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Why Food Rituals Are Crucial

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Here in the South, New Year’s Day brings a variety of meaning to the dinner table, from good fortune to a long life. Every first of the year my family comes together and my grandmother cooks up some good luck dishes like Fried Fish, and Collard Greens. I asked my grandmother why would she always cook the same dishes every New Year , and she explained to me that it was a traditional African American custom that every African American family took part in during the New Year for good fortune and long life. My grandmother then explained to me what each dish meant and what eating the dish would bring into every New Year that I enter. She said that Fried Fish means great “Health, and Collard Greens means great “Wealth.”

After my grandmother explained to me what each dish meant I decided to watch her prepare and cook each dish New Year’s Eve. Starting with the Fried Fish my grandma told me that the type of fish that we were going to fry was Tilapia. She placed out the 3 bags of Tilapia and the rest of the ingredients for it. The ingredients consisted of 1 cup of cornmeal, 1 tablespoon of granulated garlic, 1 teaspoon of onion powder, 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon of black pepper, 2 teaspoons of salt, and 1 cup of buttermilk. After gathering all of the ingredients, She went step by step teaching me how to fry the fish. I preheated the deep fryer to 375 degrees F while she mixed together cornmeal, garlic, onion powder, cayenne pepper , salt, and pepper inside of a big bowl. She took each piece of Tilapia and dipped it into the buttermilk, And once she dipped each inside of the buttermilk she deeply dipped each piece inside of the cornmeal mix. After dipping the fish she deep fried 3 pieces of fish at a time. She moved them around the deep fryer so that they wouldn’t stick. We kept them inside of the deep fryer until they were gold and crispy which was about 3 to 4 minutes considering that the fillets weren’t that big. We had 3 bags of Tilapia and we did the remaining process for each fillet inside of the 3 bags. We had lots of help inside of the kitchen so since my grandma was teaching me how to cook each dish that was apart of our traditional dinner she turned the fish over to my aunt and she began to teach me how to prepare and cook the collard greens.

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The collard greens were already cut prior to us cooking them so we prepared the ingredients. 3 bags of collard greens, 2 bags of ham hocks, chicken broth, vinegar, salt , and pepper. We boiled the ham hocks separately inside of a crock pot for about 2 hours until the meat was tender and falling off the bone. My grandmother explained to me that ham hocks are pork and the reason that she puts pork inside of the collard greens is because the more pig the meal involves the more luck it brings. Pig is a symbol of prosperity and forward moving, so the more you eat pork the more prosperous you’ll become. While the ham hocks were boiling we placed all of the collard greens inside of a pot with boiling water and chicken broth. Then we added vinegar, salt, and pepper. We left the collard greens on for 2 hours also until they were tender.

At this point I was super hot and exhausted from being in the kitchen all day. We took the ham hocks and placed them inside of the collard greens to be mixed in. We added a little more season along with chicken broth and the New Year’s dinner was officially done and served. My grandmother then explained to me one last time what each dish meant and I was grateful that she took the time out to do so. However, what meant the most to me through out the entire process was dwelling on the fact that my family still maintains their ethnic origins by preparing food from their native country. The fried fish and collard greens are dishes that connects back to our African American roots and they all have psychological influences on us all . Knowing that meant and still means a lot to me. Influences such as luck and longevity, and health along with wealth. It was very true when Miller Williams said “Ritual is important to us as human beings. It ties us to our traditions and our histories.” I strongly agree with that quote. Ritual is crucial.

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