In the old mining town of Røros in central Norway, many residents still live in the wooden houses and 17th and 18th century buildings that linger from its booming copper-mining days, and have led to the area’s designation as a UNESCO world heritage site. But the town has another legacy that you may not read about in history books. “It’s a very old ritual in this area that every year before Christmas, families would make a traditional ginger beer”, says Per Tore Holgersen from the Slow Food Røros Convivium. “The recipe is passed down through generations from mother to children. It’s not something you can buy, but made from information that is passed on through people”. Ensuring this knowledge is not lost was the inspiration for the convivium’s Terra Madre Day event that gathered old and young to make and taste the traditional brew.
Meanwhile in the southern hemisphere, a simple act of churning butter became a political statement. In Rwanda a workshop on traditional butter making was held with school children by the Huye Convivium and sent a strong message to denounce national agricultural politics that have put the survival of the local cattle breed in danger. “European cows have been introduced to the detriment of the local Inyambo breed due to their greater production of milk”, explains convivium leader Marie Jeanne Kayitesi. The decline of the breed has led to abandonment of the traditions that have been associated with it, butter making being one. The practice survives in a single region, and those who continue to make it are considered outlaws. “Our event aimed to denounce the poor quality of mass-produced milk, as well as to sensitize the younger generation to the safeguarding of Rwandan pastoral traditions”.
On the same day in Italy, children and the teachers revived a sweet Christmas treat that dates back to Roman times, but which most members of younger generations have never tasted: pangiallo (yellow bread). “Today pangiallo is still made in Rome’s Jewish ghetto and in some rare traditional delis”, said the organizers, “but once upon a time every family prepared it, following their own recipe that was handed down from past generations”. Unfortunately today, industrially produced Panettone or Pandoro are more often seen on Christmas tables. Armed with a recipe from a local grandmother, and a handful of good ingredients, children and teachers brought the past back to the table.
The celebration of traditions didn’t stop there. Cassava was cooked in Vietnam, mescal was toasted in Mexico, and grandmothers’ recipes were put to the test in a children’s cooking competition in Turkey, amongst many other events. “Terra Madre Day alone can’t revive these traditions”, said Ms. Kayitesi from Huye Convivium in Rwanda, “this can only happen slowly. But with this day we can raise awareness of them among young people and adults, and this is the first step”.