My family has a unique tradition. We celebrate my Father’s birthday with a special meal — Pig Stomach. If you are German, or Pennsylvania Dutch, you might have heard of this dish. But more likely, you think we’re nuts! Yet, this is what we do every February.
My Father turned 87 years old this year. As he tells it, this was a dish that his Mother used to make. He’s not quite sure how it became his special meal. After he married my Mother in 1950, she learned how to prepare it. The actual stomach of a pig is stuffed with diced potatoes and sausage meat. It is sewn shut and either boiled and then browned in butter, or baked to a golden brown. The once a year feast also includes Angel Food Cake and Pineapple Delight for dessert. We have been making this meal for our Dad for as long as I can remember. When my Mother passed away in 1992, the torch was passed to my sister. She and her husband are foodies, so the recipe has been jazzed up to include peppers, onion, various types of sausage, and different blends of seasonings. There is often a fruit cup appetizer, endive with hot bacon dressing, vegetables, and bread as well. No one goes home hungry.
Our family not only converges for my Father’s birthday, but also for a few other birthdays, holidays, and summer picnics. It’s not unusual for some of us to not see or speak to each other except on these occasions. Our busy lives have taken us in different directions. We live far apart. But we still pick up right where we left off. We catch up on careers, school, kids, pets, activities, and travels. We are all very different. But this is our common bond.
It’s fun to invite a newcomer to Pig Stomach dinner. If they can accept Pig Stomach, they will probably make it OK in our family. Otherwise, that’s not a good sign. That person might not value family tradition the way we do. I’m not saying all of us just love the stuff. There have been years when someone refused to eat it. There have been years when we have made a roast on the side! But respecting the tradition is what matters.
Pig Stomach isn’t the only special meal either. There is also my Grandmother’s pork loin platter, mounded with mashed potatoes, and encircled with creamed spinach, carrots, hard boiled egg slices and bacon strips. There is Filled Noodles. There is spaghetti and meatballs with triple almond fudge cake. My sister and brother and I cherish these family traditions, and we have taught our own children their importance.
It’s been said that we cannot give our children what we don’t have. Our parents had an abundance of love. The kitchen was always filled with it. The orchestration of a family dinner was how our Mother and Grandmother literally fed us love. Love was stuffed into that Pig Stomach. It was baked into that pumpkin pie. We were marinated in it like a pickled egg.
Love and belonging are something we all crave but sometimes find lacking in our lives. The world, or at least a few of the people in it, have rejected me at times. Heck, I have rejected myself a few times! But it’s within our families where we first learn love and belonging. Family traditions like ours continue to reinforce it as years go by. Family gives us stability, security, and our sense of identity — all part of the recipe for healthy, grounded children. It was truly what my parents fed me that gave me the strength to handle the things life brought my way. I always knew who loved me. I knew who accepted me in spite of my mistakes. No matter what has happened, I have found kind words, reassurances, and encouragement in my family. It’s where I am worthy. It’s where I am healed. A good Pig Stomach dinner will always nourish my soul.
© Vulnerable Path, 2014
Want to join the conversation? I’d love to hear your comments. What does love and belonging look like in your life? Do you find it within your family and family traditions?