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Dining in the new year

December 31, 2008

It's the end of this year and the beginning of a new year.

Time to let go of the old. Time to set a course for the new.

Around the world, food is often part of new-year celebrations - apples and raisins for the Dutch, 12 grapes for some Central and South American cultures, herring for Poles, dumplings for Chinese, black-eyed peas and cooked greens for American Southerners, pork and sauerkraut for Pennsylvania Dutch.

In today's Food section, Herald-Mail Lifestyle staff members share their own food traditions connected with the beginning of the year. Some go back generations. Others are more recent. All highlight the way food adds flavor to an annual event.

Whatever your tradition, we in the Lifestyle section wish you a happy, healthy, successful new year.

Pizza and singing to welcome the new year

My family has no New Year's food traditions related to good luck. Instead we serve up friends, family and cultural inclusion.

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For a dozen years, my siblings and I have gathered with our kids and my mother at my sister Martha's house. Martha and her husband and kids live in a large, rebuilt farmhouse in Amish country in northwest Ohio.

Counting everyone - five siblings (including me), four spouses, my mom and 10 grandchildren - it is a full house. Everyone takes a turn or two preparing meals or cleaning up afterward.

But my favorite meal is the one that tickles my sense of irony. Most years, my sister invites an Amish family from down the road. Daniel, a farmer and carriage maker, and Mary and their seven kids and four grandchildren join us for pizza from my sister's favorite pizzeria in Kenton, the nearest large town.

There's just something about seeing Daniel in his severe clothes and bushy beard chomping on pizza that makes me grin.

We sit together and chat - Daniel's family in black and dark blue and we "English," as they call us, in a colorful mish-mash of jeans, T-shirts, sweatshirts and shorts. The women sit together. The men sit together. We talk about new babies, work, marriages, food, the weather, national events and local politics.

And then the kids - Amish and English - peel off to play video games. The adults pull out instruments and songbooks. We sing Christmas carols, old-time Christian songs, folk songs, Grateful Dead, Woodie Guthrie, family favorites and songs known by one culture but the other.

The Amish sing in unison with a quaint, country accent with hard R's. We English are mostly veterans of church choirs and sing in three- or four-part harmony.

The Amish songbooks have a mix of English and German lyrics, the German words printed in Gothic typefaces popular 400 years ago. The songbooks contain hymns, holiday songs, patriotic songs and century-old popular songs such as "Oh Susanna" and "Bicycle Built for Two."

My favorite moments are when the least self-conscious singers of both traditions sit close and try to work out songs together. For me, this is what America is all about: setting aside social differences and building relationships based on cultural respect and shared pleasures.

What a great way to start a new year.

- Chris Copley, Lifestyle editor

Pork and sauerkraut for luck

Germans believed that eating pork and sauerkraut on New Year's Day would help to bring good luck in the coming year. In the hopes that one day that wives' tale may actually come true, the Schelle household has made it a point to include pork on the New Year's menu.

On both sides of the family tree, my family can trace its roots back to Germany. My maternal grandmother's maiden name was Roadarmel, which is about as Pennsylvania Dutch as you can get. The name Schelle, I'm told, is German and means, among other things, something about having the strength of a stallion (or so the Germans would have you believe).

My dad, Charles, grew up in Clear Spring, the oldest son of seven kids. In his family, New Year's Day was usually a day of butchering. It would be an all-day event as family, friends and neighbors gathered; usually, two hogs were butchered. The meat would be divvied out among those who helped and some pork would be set aside to roast for that day. Sauerkraut was on the menu, but also the farm-family staples of potatoes. And for dessert? Apple pie, candied pears and probably oranges left over from Christmas.

My mom, born Linda Hutson, grew up in Pinesburg, also one of seven children. Although Mom told me that she didn't remember any specific New Year's traditions, she guessed pork would have been on the menu. Her father would have butchered a hog, too. My grandmother's Pennsylvania Dutch heritage would have showed up in her cooking. Mom said anything with ribbles - basically chunks of dough - was probably on the table along with bread pudding and fried lima bean potpie (I don't know and I didn't ask) were also served.

Dessert for the Hutson clan? Probably apple pie, which always goes well with pork, and probably some baked apples.

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