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Flavors: Food Traditions or Nontraditions?

Stella Fong

Just before the calendar page flips into the New Year, some of us have traditions or rituals we put into practice to honor the start of another year. In the few years Flavors Under the Big Sky: Celebrating the Bounty of the Region has been on the air, I have gone near and far in Montana to talk to chefs, cooks, producers, restauranteurs, farmers, ranchers, wine makers, brewers, designers and many others who nourish us. I know I have countless more people to talk to who make our Big Sky foodscape more delicious. I look forward to meeting and talking to you.

Before I ventured too far, I wanted to come home to Yellowstone Public Radio and talk to the staff who help bring “a rare medium well done” to listeners. I wanted to know what food traditions or celebratory practices my fellow cohorts do to ring in the beginning of another 365 days. In taking the short time to talk to them, I got to know everyone a little better. I learned of their palates and then a little more of them and their heritage. I appreciated their want of routine or need of celebration or noncelebration or fondness of memories.

Corby Skinner, co-host of Resounds broke tradition this year by staying home. Every year he takes this season to travel to other countries, meeting up with friends. He shared stories of being in Tunisia and Italy during the holidays. He fondly recalled his time in Rome over the holidays and how he cooked for hours, “I think part of the food tradition is part of preparing and sharing tradition, so that is the kitchen I always want to be in.” Food breaks all boundaries and makes family.

Credit Stella Fong
Kayla Desroches, news reporter, works on the latest story at her desk.

News reporter Kayla Desroches, the newest member to the YPR team from Juneau Alaska and Anna Paige, co-host of Resounds admitted to not having annual wants or practices. Desroches, growing up in New York near Times Square confessed to avoiding the crowds.

“My family and I would watch the ball drop from the safety of our four walls,” Desroches confessed. On the topic of celebratory food, she admitted, “I like to use the holidays as an excuse to eat badly but other than that there are no traditions.”

Paige shared she might start a tradition after buying beans from Bonanza Health Foods when they cleared their bulk options.

“I don’t have the first clue on what to do with bulk dried beans so I’ve got some research ahead of me,” Paige admitted.

With further interviews, Sarah Brown and Jackie Yamanaka celebrated the New Year with the cooking of black eye peas. Hopefully their hints help Paige cook up her peas at the end of this year. 

Brown’s husband and family are from Louisiana and for the New Year cook black eye peas, collard greens and cornbread with fried catfish. The collard greens were often substituted with kale which Brown explained symbolized money because of its deep green color. Of the preparation of the peas, “Everything is smothered and what that means is everything is cooked in bacon fat.” Then after cooking down onion, celery, green pepper and garlic, peas and chicken stock were added.

Yamanaka worked most New Year’s Eves and days, but adopted the tradition from her husband Patrick Williams. Instead of cornbread accompanying their black eye peas, Yamanaka fried up puffy hush puppies. Of the symbolism, Williams shared that the spots on the black eye peas represent coins while ham used to cook the peas signify health. 

Credit Stella Fong
Jim Nichols, Chief Engineer/Technical Director stands at his desk at the station in between climbing towers and clearing snow.

Ken Siebert with East Coast heritage and Art Hooker, German, also shared a common food tradition. Siebert, the station’s Program Director and Hooker, Blues Producer and Broadcast Operations Specialist celebrated with pickled herring.  Popular in Northern Europe, this fish preserved with onion, vinegar and sugar with a variation of spices such as mustard seeds, coriander seeds, all spice berries and black peppercorns elicit mixed responses. Siebert also welcomed the New Year with scrapple, a Pennsylvania Dutch concoction of pork scraps and trimmings mixed with cornmeal.

“A larger family tradition rather than my immediate family tradition is my dad used make a dish called snips and snips,” Jim Nichols, YPR’s Chief Engineer/Technical Director told.  Snips and snips was a simple soup of onions caramelized in butter, potatoes and dumplings but holds fond memories for Nichols.

Then Kay Erickson, the host of “All Things Considered,” a fellow food lover identified herself to be a “food junkie.” While Erickson had specific food she cooks with such brined turkey for Thanksgiving, a standing ribeye rib roast with a blackberry wine sauce for Christmas, and leg of lamb for Easter, the New Year is more “low key.” Finger foods were highlighted such as smokies wrapped in crescent dough and shrimp dip with canned shrimp, cream cheese, horseradish and ketchup for the New Year as she and her family watch the parade, football games and stream movies.

Credit Stella Fong
Kay Erickson, news guru of "All Things Considered" by day and admitted "food junkie" by night.

Jill Hirschi, Development Manager and Maddie Alpert, Underwriting and Public Information, came into the studio together. These two, along with Laura Voight, Development/Listener Support, are the social coordinators in the studio. Hirschi said of bringing fun to the station, “I think by gathering together and having fun it builds our impact as a team and it makes us worker strong and better together.” These three have established a tradition of spearheading not only the fund drives but staff events as themes for Halloween and Christmas gathering for the holidays.

For the New Year, Hirschi makes an annual cheeseball with cream cheese, a jar of old English cheddar, garlic powder and Worcestershire sauce while Alpert concocts a mulled wine with cranberries.

Hirschi said of her cheeseball, “Its funny because my cousin who lives here in town as well and has things at her house she always is excited if I bring the cheeseball because she also growing up had cheeseball because we take it to them.”

Finally, General Manager Kurt Wilson remembered fondly the times with his teenage daughters who brought friends home for a board game marathon. His favorite comfort food consisted of Ritz crackers with inexpensive cheese, but perhaps the best memory of the season was his wife’s peanut butter pie. He shared of the “luscious” pie that is “so peanut buttery and wonderful” where the best part is eating off the beaters during the making process.

Credit Stella Fong
General Manager Kurt Wilson at his desk working for the betterment of Yellowstone Public Radio

On this New Year’s Eve, I will toast the last hours of 2018 with a glass of bubbly. Then before New Year’s Day I will try to get the house cleaned and pay all my bills. It will be a month before I bring in my tradition, celebrating Chinese New Year with eating a traditional vegetarian dish prepared the day before for a fresh beginning and to not use knives. Knives threaten and kill so my mother was very strict about sharp blades on the first day of the year. Then feasting began the following day with eight courses of different foods with “eight” sounding much like the Chinese word for prosperity. Every single dish came to the table with deep significance. 

I hope for a significant year for all of you. I thank you for the support of Flavors Under the Big Sky: Celebrating the Bounty of the Region. I am grateful for your support of Yellowstone Public Radio. I thank those from YPR who shared their New Year’s food tradition. It was fun to get to know many of you better. I did not get to everyone but will bring your stories to our listeners at the end of 2019.

Happy New Year to all and may this year be flavorful and delicious.

Stella Fong shares her personal love of food and wine through her cooking classes and wine seminars as well as through her contributions to Yellowstone Valley Woman, and Last Best News and The Last Best Plates blogs. Her first book, Historic Restaurants of Billings hit the shelves in November of 2015 with Billings Food available in the summer of 2016. After receiving her Certified Wine Professional certification from the Culinary Institute of America with the assistance of a Robert Parker Scholarship for continuing studies, she has taught the Wine Studies programs for Montana State University Billings Wine and Food Festival since 2008. She has instructed on the West Coast for cooking schools such as Sur La Table, Williams-Sonoma, Macy’s Cellars, and Gelsons, and in Billings, at the Billings Depot, Copper Colander, Wellness Center, the YMCA and the YWCA. Locally she has collaborated with Raghavan Iyer and Christy Rost in teaching classes.