Saturday, December 19, 2009
Its Cold in Pennsylvania!
Normally I spend my Christmas holiday in Belize. Warm humid air, coconut trees, parrots waking me up in the morning, rain pounding on the tin roof at night, and black fruit cake and breadfruit on the Xmas dinner table are all traditions that I hold dear. This year, however, my father had to have a surgery that involved physical therapy which he could not obtain in my remote part of Belize, so my parents stayed on in Reading, PA over the Xmas holiday. For my brother and me, that meant canceling our plane tickets home and heading to Central Pennsylvania instead of Central America for our winter vacation.
I'm not a fan of winter. I like sunshine. Winter is often dreary and grey and it gets dark at a ridiculously early hour. I like humidity. In winter the air gets so dry I wake up in the middle of the night with my skin tightening over my body like a sausage link on a grill. I love warmth. Winter, my friends, is COLD. Therefore, I do not like winter, and I greet its arrival with disdain and its departure with a level of exuberant celebratory happiness usually reserved for weddings, New Year's parties and lottery winners. The one and only thing I like about winter in the temperate zone is that I have an excuse to wear my awesome leather biker jacket. But I would give that up immediately if the alternative was bikinis by the pool.
Now for all those real Christians and secular (or, as I like to call myself, pseudo) Christians out there, Winter means Christmas and Christmas means food. Holidays often function like a black hole for custom, pulling in and retaining traditional practices and activities long after their meaning or the original cultural context has disappeared. This explains the continuing popularity of songs about horse drawn sleighs when ford tundra SUVs with built in back seat DVD players are more likely to be the suburban transport of choice. It also explains the preponderance of "traditional" family recipes around this time of year. In Reading, PA, which is only a stone's throw from Lancaster County, heart of Pennsylvania Dutch (really German) culture, this means masses of cookies, pies and other sweets along with the very important sours: pepper cabbage, three bean salad, sauerkraut and other vinegary foods that offset and complement the German sweet tooth. While I am missing my black fruit cake, rum po po (a very strong rum based egg nog) and other Belizean holiday treats, I am looking forward to chowing down on some sauerkraut real soon. In fact, I was lucky enough to enjoy some homemade sauerkraut at my last Food, Art and Identity class just last week and it has just primed my taste buds for more.
Today I was supposed to go help a family friend make venison scrapple, and I was planning on posting all about this regional delicacy right here, with pictures and all, but the snow has kept us from driving up into the hills to his house. So instead I wanted to ask you all what food or beverage do you consider absolutely essential to the winter season? Is it hot chocolate piled high with whipped cream? Peppermint candy canes? Sugar cookies sprinkled red and green? Your Granddad's famous beef stew? Or your Auntie's best black fruit cake?