Most historical readers know that the America of the 1800s was a true melting pot of cultures. Before restrictions were placed on the number of immigrants from any particular country, people from many European countries headed to America because of the new opportunities and open land. I like to use that fact to depict characters who would still be holding onto the traditions from their native country.
Food is a great way to show details about another culture and give depth to a character. Contemporary readers are aware of all types of different cuisines available in their hometown, some having a wider variety than others. Even the most traditional mid-western town probably has at least one Chinese takeout and a pizza place. I like to include in my stories a possible way in which those restaurants might have been developed.
In Dulcina, book 5 in The Widows of Wildcat Ridge series, I focused on the Hispanic heritages of my hero and heroine. Growing up as neighbors on adjacent ranches in New Mexico Territory, Dulcina and Gabriel shared a common background and a love for the same food. Big family meals are important part of their culture. When Dulcina comes up with a plan to offer food as a way to keep her saloon open, she falls back on what she knows--the tamales she helped make while a child.
In Dance Toward the Light, book 3 of Entertainers of the West series, the hero, Valerik, is of Russian descent who stays in his brother’s house while Nicolai’s on his honeymoon. With this story, I introduced the reader to solyanka (a soup with vegetables, tinned beef, and pickled cucumbers) and rye peasant bread.
With each story, I research recipes, and when a food scene is included, then I make sure to use a dish typical of that ethnic group. Or I use a dish that could have been made with the ingredients available in that geographic location. A widow living in an apartment over her seamstress shop in the Colorado mountains is more likely to make gingerbread or molasses cake as a holiday treat than any recipe requiring chocolate or other expensive or hard-to-obtain ingredients. (The Ring That Binds)
What foods served by your family while you were growing up or served by you to your own family can be attributed to your heritage? One person who leaves a comment will be given the choice of an ecopy of one of my backlist titles.