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From Sugar Skulls to King Cakes: Dec. 14 Global Kitchen Explores Holiday Foods

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Sample some king cake for the chance to win an authentic Mexican sugar skull. Photo courtesy DK2 Studio.


Another fast-approaching holiday season brings a rush of food, fun, laughter, and memories. Fabio Parasecoli, an associate professor in The New School’s Food Studies program, explores the ways food memories shape how we view ourselves and our connection to communal and cultural memories. Join Parasecoli on Wednesday, December 14, for this month’s Adventures in the Global Kitchen, Sugar Skulls to King Cakes: Global Memories and Holiday Traditions, to learn about holiday food traditions from around the globe, to taste a variety of beloved holiday desserts, and for the chance to win an authentic Mexican sugar skull. Recently, Parasecoli answered a few questions about holiday foods.

Why do we feel nostalgic about foods, and in particular, our holiday food traditions?

Ingesting food is a fundamental component of our connection to the world outside our body. When we eat and drink, we find ourselves at the juncture between biological necessity, the world of drives and instincts, the inputs from the outside world, and the tremendous landslide of thoughts, feelings, and emotions resulting from our inner lives. Neuroscience shows that taste and smell have a tremendous influence of memory. Holidays are marked by different foods to underline the uniqueness of the event. Moreover, holidays are special occasions when families and other social groups make a special effort to prepare and offer more abundant and, often, more expensive food, making the events even more memorable.

You’re an expert in Italian food traditions, and panettone is one of the featured desserts at this event. What are some things people may not know about this food?

Desserts served during the Christmas Eve Vigil supper were supposed to be fat free, to keep the “lean” character of the meal. Since bread, symbol of eternal life and of God’s love, seemed to play a very important role in the Christmas meals of the first Christian communities, many desserts are actually derived from bread, which for the holidays was rich, round, tall, well-leavened. The origin of many desserts is evident in their names: pandoro from Verona (pan d’oro means bread of gold), panettone from Milan (pan di tono, important bread), pan speziale from Bologna (spiced bread), panforte from Siena (strong bread), pan pepato from Ferrara (peppered bread), pan nociato from Umbria (bread with nuts), pan giallo from Rome (yellow bread), and parrozzo from Abruzzo (pan rozzo, rough bread). As the names reveal, different ingredients such as spices, nuts, raisins, candied and dried fruits, chocolate, and honey were added to the bread over time to make it more festive. All these desserts, mostly from northern and central Italy, were prepared in the shape of loaves, and sliced to serve. In the South, on the other hand, there is a prevalence of single-portion desserts, similar to cookies.

The event’s menu also includes torrone, king cake, sweet potato pie, fruit cake, and sesame balls. Which item are you most excited to try?

Definitely fruit cake. It is a dessert that at times is not very popular, but when properly done can be fantastic!

The Presenting Sponsor of the Museum’s cultural public programming is MetLife Foundation.

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