In my online class we write about family history and heritage. Some of my students reveal where their family tree is planted, unpacking their genealogy in complex ways. They describe their family splintering or coming together. They discuss how they cope with different levels of function or dysfunction as unexpected life changes occur. A popular source I direct students to if they would like to explore more family history is a website called ancestory.com which offers a free 2-week trial before opting for a paid membership. The website can tap into a network of international information about their past. I also encourage students to gather oral history about their family. Talk to their grandparents, ask their aunts or cousins questions and record their stories in an archive to share as they grow older.
My students write about the importance of keeping family traditions, particularly involving food. They anticipate certain dishes on holidays, birthdays and celebrations — family favorites. One assignment they really like is, “What is your favorite family recipe and why?” Students write about a wide range of comfort food that provide fond memories in their family. They tap into sensory images by describing traditions in making aloo chap, an Indian spiced meat and potato cake, Nicaraugan cheese soup and Portuguese style dressing — family recipes passed down for generations.
We seek connection in my online classes and this connection is made by sharing their family food traditions and recipes on the Discussion board. In the process, students see themselves as part of one another in a meaningful way. We all break bread together.
I also tell students about my family history. Our daughters’ great, great grandmother was born in County Leitrim in Drumshanbo, Ireland in 1878. She came to America in 1900 and had 8 children with her husband Peter Bulfin, a Chicago Police officer. Unfortunately Peter was shot during a bank robbery and Mary went on to raise the children on her own.
Here’s one of Mary’s favorite traditional recipes that we still use today:
Recipe for Irish Soda Bread
3 cups flour, sifted ¾ stick margarine
¾ cup sugar 1 egg
1 tsp. baking soda 1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp. salt 2/3 cup sour cream
1 tsp. baking powder 1 tsp. vanilla
¼ tsp. ginger
Sift flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, baking powder and ginger. Cut in softened margarine until it looks like a course meal. Beat egg with fork and add. Combine buttermilk, sour cream and vanilla; mix until smooth. Add buttermilk mixture. Mix with spoon. Grease and flour loaf pan. Pour in mixture and bake for 1 hour at 375 degrees, or until crust is golden brown and knife comes out clean. Cool on rack for 10 minutes and remove from pan.
Various forms of soda bread are popular throughout Ireland. Soda breads are made using either wholemeal or white flour. In Northern Ireland the wholemeal variety is known as “wheaten bread” and normally sweetened, while the term “soda bread” is restricted to the white savoury form. The two major shapes are the loaf and the “griddle cake”, or farl in Northern Ireland.
Soda bread dates back to approximately 1840, when bicarbonate of soda was introduced to Ireland. There are several theories as to the significance of the cross in soda bread. Some believe that the cross was placed in the bread to ward off evil or to let the fairies out of the bread. Soda bread eventually became a staple of the Irish diet and it is still used widely and baked in many homes on a daily or weekly basis.