Every family has heirloom recipes — the spreads on their tables — that speak to their heritage.
The foods spread on the table of my paternal grandmother, Rose Hallal Bahry, were brought to America from Lebanon. Lebanese food is like Arabic dancing — vivid, exotic, enchanting — flavored with herbs and spices and moistened with olive oil and butter.
On her table there was tabouli (garden wheat salad), fatayer (meat pies), kibby, goat cheese, black olives and leban. After the meal came baklava and coffee.
Spread on the table of my maternal grandmother, Hattie Coleman LeBlanc, of French-Acadian ancestry, was smothered chicken, pork or beef roast stuffed with garlic, sweet peas, potato salad and tomatoes.
After that meal came homemade cake with five thin layers with either chocolate or coconut filling between each along with coffee for the adults and fresh milk for the children.
One might say her table was an original in the farm-to-table concept of today. The LeBlancs lived on a farm, one that had cows, pigs, chickens and vegetables from seasonal gardens.
Foods spread on the table of my husband’s mother, Ethel Capello Caballero, were spaghetti and meatballs, both potato and green salads and a tray of cheese, green olives and sweet pickles. The adults had red wine with the meal while the children drank Cokes.
The tomato gravy recipe was the original from her grandmother, who migrated to America from Italy.
After that meal came one of her many homemade cakes baked from one or another recipe shared among her sisters. There was an ongoing competition between them about who baked the best cakes. My favorite was the German chocolate whose recipe always noted that the vanilla used could only be found in Mexico. The sister who lived in Texas bought this special vanilla in quantities and shared with the other two.
These are the tables of yesteryear.
The tables of today in the Bahry-Caballero family sometimes have Lebanese, French or Italian foods on them. But they might also have jambalaya, barbecue, boiled or fried seafood with various sides.
The foods of our heritage are celebrated on one holiday or another when one of my adult children asks: Are we doing Lebanese, French, Italian or American food this year? Note that “doing” means we’re actually making the food from recipes handed down through three generations. Most of our heirloom recipes take hours to prepare and cook.
Once the question is answered, we each bring what we cook best to the table of today following and honoring the heirloom recipes of those who came before us.
— Caballero lives in Baton Rouge
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