Oatmeal and Ham
Tradition! It’s more than a song from “Fiddler on the Roof.” It is what has us doing things from generation to generation even if we don’t really know why.
“We’ve always done it that way.”
For example: From my youngest days up until this very morning I have always eaten my nice steaming bowl of oatmeal covered not with fruit, sugar, or maple syrup, but with salt. I’ve never known anyone else who does that, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I like it with salt, but why?
I wondered about that for years without ever finding a satisfactory answer. Finally, after decades of eating my salty oatmeal, I asked my Mother. This is what she told me.
My mother was born in 1911, one of nine children in an immigrant family. Oatmeal was a cheap way of filling those tiny tummies before sending them off to school. What wasn’t cheap was enough sugar, fruit, or syrup to sweeten up all those bowls of oatmeal. So, in an effort to give the kid’s breakfasts some flavor my grandmother salted their oatmeal.
My mother ate salted oatmeal in her youth and when she had kids she passed that recipe on to her children. It became an instant tradition in our family. Even though I could afford some sugar or some other sweeteners I still reach for the salt shaker more than a hundred years after that poor family of Lithuanian immigrants didn’t have the money for sugar.
Someone told me, over coffee, about a mysterious tradition in her family.
This is where the Ham enters the picture.
The woman told me that whenever she bought a ham she would cut off a sizable chunk from one end before cooking. She’d been doing that for years…because that was the way her mother always cooked ham. It had become a family tradition.
After a number of years her mother was visiting her daughter who was going to serve ham for Sunday dinner. When the mother saw her daughter cut off the end from the ham and set it aside she asked her why she was doing that.
“I learned how to cook watching you and I always saw you cut off the end of the ham before putting it in the oven. I figured it was part of your secret recipe.”
When the mother finally stopped laughing she explained that her practice of cutting off part of a ham was because she never had a pan large enough to hold a full sized ham. She always trimmed it down just to fit the pan she did have.
Tradition is a shared memory that is passed from one generation to the next. It can serve to teach or to warn by passing on what the older generation had to learn the hard way. Whether it be an oversized ham, a bowl of salty oatmeal, or something equally mundane it is the simple traditions that glue the generations together and make us all Family.