In spite of the globalization of trade, I have found that some foods remain tied to place. These items are the types of food that are likely to show up at the gathering of snow birds in Phoenix, all of whom are from Fulton County, Illinois. What would you find there? No doubt it would be Kitchen Cooked Potato Chips from Farmington, Illinois. These same potato chips are shipped around the country (and maybe the world) for Christmas presents for those who grew up in Central Illinois and are now spread more broadly.
If you are from Pella, Iowa, you take Dutch letters from Jaarsma Bakery in a box when you visit family, or you send a dozen at Christmas by mail. Personally I can take or leave these almond paste pastries but a true Pelladian cannot have a gathering without them. In Grand Rapids, Michigan, another Dutch community, banket, an I-shaped version, is a typical gift brought to a Christmas party.
When I lived in Louisiana, everyone took fresh shrimp packed in dry ice in Styrofoam ice-chests when traveling to see family. You could not arrive without it.
Having been children when we lived in New Zealand, my daughters gave me a list of candy to bring back when I went there to visit. Pineapple Lumps were at the top of the list—my older daughter said they were best when put in the freezer and taken out to directly pop into your mouth. Several bags of Pineapple Lumps travelled the 10,000 miles home with me.
For a few years, I was able to get once such local food item at Target—Good Earth Tea. This made sense. Good Earth Tea comes from the Good Earth restaurant in Minneapolis/St. Paul and Target also began in Minneapolis/St. Paul. My mother in Michigan could get it at her Target. I could get it at Target in Boston. And then one day…it disappeared from the shelf. To be honest, I had often wondered how many Minnesotans there could be across the country who were purchasing Good Earth Tea at Target. Just to make sure I went back several times to Target to see if they had just run out of stock—it was still on their website after all. But I was out of luck (and tea). This made the meaning of the tea more significant as it became a matter of identity for me. Knowing my desperation, after Christmas I found a box on my desk, brought to me by a colleague who had gone home to Minnesota for Christmas to visit family. But soon it was gone.
Last month I was in Minnesota for a weekend to attend a memorial service. This service was for a mentor who over the years I had met at the Good Earth restaurant dinner along with his wife when I was in town. I told my aunt, who I was staying with, that I needed to take Good Earth Tea home with me. Amongst the things that filled the weekend, we had lunch with some cousins—and I reminded my aunt that I needed to pick up some Good Earth Tea. We went to a movie—and I reminded my aunt that I needed to pick up some Good Earth Tea (and it was not a great movie). We went to visit another aunt in the hospital—and I reminded my aunt that I needed to pick up some Good Earth Tea. We drove close to the restaurant several times always enroute to someplace else as I reminded her that I needed to pick up some Good Earth Tea.
Finally, out of desperation, I had my cousin take me to breakfast at the restaurant my last morning, marginalizing my aunt in my effort to purchase a piece of my identity to take back with me to Boston. And who showed up to eat and drink with us but my aunt!
Next Christmas, if we are together, I am not going to share my Kitchen Cooked Potato Chips.