Diabetes: Under the Ancestral Influence

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Fair Warning: This is not an article about how your family traditions contributed to your Diabetes. Don’t start blaming grandmamma/papa for being a good cook. My point is to encourage you to re-imagine the foods you loved as a kid.
The inspiration for the article is a comment from a reader of New England
Historic Genealogical Society, AND the fact that I have just mastered a Diabetes-Compatible minestrone recipe.

Kay S.:
Having a mother who was 100% Swedish, we celebrate with her family on Christmas Eve. The holiday started out all Swedish, but neither she nor her five siblings married Swedes, so the festivities evolved. First, my Italian aunt brought Italian cookies and then we became more American in our food choices. When the cousins got married more of a mix was brought to the party. This year, the only Swedish food on the buffet will be Swedish meatballs. Pickled herring is usually eaten only by myself and a couple of my Lithuanian cousins-in-law.

There are foods in all of our traditions that we might want to look at as a good/bad/possible (?) choice for us when trying to manage our Diabetes.
I grew up under the influence of Bella, my maternal grandmother, but I was also influenced by the grandmothers of my friends. All of these women were from different cultures. They all made foods that I can still taste in my mind years later. I grew up in New York. The melting pot was very real to us.

Ask any of them for a recipe and they would look at you asked if them the unanswerable question:
“What is the meaning of life?”

My own grandmother would respond to the question:
“Shteln in genug es zol tem”.
She had no recipe. She put in enough it should taste.

I know she was not hiding the recipe from me (unlike the Italian grandmother that taught me to make pesto sauce, hid the recipe from her “cheap” sister). My grandmother was born in the late 1800’s, before standardized measuring spoons and cups were in use. Recipes were handed down from parent to child; ONLY if the child paid attention. Depending on the size of the cook’s hands, the same “recipe” tasted different from cook to cook.

Fanny Farmer introduced us to a standard in 1896.
“Although spoons have been in use for thousands of years, the first standardized measuring spoon was invented in the year 1896. It was invented by Fannie Farmer, the then director of the Boston Cooking School.”- Wikipedia

If I told Bella that standard measurements were introduced when she was a girl. She might have replied to me:
In my town we knew from the butcher and the dairy man. Fanny Farmer, from Boston yet, what did we know from her?”

For many reasons, our traditional foods are lost to us. They depended on what our ancestors had to work with. Most everybody I know, no matter what their current net worth is, comes from “poor” immigrant ancestors.

Back in the “cholesterol daze”, my thought was to try to recreate the flavors and textures of the foods of our childhoods, without the fatty properties. Then came the salt-free(ish) days. So much of what our families ate depended on large amounts of salt to preserve the foods. We naturally got used to a saltier taste. Now, with Diabetes, I have learned to recreate those dishes without the carbohydrates and less of the salt.

Not all memories of grandma’s cooking were pleasant ones. She would make a chicken vegetable soup and I pronounced it horrible. Mrs. T. on the other hand made a vegetable soup that I can still taste with pleasure. Mrs. T’s minestrone and Bella’s vegetable soups were cousins from opposite sides of the flavor tacks. What happened to Mrs. T’s recipes? Only one of her children married another person of Italian heritage. Even that child married a person from another region and cooking style. The other children married Irish, German, French, etc. decedents, and their cooking styles melded into hers. The worse thing was that so many of her children wanted to eat ONLY American. Bella on the other hand continued to cook in the style she knew. She would say:
“If you want to eat American….Go to a restaurant.”
More about that in another article, but you should know that she, and my Grandfather Sam did own a restaurant.

In recreating a minestrone taste that I remembered, the obstacles were the pasta and the beans in the soup. Both have higher carbohydrate values than I want in my cooking today. I used barley in place of the pasta and a smaller amount of beans to get the numbers where I want them. I use more herbs to get the flavor to where I remember it.

Under the grandmother’s influence, we can aspire to eat the foods we learned to love and still manage our Diabetes…..Just as long as it is good in taste….and lower in carbohydrates.

Enjoy, be happy, be Healthy, BE DECADENT.-w!

Source: Ward Alper, the Decadent Diabetic