Story Collected by Sarah Hernandez
I interviewed my dad to talk about heritage plants and practices related to food. I asked about one particular practice he could talk about.
When I was young, I would always be give a mixture of hot honey, lemon and tea for colds and sickness. I don't think it's much of a cultural thing, but I keep tea and honey in my kitchen for colds to this day.
This is interesting to me, because our family values Cuban coffee so much that tea is not considered something to drink for enjoyment. Growing up, like my father, tea has always been associated with honey and lemon for sickness.
The main "plant" that carries a significant message is: coffee. Since birth, I have been exposed to Cuban Coffee (espresso), and I have seen how all visitors and family gatherings are simply not complete without coffee. All Cuban visitations begin with the preparation of coffee - and then conversation. This is a tradition few Latin people can live without. Most non–Latins who try Cuban Coffee for the first time are usually overwhelmed by its jolt, but few will ever turn down a future offering, and find themselves hopelessly connected to this one aspect of the culture. In part – many of today's famous coffee shops were literally created more for the social part of the beverage as much as its taste. Both Italian and Cuban cultures were the inspiration for Starbucks; these are places to connect and converse with people.
When I was little, before Starbucks existed, my father would take me to the mall to the little coffee stand. I was very young, under the age of 10, and he would give me the foam of his cappuccino. He started my coffee addiction quite early, but to this day, I have to have a cups worth of Cuban espresso every day. Even though I know it’s technically an addiction, I think of it more as a cultural thing. I don’t get excited or jittery from it either – for me, coffee time is a time of relaxation. At the end of every major family dinners, everyone has a little cup of Cuban coffee, to socialize, relax, and keep ourselves awake after eating so much delicious food!
The United States has very little to zero original foods other than clam chowder and key lime pie. Most of the foods in the USA are not from the USA. In the Latin culture, family is the only thing that is more important than the food, but the two coexist equally. Fried plantains of all sorts are important. A roasted pig is a big cause of celebration, as it requires hours to cook, and the way in which it is cooked is unique. Family and friends enjoy this pastime, and the spices used are unique: Garlic, Sour oranges, Olives, Lime, Onions, etc. Also important is Guava, Papaya, and Mango. A roasted pig (puerco asado) is usually prepared during the Christmas Holiday. Many families will actually go and select the pig at a farm, and have it prepared for roasting. This is a social event, and while many people might see this as cruel, Latin people use these traditions to bring everyone together. Yuca (a root) is also an important side dish. Also at Christmas and holiday events, many dessert dishes are served to accompany the main course. These desserts are staples of the Latin culture: Flan, Turron, Dulce de Leche, Rice Pudding, Natilla.
I think one thing that continually comes up in conversation with family members, community members, gardeners, and really anyone is that the one thing that brings different people together is our connection to food. I think this is really important and my dad spoke about that, when he said that family and food coexist equally. I think it can go a bit further to say, that it’s not just family, but everyone. To me, gardening and food is a social thing, it’s a language and practice that connects everyone.