In my family, the kitchen and the table are the center of the known universe. Since I was old enough to stand on a stool and stir the sauce, I have nurtured a passion for food learned at my parents’ apron strings and at family tables throughout the Heartland.
Food is how we share our love for each other and our passion for life. If on my deathbed someone were to ask me to name the ten best moments of my life, I’m certain that at least eight of them would be around a table, with great food in front of me and the people I love all around. Often, but certainly not always, this occurs around the holidays.
Although Christmas has become a secular holiday for many families (mine included), that does not leave it devoid of all spiritual meaning. Quite to the contrary, my family holds many strict traditions that are necessary to make the holiday especially meaningful for us, and they all revolve around food.
Christmas is not alone here. At Thanksgiving, there must be a large steaming bowl of my mother’s wild rice dressing (the one with the sausage and mushrooms); at Easter, the Cream of Asparagus Soup is required, thus giving Easter its Friese-family subtitle “The Festival of the Green Soup.” Christmas though has an assortment of requirements. They need not all be present for a successful holiday, but the more the better.
Among these delights are the Wild Rice Dressing (again), Almond Crescent Cookies, Cranberry-Port Relish, Yorkshire Pudding, Clam Dip, and Mom’s Bourbon Pound Cake. Now the Pound Cake is an absolute necessity, and it simply has not been Christmas unless we’ve had some Pound Cake. It’s a little bit like the “figgy pudding” in that old Christmas Carol – we won’t go until we get some. The secret to the Bourbon Pound Cake is that you should never…. No, forget it, it’s a secret.
This passion for sharing a meal, for gathering around a table to break bread is rooted deeply in the human psyche. The table is a place of nourishment, a place of safety, and a place of peace. It is even rooted deeply in the etymology of our language. The source of the word “companion” means “with bread.”
It’s a cliché because it’s true: You are what you eat. So the only way to truly understand people, to know people’s hearts and souls, is not to walk a mile in their shoes but to sit at that persons table and break bread.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.