The Great Melting Pot

By Executive Chef Greg Roach,
Wild Oats Cooperative Market,
Williamstown

theGrtMeltPotDoes anyone else hide a pickle on their Christmas tree?

That was a new one for me when I married a rural Minnesota girl of German and Norwegian extraction. Along with her heritage came foods like potato lefse and almond stollen, as well as the annual search for the pickle ornament on the Christmas tree to determine who gets open the first present.

My childhood holidays in suburban Detroit were a bit of a melting pot, with English grandparents on side and a blend of Irish and the old American South on the other. To make it even more colorful my mother had begun to resurrect our family’s Jewish traditions, which had faded a bit over two generations since the emigration of her fiery red-headed grandmother from London. Great Grandma Nellie had scandalously married a Presbyterian minister for love—which had so offended both their families, as well as the Presbyterian Church, that Nellie and her new husband, Joe, felt the need to leave the UK for Gary, Indiana, around 1905.

Our modern family holidays in Northern Berkshire County are a rather classic American mash-up. From the street you can peer through our dining room windows to see a menorah and a few subtle Hanukkah decorations. But if you look through the living room windows you will see a Christmas tree topped with an angel and strung with wooden cranberries, dozens of blown-glass and homemade ornaments along with poinsettias and wreaths.

Our holiday menus at home reflect previous generations in much the same way as our decorations: Latkes, brisket, goose, Christmas cookies, Mississippi Mud Pie, cheese logs, lefse with butter and sugar, along with too many others to mention, have all rightfully graced our table over the years—sometimes in combinations that might have made our ancestors roll their eyes. Although there will always be black-eyed peas on New Years Day.

Should I be lucky enough to see the holiday celebrations of future generations in our family, I can only imagine what I might experience as our traditions continue to evolve.

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