Food Traditions the Thread that Links Generations

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

About the Author

Bonny Wolf's book of food essays, Talking with My Mouth Full, is out in stores. You can find more information at her Web site, She is also contributing editor for Kitchen Window, a Web-only food column.

Bonny Wolf, Weekend Edition food commentator, talks about how food traditions are passed down the generations. Foods evoke incredibly strong memories and feelings, and never more so than at the holidays. She shares stories she has heard from around the country on her recent book tour.


Many of us will spend as much time in the kitchen as in the office between now and New Year's - steaming figgy pudding, roasting chestnuts by an open fire. Okay, maybe just microwaving water for hot chocolate. But as we do, we'll tell our children about how our mothers cooked and baked for us. Food is a great connector, as WEEKEND EDITION food commentator Bonnie Wolf has been hearing from people she's met on her recent book tour.

BONNIE WOLF: It's primal. Foods evoke incredibly strong memories and feelings, and never more so than at the holidays. If your parents served roast goose or Yorkshire pudding at Christmas, you probably will too. Ditto: potato latkes and briquette for Hanukah. Food imprinting is strong. A woman in Baltimore told me her husband still makes his grandfather's brown bread in tin cans, just like his grandfather did.

Sometimes we repeat family food patterns and don't even know why. In Chicago, Debbie said her friend always cuts one end off a roast before cooking because that's what her mother did. Her mother did it that way because her mother did. So one day she asked her grandmother why she cut the end off and her grandmother replied, because it wouldn't fit in the pan.

Food binds families together, keeps generations connected and creates community. And the foods we remember are a big part of our identity. They tell us who we are and where we came from.

Tom grew up in western Pennsylvania with a grandfather who smoked his own sausage and a great grandmother who was never out of an apron and made pies he still longs for after 50 years. He says nothing makes him feel better than running into someone who shares his memories of blackberry stew with dumplings and string beans with ham.

We cook and eat to connect with family and friends, to mark the seasons and celebrate important events. And as we all know, we cook and eat for comfort.

Debbie is a hospice nurse. She once volunteered at a home hospice where cooking family-style meals for patients was central to their care. Families and patients wandered in and out of the kitchen telling stories and offering recipes. Sometimes they cried. Sometimes they laughed.

One patient who had little time left had one request. He couldn't eat but he wanted liver and onions one more time. So they fried up a big pan-full, put it on a plate and set in front of him to see and smell. They even cut up a tiny piece to put on his tongue. Debbie said his smile, as he closed his eyes and savored the smell and taste, is one of her fondest memories, because on a holiday, or any day, food is a simple act of love and connections.

SEABROOK: Bonnie Wolf contributes to NPR's online food column, Kitchen Window. She's the author of "Talking With My Mouth Full."

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Writer Explores Comforts, Community of Food

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Bonny Wolf at Eastern Market in Washington, D.C.

Bonny Wolf, at Eastern Market in Washington, D.C., is the author of Talking with My Mouth Full. Jesse Baker, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jesse Baker, NPR

Eastern Market in Washington, D.C.'s Capitol Hill neighborhood is food writer Bonny Wolf's mecca.

"I moved to Capitol Hill probably 20 years ago, and one of the reasons I never left is Eastern Market," Wolf says. "It's the absolute center of the community."

Community and food are the central topics of Wolf's new book, a collection of essays called Talking with My Mouth Full. Wolf is a commentator for Weekend Edition Sunday and contributing editor of Kitchen Window, NPR's Web-only food column.

"I think eating is a very intimate way of connecting with people. You sit across a table from people, you share your food," she says. "Cooking is a loving act."

Attitudes toward food and cooking have undergone a seismic shift in recent years; it's a development that Wolf, 56, praises.

Her own generation, she notes, was not particauarly interested in the "domestic arts."

"It tied us to being housewives," she observes.

Now, she says, the pendulum has swung the other way. People are interested in not only what they're eating, but where it's grown. She admits some of the fervor can be "a bit much."

But ultimately, she thinks it's a good thing people are so connected with their food. In the 1950s, she says, "a lot of people thought food grew in the grocery store."



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from