My culinary family tree begins with the thrifty practicality of my maternal Grandmother, who was born to German immigrants, grew up on a farm, and lived through the Great Depression with my Grandfather on their own farm. They grew almost everything they needed – meat, eggs, milk, vegetables, fruit, grain – and carefully prepared it to last through the whole year. Friends in Chicago have compared us to the Amish, amazed that anyone would still bother to can their own fruit. Our extra freezers and shelves full of homemade jams are a continuing testament to my Grandmother’s legacy.
My parents raised us in Chicago, where we couldn’t grow much ourselves (though we did our best with tomatoes and beans on the chain link fences!). Mom always tried to find the best deals by exploring the full range of grocery stores and farmer’s markets. What started as financial necessity soon began to lead to fun culinary experiments.
We’re lucky – the smaller grocery stores here tend to reflect the ethnic makeup of the neighborhoods, which include Polish, Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Korean. And that’s just in our immediate vicinity. There are many more restaurants and specialty items available in the different neighborhoods across this city. Now that we have more time and money, it’s become a fun treasure hunt to seek out new foods and learn how to prepare them.
Without any close relatives nearby, our “family” has included a great many friends who have shared bits and pieces of their own culinary heritage with us. I’ve been fortunate enough to have friends who were willing to guide me through the whole process from grocery shopping to cooking to (of course) eating together, which has made it easier for me to learn how to continue cooking such food on my own. If I get the chance, I’d love to visit with some of these friends again to create “tours” of their kitchens and cooking for this blog.