An Independent School • Grades 5-12

Fifth graders’ humanities project focuses on family food traditions

November 2020

Lakeside 5th graders started off the school year by researching and writing about family food traditions. Each student chose a food or food tradition that is significant to their family and created a webpage to share their topic with the class.

A theme of the humanities course, which combines English and history, is community. This project is inspired, in part, by Lakeside’s equity and inclusion initiative, Our Work Together, which strives to empower students to bring their full selves to school.

“Students are invited to share aspects of their families and cultures that make them unique, and to celebrate the diversity within our community,” said teacher Ellie Freedman. “Many students interview family members or consult online sources to find out more about the history of their food tradition, so the project also provides an opportunity for students to learn more about their own heritage. Typically, this project culminates in posters that hang in the humanities classroom, but this year we adapted the format for remote learning!”

Here is a selection from 5th graders' projects.

Della G. — Ghost cake

One of my family’s food traditions is the ghost cake that we eat on Halloween. The tradition started when my mom was around five years old and she has been doing it ever since. But as a family we have been doing the ghost cake since I was born. The ghost cake is a regular vanilla cake, but it's shaped like a ghost. What makes our cake stand out is that we make eyes out of fire! We do that by saving the egg shells from the cake to use as eyes, then we put a sugar cube and a little lemon extract in each egg shell, use a match to light them up and then the magic starts! But eventually the sugar cube melts or we have to blow them out like a candle. This tradition is important to my family because it’s been going on for so long, and Pippa (my sister), my mom and I love to make it together. It also brings us close when my dad and the rest of us eat it together.

Grace L. — Mooncakes

One of my family’s food traditions is eating mooncakes on the Mid- Autumn Festival. Mooncake is a dessert with a flaky, layered dough exterior and a filling inside. The filling can be made of many ingredients, but my family usually eats mooncakes with lotus seed paste and egg or meat and vegetables. My family usually makes mooncakes from scratch, so that the mooncakes are fresh when we get to eat them. Because mooncakes can be made of so many different ingredients, there is no specific taste to mooncakes, but the mooncakes with lotus seed paste and egg my family eats are sweet on the outside and salty on the inside.

Mooncakes are usually eaten on the Mid- Autumn Festival, a holiday in China. The Mid- Autumn Festival takes place on the first day of October this year. The day of the Mid- Autumn Festival on the Gregorian calendar changes every year. This is because the Mid- Autumn Festival is on the fifteenth day of the eighth month on the lunar calendar, which is usually early October on the Gregorian calendar. There are many stories connected to mooncakes, but one tale connected to this food is about a man who was given a pill that allows one to live forever and become a powerful god, but because he was only given one pill, he would never get to see his wife again. So, he decided not to eat the pill. One night, a thief wanted to steal the pill, so he snuck into their house. The man’s wife saw the thief, and decided the only way for the pill not to get stolen was that she would have to eat it. So she did, and flew to the moon. She might have eaten the pill, but she saved the village. So the people thank her by making mooncakes on the Mid- Autumn Festival as a way of remembering her. This food tradition is important to my family because it is part of Chinese culture, and this tradition has been handed down for many generations.

Meera W. — Navroz

One of my family’s food traditions is Navroz, which is a celebration of the beginning of spring and the Persian New Year. We celebrate Navroz because my mom's side of the family is Ismaili Muslim. At the celebration, men dress in western or Indian suits, and women dress in saris. We go to our place of worship and pray. Then, we get up and eat biryani (a spicy dish with meat and fried onions over rice), samosas (a fried/baked pastry with spiced meat and/or vegetables inside), and drink sherbet (a creamy, sweet drink, usually topped with pistachios). We also get a bag of dried fruit and seeds, and everything means something different (like the apple means beauty). There is also dancing and singing!

This tradition comes from Iran, and centuries ago, the Ismaili Imam (a spiritual leader who explains the Qur'an — the holy book for Muslims — in the context of current times) was from Iran for a few generations, so they picked it up and it became an Ismaili Muslim tradition too! This tradition is important to my family because we don’t do many traditions on my Ismaili Muslim side, but we do celebrate Navroz. We also get to go to house of prayer and see my grandparents (who I call Mamajan and Papajan), and make a fresh start to the new year with them!

Mesgana A. — Ethiopian coffee

One of my family’s food traditions is making an Ethiopian coffee ceremony for holidays. Ethiopian coffee is one of the things Ethiopia is most proud of. At home, we do it just as they would there. It’s traditional to do an Ethiopian coffee ceremony. We have a small table where we store all the cups. They have traditional designs on them. The designs are usually green or orange and have zig-zags or patterns. We usually do a whole ceremony on holidays, like Ethiopian Christmas, Easter, and New Year. We love it when it’s a warm sunny day, and our cousins and aunts are at our house. It really gives us a sense of joy. Ethiopian coffee is delicate and sensitive. It’s sweet with a little bitterness to even it out. It sometimes looks like tea, but you can taste that it’s coffee. We have traditional beans from Ethiopia, not from America, so there is a difference.

Mostly everybody who has had a childhood in Ethiopia has seen Ethiopian coffee. Our coffee has been drunk for years, and it's a special coffee that represents how Ethiopia is unique.

When having an Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony it's traditional for women/girls to wear Habesha clothes. It has patterns and is made of cotton fabric. This photo is my sister after we came back from an Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony for New Years. You can see the patterns on the pattern on the bottom of her dress. Those are traditional patterns! Habesha clothes are a big part of an Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony since it's only worn on special occasions.

Pranav R. — Payasam

A food that is significant to my family is payasam and a food tradition that is important to my family is Diwali. Payasam is a sweet drink/food where there are nuts and little bits of rice. There is also the liquid part of the dessert, which is kind of like sugary milk. My family usually eats payasam when something special happens, such as a birthday, holiday, or a festival. We also eat payasam for Diwali — the festival of lights. We also get lots of chocolates and candy from our friends for Diwali. After we exchange sweets with all our friends, we have a special dinner and then we eat some of the sweets that we got from our friends. We will celebrate Diwali on Saturday, November 14 this year. We usually get together and have friends over, but this year we won’t be able to do that. This tradition and this food are important to me and my family. Payasam is one of the only Indian sweets I enjoy eating. Diwali is important to my family because it is a festival where family and friends get together. Diwali and payasam always bring fond memories to me and my family.

Oliver T. — Dragon Boat Festival

One of my family’s food traditions is eating zongzi during the Dragon Boat Festival. When the Dragon Boat Festival happens is determined by the Lunar Calendar. This year, it was June 25th. During the Dragon Boat Festival, we usually invite some neighbors and friends over and together we make zongzi. This is partly because we are not the best at making zongzi and we can learn from them at the same time.

During the Dragon Boat Festival, there are also Dragon Boat Races where there are multiple dragon boats and they race against each other. It is kind of like rowing. The tradition of eating zongzi originates in the state of Chu more than 2300 years ago, when there was a highly esteemed government official named Qu Yuan. He was later exiled because the king and his peers did not favor him. However, the people of Chu loved him and as soon as Qu Yuan left in exile, Chu began to experience problems. Unable to help his country, Qu Yuan threw himself into the Miluo river. People gathered there to throw zongzi into the river to prevent the fish from eating his body. We remember him by eating zongzi on the fifth of May on the Lunar Calendar. Qu Yuan was also the creator of zongzi.

Zongzi is like a triangle shaped rice cake wrapped in bamboo leaves with meat or red bean paste inside. It is made by first making the bamboo leaves into a cone shape, then pouring the rice inside. After that you add any fillings you want and then wrap the leaves over the top, tie with a string to hold together and put in a pot of boiling water for around 30+ minutes. There are two types of zongzi, one salty one with pork and one sweet one with red bean paste and dates. It tastes like sticky rice with meat or red bean, salty or sweet, and it tastes very delicious. This food tradition is important to my family because it is a time to get together with family and friends and although we do not get to share the experience with family in China, it still is a very important time to celebrate and get together.