Monday, I picked up a new skill. My mother-in-law had me over to learn how to make sauerkraut. I’ve wanted to know how for some time. Each year she gives me sauerkraut from her collection and I hoard it, making it last the year until her next batch is ready, all the while wondering where I’ll get my supply when she is no longer capable or grating 50 or more pounds of cabbage at a time. I’ve tried, in a fit of pickled cabbage withdrawal, to buy and consume the commercial stuff, but it just isn’t the same.
So, when the call came in, “Laura, I’m making sauerkraut tomorrow if you want to learn.” I was there. We got up way too early on a stat holiday. Then we drove two hours to the land of kraut… otherwise known as my mil’s house.
The result? I smell like cabbage and I now officially have the knowledge to make almost all of the cultural things my husband ate and loved from his childhood: paska (Christmas bread), babka (Easter bread), perogies, cabbage rolls, beatniks and…. sauerkraut. Culinary cultural knowledge has officially been passed down to another generation. You may now applaud at what a good wife I am. But before I win any awards I should admit I am holding out on one dish…head cheese. Meat flavoured jello is just wrong.
What did you learn from your parents? Did they teach you something unique about your family or ethnic culture? Is there a special way you celebrate birthdays or other holidays? Are there recipes that defined your childhood that your parents passed to you? These pieces of family history shape most of us. They make us unique and interesting people. Think of your main character and ask yourself what their parents or grandparents pass along to them. Was it a recipe? Was it a respect for a certain practice? Spend twenty minutes writing the scene when they first experienced that piece of their cultural history, or the moment the idea or secret was passed to them. You may never share that moment with your readers but sharing that moment with your character will make add depth to your character, and increase your understanding of them as a person. Take the time to learn about your character’s history and make them as interesting as you are. Happy Writing.