Traditions Across the U.S.: Kombucha

On a sunny November day, Bjarke and I wound our way through Tennessee woods to reach the home of Sandor Katz. Walking into his kitchen was like entering an ode to fermentation—shelves are stacked high with crocks of kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, and more. When your gaze reaches the tippy top, you find a stained glass window depicting bacteria.

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Traditions Across the U.S.: Feast of Seven Fishes

Often, when trying to define American food, we can get stuck searching for dishes with no distinguishable international roots—those that are purely “American.” But I’d argue that some of the strongest examples of American food culture are customs brought across oceans, adapted, and carried out here.

This week, I’m departing from the places and people we met on the road to talk about the most eastern point on our path—our endpoint—Youngstown, Ohio. It’s where I’ve celebrated most Christmas Eves of my life.

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Traditions Across The U.S.: Dulce de Membrillo

In Tucson, Arizona, a UNESCO World City of Gastronomy, there is a place called Mission Garden. There, roaming the grounds allows you to experience 4,000 years of agriculture—the longest known history of cultivation in the U.S. In that garden, I met Josefina. She was teaching people how to make dulce de membrillo (quince paste) at a festival celebrating fall’s quince harvest.

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The Carrot: use your veggies from stem to end

In the first week of October 2017, my husband Bjarke and I packed all of our belongings in a Honda Civic and set out on a 2-month road trip across the U.S. Every square inch of the trunk was methodically filled with clothes, kitchen tools, and books that we don’t need until we arrive at our destination of Ohio. The back seat holds items for everyday living — there’s my gray backpack we call “the office” wedged next to the small, white cooler we call “the fridge” that balances upon the big blue bag we call “the dresser.”

Each time we dig through bags and boxes to unearth whatever we need next, we are reminded of the volume and energy our stuff consumes. Because of that, every item we carry must serve a purpose in order to continue the journey. There are no redundancies, and we try to get full use out of everything we have...

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Tomato: make time for traditions

For me, the tomato will always be inextricably linked to my family’s annual tomato canning tradition.

Every year around Labor Day, we’d gather around bushels of plum tomatoes and get to work. It’s a long process—one that’s best done in the company of others. In this case, many hands make (lighter, but not exactly) light work.

Tomatoes are also one of my most potent examples of the connection between memory and sense of smell. I swear, the aroma from the huge stockpots of simmering tomato puree on that one Sunday in September seeps into the walls of my grandma’s basement and kitchen, and continually releases that sweet, acidic scent throughout the year.

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Zucchini: Share your bounty with abandon

I’m no master gardener, but for each of the past four years, our raised beds have contained zucchini. It seems like the ultimate foolproof vegetable—one that can always be counted on to produce and produce and produce.

Zucchini belongs to the cucurbit family (don’t you love that name?!) along with melon, cucumber, and hard-skinned squash like pumpkins. It’s a summer squash, which means it’s harvested before autumn sets in and the rind becomes hard like those of butternut or acorn squash.

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