Tag Archives: food

Connecting to My Ancestors through Cooking, Building, and Making Mead

Banana Bread, by Ginny

Banana Bread, by Ginny

“Is this thing on? Is anybody listening?” These are questions I often ask my ancestors when sitting with a cup of tea, coffee or mead. Usually, I leave some for them, and some bread. Sometimes, this makes me feel a little strange: after all, shouldn’t they be too busy doing their own things? Shouldn’t I be solving my own problems? If they want to check in on us and see how we’re doing, can’t they do that any time they like? Even so, as a Heathen, that connection is important to me. On our feast days, we prepare the first plate for the ancestors. I have a small shrine dedicated to the ancestors which sits in a corner of the living room on my grandmother’s table. It enjoys a natural place in our daily life and during most gatherings. When we hold Sumbel (a Heathen cup-sharing, story-telling, merrymaking tradition), this shrine becomes the centerpiece of the room.

An occasional chat with my deceased people is calming. Frequently, though, I enjoy connecting with my ancestors a little more actively. I mean that literally – I like to make or do things that I know they used to enjoy themselves. Every Thanksgiving and Yuletide, I try to make my grandmother’s cranberry relish. It’s a simple enough recipe, but there’s something soothing about working with the fruits and waiting for the Jello to set. My grandmothers also liked to bake. I haven’t tried to replicate the famous zucchini bread yet, but I have made my own banana bread and pumpkin bread from scratch. My grandfathers had their own pastimes. Whenever I build something, I think of my dad (still with us, thankfully!) and his father, and their well-stocked workshops. I have fond memories of running Grandpa’s riding lawnmower around his massive backyard whenever I smell freshly cut grass. My mom’s father collected stamps and coins. It’s not my passion, but sometimes I leaf through the half-finished albums he helped me start, remembering him.

Mom was fond of tea, a taste I’ve recently re-acquired. She also enjoyed cross-stitch, a hobby we shared for a time. I should pick it up again, but I haven’t yet. She encouraged me to write poetry and such. I still do this, and I often think of her kind criticism of my early works. Mom taught me how to cook, and while I don’t cook as often as I should, I enjoy it when I do. I would probably enjoy playing my mother’s clarinet, although it was never my instrument. I haven’t tried it in years because it’s now in the care of my niece.

I also want to briefly mention my newest hobby, brewing. There’s something deeply satisfying about brewing a batch of mead. There’s a lot of cleaning and sanitizing effort, but the actual brewing is simple: mixing honey and water over fire. Just the way the ancients did it.

Some of these activities are specific to just one or a few of my ancestors. I often find that I have just one or two people on my mind when I want to connect. Other times, though, such as Yuletide, I feel the need to remember and honor them all, so it’s good that many of these activities can be combined. I can eat a slice of the bread I made yesterday and drink some tea while I sketch plans for a project. Sometimes, I leave them all a little tea and bread to say “thank you.”

How do you connect with your ancestors?

This article is cross-posted at The Pagan Princesses.

Skyr, reloaded!

I have recently discovered that our local Whole Foods (at least the one at Gateway near the Arboretum) carries Siggi’s Skyr, which is an Icelandic-style fresh cheese resembling some kinds of yogurt. Skyr is a staple in Iceland today, having been brought from Scandinavia during the migrations. Several sources allege that Skyr-making was subsequently "lost" to the mainland, making this Icelandic dish a unique culinary link to an older time.

Siggi‘s a little pricey ($2.50 for 6 oz., compared with $0.50 for yogurt), but if you like such things it is worth experiencing. However, you should probably know a few things about it before you rush right out and buy some.First, Siggi’s differs from authentic skyr in ways that my friends (who have tried the real thing) insist are "subtle and not important." Siggi’s is not made with the same bacteria culture, and is made with ingredients, such as agave nectar, which have not been available in Iceland until recent times.

Second, Skyr is a fresh cheese, and is substantially thicker than yogurt, but can nonetheless be mixed in most of the same ways to give body or smooth texture to a dish. It is frequently used in Iceland with and without sweeteners as a topping on pastries or in cereal dishes, or mixed with fresh fruit as a treat.

Thirdly, the sugar content of Siggi’s Skyr is much lower than blended yogurt. In my opinion the plain variety, having less than 1/6 the sugar of blended yogurt, must be mixed or sweetened to taste—it is otherwise too tart. In contrast, I find the fruit-flavored varieties are enjoyable right out of the cup, and have as much as 1/3 the sugar compared to blended yogurt.

Fourth and finally, my own extremely limited experience is that the closer the date on the cup, the more sour the skyr will become, but this can be overcome with a half-packet of sugar or sufficiently sweet additional fruit. There are also a number of ways to cure "sour" Skyr, but most of them involve taking the sour Skyr as a starter to make more Skyr, a process which requires Rennet and unpastuerized or slow-pasteurized milk. If you have the means and the drive, you can search the tubes for "Thettir" and "Skyr" and find recipes to make your own.


So…  I have just become aware of a food product called Skyr.  Apparently some of the Whole Foods markets in the northeast have it.  Ours do not, and they didn’t seem particularly interested in procuring it (but that may be because our phone connection was bad.)  Central Market, however, wanted details, which my source happened to have provided.  Specifically, they wanted to know if the product was known to be available in the Northeast and the brand names.  So, perhaps they will start carrying it.   The Whole Foods people did recommend trying a couple of specialty food shops in town and World Market, perhaps I will phone some of them in a bit. 

Apparently Skyr is an Icelandic food similar to Yogurt, but it’s not made the same way and has a slightly different consistency and inherent flavor.  Traditionally it is not flavored but might be mixed with various blended drinks (i.e. smoothies) and has recently become available in “flavors” similar to yogurt. 

Yum 🙂