Food Rituals

Thank you to my facebook fans who shared their stories with me today. I didn't use every one in this post, but I read and can relate to all of them. You guys are the best.

Ritual: an established or prescribed procedure for religious or other rites.

Rite: a formal or ceremonial act...

Sometimes on Saturday or Sunday afternoons, I would make orangeade with my dad. The ingredients we used for our version were as follows: orange juice, sugar, water. While some people might have just assembled all these ingredients in a pitcher or glass and stirred them all together, we used to pull out my kid-sized stand mixer. I can barely remember that mixer, and truth to tell, I just remembered making orangeade when I sat down to write about rituals. The mixer had a white plastic bowl and two beaters---like a Sunbeam mixer for kids.

Oh! It was a Suzy Homemaker! Thank you, Oracle at Google.

I'm pretty sure that the mixer did little to nothing to coax the sugar into solution with the cold liquids---a spoon surely would have been a more useful implement, but using that mixer made orangeade special. A magical mixer beverage that I shared with my dad. Orangeade became such a Big Deal for me, that I can even remember this clue for an in-the-newspaper-adult-crossword-puzzle that I attempted at the age of ten or so: "a picnic beverage." The solution was nine letters long, a really long word for a kid. But orangeade fit, and I wrote it, one capital letter per box at a time. In ink.

And it was correct.

That's how big a deal orangeade was to me.

Food is love. Food is power.

Food, and what food means to us, can be confusing.

Food helps us remember. Food helps us forget. Food divides. Food unites. Food can act as both a reward and a punishment.

The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind

and another

his mother called him "WILD THING!" and Max said, "I'LL EAT YOU UP!"

so he was sent to bed without eating anything.

--Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are

The need for food is universal, one of the most basic of human needs, and one shared by every soul on this planet.

Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are. --Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Holy days are marked by feasting or by fasting. Eating and drinking are ritualized both in worship and at home.

God is great. God is good. Let us thank him for our food.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.

In the name of Allah, in the beginning and the end.

This ritual is One. The food is One. We who offer the food are One.

This is my body, broken for you. Take. Eat. Do this in remembrance of me.

Give us this day our daily bread.

Whether or not we espouse any particular religion, it is no wonder that the rituals that surround the preparation and the eating of food can take on a sort of religious flavor.

...heating the skillet, cutting up the red peppers, green pepper and onions. Running the cold water so the onions don't burn my eyes. Then scraping the cutting board with my knife to push all the sliced veggies into the Pan. Hearing the sizzle then sautéing til perfectly golden and soft. Adding the salt with my fingers and pepper. I love beating my eggs with a fork just like my mother taught me when I was very young... --Diane, New Hampshire

Making a pineapple-upside down cake! Draining pineapple slices, then using paper towels to make them bone dry...melting butter, gilding the baking pan, adding brown sugar by sight/feel, making sure that the sugar is just dark brown from the butter, cutting the pineapple slices in half (to make little half moons), alternate directions, then...pour batter over all. Un-molding the cake, adding the cherries! Lovely...crusty brown bits, glistening pineapple and the frankly artificial vivid red of the maraschino cherries....Absolute favorite cake! --Kathi, Arizona

Mine is the ritual I have when I make pasta sauce, the heating of the stockpot, pouring in the olive oil, sweating the sofrito, putting the San Marzano tomatoes thru the food mill, opening the bottle of chianti ( some of which actually finds its way into the sauce), warming up the chicken stock, and the long, low simmer for around 6 hours. --John, Kentucky

I love the ritual of risotto. Mise en place - chopping and prepping everything so it's ready to go - especially important since this comes together quickly. Oven crisping the prosciutto, heating the chicken broth and blanching the asparagus, sauteing the shallot, cooking the Arborio rice until it's opaque, the smell of the Pinot Grigio when it hits the pan (heavenly), then the stirring and checking (usually accompanied by a lot of humming) and adding more chicken stock one ladle at a time. It's therapeutic - then delicious! --Anne, Florida

The ritual I love most is making sauce and gnocchi.... just saying the words makes me happy! Assembling all of the ingredients... First browning all of the meats, sausage, bone in pork, and beef... then I make the meatballs...ground beef, fresh bread crumbs, egg, minced garlic, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, fresh flat leaf parsley and then the wonderful fresh grated Parmesan cheese... All of this sits and simmers in the wonderful plum tomatoes while I begin the gnocchi... I love using the ricer... then rolling and cutting, flipping and watching the counter fill with those beautiful little pillows of awesomeness!!!.... yum!
When they finally come together my family and I are really happy after smelling the wonderful smell fill the house for hours! --Laina, New York

Step by step, we build our offering to our family. To ourselves. To our guests. We meditate, we feel, we smell, we share.

This magic, this...vitality...often translates beautifully into film. Consider these three clips. The  first, from Ratatouille, and the next two both from one of my favorite movies (food movie or not) of all time, Big Night.

One taste, one whiff of certain foods can transport us to another time and place. Intense sense memory.

The making of the timpano is a highly ritualized ballet. It is an act of worship containing all of the most important things in the world.

The simple act of cooking and sharing food speaks more loudly than any words ever could.

These are some of my thoughts about the power of food. Please, share yours. I'd love to hear.

Thank you for spending some of your time with me; have a wonderful day.





  1. Lori Parker says

    My mother was a health nut. As in, made her own yogurt, goods from scratch, my sister & I didn’t taste sugary snacks like lollipops until we were toddlers, etc. She scoffed at Twinkies and other ‘junk food’ that our friends took for granted. Oh, what I would have given to bring a Hostess ANYTHING to school for lunch! (I didn’t appreciate her homemade crusts, sauces, etc until much older)
    My parents divorced when I was 4 1/2, which meant we spent weekends with Dad. The Bachelor. He’d let us eat just about anything, God love him. So when we hit up Dunkin Donuts, I went NUTS. I got not only the completely non-nutritive “fruit” punch (spoiler: no actual fruit!) that was probably 80 percent Red Dye #8, but I also got the Vanilla Kreme donut. The first time I requested this, Dad didn’t even blink. No Mom-like lecture about sugar and vitamins and whatnot. He just turned to the cashier and ordered it! I felt my heart race– I was getting away with ordering something with virtually no benefit to my body! I still SO clearly remember looking at the sugary fruit punch in one hand and the frosting-laden donut in the other. THIS was, to this point so far, one of the most awesome moments of my life. That became my go-to order for YEARS. Even now, I’ll swing by Dunkin Donuts and if I see a Vanilla Kreme, I order it, and that memory floats by me again. I don’t get the fruit punch anymore. 🙂

  2. Susan says

    My grandma, mom, sister and I would get in the kitchen together to make thanksgiving dinner and grandma always told us “don’t pour out the potato water!” We always did and grandma would just shake her head at us. To this day while i am making mashed potatoes and gravy those memories of all of us together cooking comes back to me.

  3. Kim Bee says

    This is just lovely Jenni. For me food is connection. it’s the tie that binds for me. You can tell how much I adore people by what I cook for them when they come over. It’s also a sensory thing for me. Smell evokes memory. And for me memories of my mom have faded over time. The sound of her voice faded first. But if I smell certain foods I can remember her completely, how she looked, how she smelled, how she talked, and if I’m really lucky it makes me remember her voice. Those are always the best days. xx

    • says

      I hope that you have many of those days! Smells are scarily powerful. I haven’t been in my mom’s parents’ house in probably 40 years, but I know exactly how it smelled. And if I smell that particular smell again, I’d instantly be right back there.

Speak Your Mind