by Ana Kinkaid, editor of the culinary magazine CONNECT
Thanks to immigration, American cuisine is one of the most diverse in the world, and no time of the year highlights that fact better than the new year and its “Good Luck” foods served from coast to coast. Consider sharing one of these great dishes for prosperity and happiness in 2019.
Pork has long been a popular food on New Year’s Eve buffets. German and later Polish and Russian immigrants first helped to popularize pork as a favorite entrée for a young America as it celebrated the end of one year and the start of another.
Pork was considered ideal for two reasons. First, pigs are traditionally slaughtered in late fall, making the aged hanging pork the perfect winter meat to use when celebrating the new year. And second, folklore of the 18th century maintained the belief that because pigs put their snouts to the ground and move forward, they were a healthier (and luckier) meat than that of chickens and turkeys, who scratch backward.
Wishing You Health and Wealth
Cabbage has long been served with pork, especially in the form of sauerkraut, for a simple reason: cabbage was traditionally harvested in the fall. The six-to-eight-week fermenting process required to make sauerkraut meant that it was ready just in time for the year’s end. Additionally, the lengthy strands of cabbage symbolized, for Eastern European immigrants, a long life in their new country, and its green color increased wealth.
Takin’ the Cake
What’s a holiday without a taste of something sweet? Greek immigrants brought their traditional cake called Vasilopita to American cuisine during the 1880’s. Made just before New Year’s and only eaten on New Year’s Day, this Greek New Year’s cake is sweet, bready, and topped with almonds. The cake is baked with a coin or trinket, and the person who got that slice could expect to have good luck for the year to come.
Not to be outdone, Scandinavian immigrants, arriving weary but hopeful from 1820 to 1920, added the impressive Ring Cake to the national end-of-year table. Almond flavored cookies in graduated sizes were stacked and secured with sugar icing to symbolize eternal love and hope as they began their new lives in America.
Spanish and Portuguese immigrants have long enriched America’s culinary history, and New Year’s Eve is no exception. For more than 100 years both communities have celebrated the New Year by eating 12 grapes for good luck. Tradition requires each diner to start eating the grapes on the first stroke of midnight and finish the final grape on the last chime of the old year. (Not an easy feat, especially if they are part of a cocktail!)
Beans and Greens
Of course, not everyone who came to America came willingly. From 1526 until 1863 black Africans were brought to America as slaves on crowded ships. Despite the bleakness of their situation, they held out hope for freedom.
Their outstanding courage and creativity, in the face of such abuse and hardship, added greatly to the cultural wealth of our nation, one sadly overlooked for generations. Their enduring culinary contributions include black-eyed peas (once know as “cowpeas” and considered suitable only for animals and slaves) and collard greens (harvested only after a day of back-breaking work). Little-known to their oppressive white owners, both the black-eyed peas and collard greens were ancient African symbols of strength and better days to come.
Rice Is Nice
Thousands of Chinese immigrants also labored unappreciated to build America, laying down hundreds of mile of railroad track across dry deserts and soaring mountain passes. Though many died in the effort, many of those who survived opened restaurants. There they served steaming bowls of rice with the hope that each grain increased the diner’s wealth, and the special elongated noodles served ensure the blessings of a long life in a free and accepting Republic.
Savor the Flavors
As the year comes to a close, endless internet articles and TV programs will present the year in review, often recounting the disasters and traumas that mark the passing year. But perhaps we also need to pause amidst our busy schedules and savor the richness that diversity has brought to our country from its earliest days to the stroke of midnight on December 31, 2018 and beyond!
Happy New Year Everyone!