Thomas MacEntee

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