Family Traditions

Write about a few of your favorite family traditions.

Humans have a prodigious ability to create and destroy. The very concept of culture ( big C or little c) is something that we are continuously developing and eliminating. So traditions exist as a process; we continually reshape them even as we celebrate them. I’ll have to beg the reader’s forgiveness; although I no longer work as an anthropologist, I’ll never shake the orientation.
Family traditions offer a look into the processes of development and loss. In October of 2023, I’ll initiate the 50th anniversary of the Carreras family fruitcakes. Were fruitcakes a Carreras family tradition before then? Nope. And I honestly do not remember why I settled on making fruitcakes that fall fifty years ago. But every fall since I start on the family fruitcakes – which after baking, settle in for a long rum-soaked gestation before being shipped off for family eating during Christmas.

I was looking for something to replace my grandmother’s Poppyseed bread. Grandma had died years before without leaving a recipe and without taking apprentices. So her tradition, dating back generations in her family, effectively died with her.
Replace a traditional Hungarian treat with fruitcake? As a family, we tried to duplicate her recipe without luck. She had always been elusive on her secrets, a sort of “pinch of this, a pinch of that” description of the process that guaranteed it could not be duplicated. So as a family, we eventually threw in the towel on reproducing it. A family tradition lost.

That was where we were the year I first made my rum-soaked fruitcakes. The first year I only made two; one for myself and my wife and one for my parents. Things evolved. Over the years, the recipe evolved; ingredients were added, quantities changed, and the rum-soaking technique matured. Eventually, I reached about twenty cakes and distributed fruit cakes in early December to any family member who appreciated them. There is a bit of drudgery involved in making that many. but commitment is part of tradition.

At fifty years, I can look back and see how the tradition started, developed, and is being passed on. A few years ago, my oldest son apprenticed, transcribed the recipe, and can now make the cakes. I fully expect that, over time, his cakes will vary from the ones I made. That’s part of what makes traditions alive; they change and develop while staying steady parts of our expectations in life.

About seven years ago, I was able to replicate grandma’s Poppyseed bread. I now bake this for the family at Christmas time and tell the story about how she rewarded and punished family members by giving them loaves with more or less filling. After all, it’s not only the food that makes the tradition; it’s the telling of the stories surrounding it.

Families are microcosms of culture, and family traditions connect members across generations leading back to the past and forward to the future.

7 Replies to “Family Traditions”

  1. Poppy seed loaves! I’ve had some variation of them and congratulate you on eventually cracking the code!
    In my family, as you know, shortbread by way of a Sottish immigrant grandmother was the family tradition she carried to the New World. Her recipe predated several generations of Scottish women, but we always gave her full credit for carrying it on…”her” shortbread, after all, was immediate and was a bit of this “pinch of that” tradition of baking.

    Her pie crust was another family recipe that reflected the skills of generations of Cameron women. She attributed it to her grandmother. I’ve made it many times in a short-lived family tradition I started of combining that flaky, almost-shortbread-like treat with my variation on pecan pie.

    My extra touch, the one people trying to duplicate may pie was cinnamon and a doubling of the amount of pecans called for in the basic recipe…which I share since I’m not some housewife trying to keep the secret of her success!

    Well, the cinnamon falls into the “pinch of that” tradition since I never measure it but go by some secret measure even I can’t state, just guess by smell or something – it always turns out fine! With just two in the family left, no one will be around to try to duplicate why the written recipe never tastes the same as the remembered pie.

    1. My wife’s Grandmother was a McKillip, I loved that woman, and not the ;east because her shortbread was to die for. Pies are one thing I’ve never mastered, but my wife’s other grandmother made fantastic ones. You could say I married wisely.
      You seem to have received the baking skills in your family. Has anyone in your family started to pick up the tradition?

      1. I’m unaware that anyone else in the family tries baking. Well, a cousin is a great baker, though she runs a newspaper and has little time, now, for much else.

  2. My 1st MIL made a wonderful banana bread every Christmas and a “white” fruit cake that was to scrumptious! She sent the fruit cake to us in Taiwan the Christmas my husband was stationed there and I put together a simple Christmas celebration for his fellow enlistee’s. One was a black Sargent who laughed out loud about whether he dared eat a “white” fruit cake but he loved it as well as the rest of us. She did manage to give me the recipe for the banana bread but never gave it to her own daughter nor any of her other recipes. I’ve done what you have with the fruitcake. I gave loaves to the mail carriers, trash collectors, delivery drivers and as many neighbors that seemed happy to see them. I’ve given the recipe to anyone that asked as neither of my children had children so the tradition would die out as my family did. My DIL makes it to her own specifications but each year, I still make it, sometimes adding coconut to it just for fun. We have moved so much and family has gone by the wayside so tradition really does not weigh heavily in our house. My son still loves things his grandmothers made when I can get the energy to recreate them. My daughter doesn’t cook. Period. Life is strange. A rum soaked fruitcake sounds really good to me though.

  3. Tradition is an interesting thing. Sometimes it skips generations, and that’s what family recipes and cookbooks are all about. If people didn’t think they were important they would neither invent them nor revive them.
    Your recipes may find connection with all those people who you share with, and spawn new traditions.
    By the way, it’s always nice to her from you!

Comments are closed.