Wednesday, May 22, 2013


I've been thinking a lot about my roots lately.

At my parents' house just before St. Patrick's Day, my dad handed me a folder containing a bunch of typewritten pages. It was a transcript, typed by one of his much older relations - someone I might have met once or twice as a little girl.

The original storyteller was my great-grandmother, who emigrated from Ireland in the very early 1900s. She lived until 1988, when she was 100, and even though we didn't see her much, I have a few scattered memories of her from when I was young.

The story was of her life in Ireland, her journey to New York, where she came through Ellis Island, and bits and pieces of the next several decades (she moved to the DC area, which is where my grandfather, her son, was born and raised).

The story mentioned nothing about food. But it made me think about it, anyway.

When I was a brand new food blogger, I used to wish that I'd been born into a family with longstanding food traditions. I didn't grow up rolling gnocchi at my grandmother's knee or baking bread with my mom. Somehow I convinced myself that experiences shared in flour-dusted kitchens were the only ones that really counted when it came to family food legacy.

Seven and a half years - and a lot of words - later, I realized I was quite wrong about that.

Every family has an interesting food legacy, even if it doesn't involve heartwarming vignettes and vintage aprons. Wonder Bread lunches and TV dinners are just as much of a story and can be just as interesting and influential as straight-off-the-boat-from-Italy-grandmother lessons.

My own family food legacy came into sharp focus recently, when I got an email from Kris, the new editor of The Sun's Taste section, asking if I could write a "primer for people unfamiliar with crabs."

The article, "Crabs 101," runs today, along with a bunch of sidebars, like "How to Throw a Crab Feast," "How to Buy Crabs," and "How to Steam Crabs," which includes some of my very specific crab-steaming memories.

Writing this article was one of the most fun things I've done lately. Talking to other Marylanders about what role crabs have played in their lives reminded me of all of my amazing memories.

And made me realize that flour-dusted kitchens aren't the only places where food roots are planted.

Sometimes that kitchen is dusted with Old Bay.

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