The fact that a dish is old-fashioned doesn’t mean it isn’t able to be modified. In a chapter from his publication The Virtues of the Table, Julian Baggini writes that tradition is most secure when they are in the hands of those who can adapt.
Amid almost every tradition lies an untruth, and at the root of every practice lies the biggest myth that is all over them: that it is what people in our country have done for centuries. However, food styles are constantly evolving, and with foods, “forever” means “as long as we can remember.” The fastest and most straightforward method of dispelling this notion is to go through the listing of “traditional ingredients” and see the number of newcomers to the national cuisine. Tomatoes are the main ingredient in what we consider Italian cuisine. However, they weren’t introduced to Italy just after discovering the world in 1492 and were only introduced during the late 19th century. Pasta was only essential to the national diet following the two world wars. The same thing that is true about ingredients is also true for recipes. “When people say, ‘That’s not traditional,’ that’s really disputable almost all the time,” the Italian chef, Giorgio Locatelli, said. “With Italy … by the time they codified the recipes, most of them were already spread all over Italy, so each one had its own interpretation.”
What’s more interesting is understanding how these customs have been created. Go on any distillery tour on the island of Scotland or Scotland and learn that 70 to 80% of whisky’s flavor can be determined by the oak barrel that it is matured in. These days, it is usually a bourbon cask imported from America. Whiskies that are aged inside Spanish sherry barrels taste better and are heavier. It would be easy to believe that the barrel choice reflected the centuries of wisdom. But the reality is much more straightforward. Scotch whisky was aged in barrels made of European oak, the cask used by port, sherry, and Madeira makers following Napoleon’s increase in the oak used to build warships for his army. The wines fortified in the oak casks were a hit in Britain and elsewhere, as distillers sought to use empty barrels. In America, however, machine-made native oak barrels were becoming less expensive to manufacture, and Bourbon distillers were enthralled by the taste offered by the heavily charred casks. Then, in 1935, federal legislation designed to protect the environment made using new barrels mandatory. There was an immediate shortage of bourbon casks that were used, which was cutting older sherry barrels. Scottish distillers benefited, drastically altering the taste of their beverages in a desperate response to market conditions that had changed that were triggered by a law enacted by a foreign country.
It’s also important to note that the traditional doesn’t always mean good. The broadcaster and grocer Charlie Hicks cites Joy Larkham, who has done a tremendous amount to bring back forgotten “heritage” varieties of fruit and vegetables, yet who has also stated that often there’s a justification for why they didn’t grow these varieties in the first place Many aren’t very nice.
However, indeed, there is significance and meaning in the traditions.
It is essential to consider the term “tradition” constantly evolving and alive. If something stops being active, becomes an artifact of an object, and is no longer traditional, it becomes a part of the historical heritage. Although soda bread remains a classic Irish loaf and trencher, the stale bread piece used as an edible plate during the Middle Ages is a part of our food history. If it were to be revived, it’d be a traditional food item that is no longer tied to the past through continuous tradition but rather an unself-conscious revival of a tradition that was long gone.
Tradition and heritage are valuable, but while they share a commonality, they’re different. Practice reflects a feature of language, as identified by Jacques Derrida. Instead of defining a single significance of a word or “essence” of a word, Derrida claimed that the nature of language implies that every time a word comes into use, the meaning of a word can alter very slightly. Every iteration is similar enough that understanding is easy. However, it is also unique enough to ensure that the word meanings are not fixed. This is why it was possible to allow “dinner” in English to change its importance throughout the years so that what was once referred to as an early-morning meal today refers to a meal eaten in the evening.
Traditions are similar. In some recipes, like in the case of words, a significant alteration is made, and the community either accepts or denies it. The majority of the time, these changes occur organically. Since butter earned a negative reputation for its heart-related dangers in the northern region, many Italians began substituting olive oil. “There is always a kind of movement in the cooking,” Locatelli states. Locatelli, “so tradition moves with society.” In this way, there is no problem with a traditional dish, yet distinct from the conventional versions. It’s not a straightforward situation that the older the word, the older it becomes. The amount of time it has existed is more critical than the time it has existed since it was first introduced.
The zealous efforts to preserve the past could just as quickly destroy their traditions. When preservationists get their hands on a product or dish made in one way, it becomes the standard. This is one of the drawbacks inherent to PDO and the European PDO as well as PGI (protected indication of origin and defended geographical indication) plans, which were intended to safeguard the distinctive distinct status of local foodstuffs. If it is explicitly stated precisely what defines the cheese, that is, mozzarella bufala Campana di bufala inn, ovation is halted. When you refuse something, the possibility of growing it is not kept in existence; you kill and then pickle it.
The torch of tradition is shining most brightly with the help of those making new products using traditional methods. Consider, for instance, the producers of Stichelton, an unpasteurized blue cheese made from cow’s milk produced in the conventional way that is a part of Stilton. The latter is being driven by strict PDO guidelines, which require the dairy to undergo pasteurization, which means that Stilton is now “a protection of an existing form of manufacture that bears no relation to what the traditional Stilton is all about,” according to Dominic Coyte of Neal’s Yard Dairy. I’d argue that the latest Stichelton is the most appropriate traditional cheese.
It’s not that there isn’t worth what I define with my heritage.
Gastrodiversity also serves by keeping it alive or returning lost or endangered food items. In addition to its cultural and culinary significance in a time when there is a trend to put all of its eggs in one basket, small-scale production of alternative foods keeps biodiversity.
The best tradition is, therefore, not about looking backward but rather about taking the positives from the past and bringing them into the future and not being frightened to watch how it continues to evolve and expand.