Good Food Blog
Very superstitiousPosted at 12:02PM, 24 August 2009 by Stuart Walton - Food and wine writer
When I broke the yolk of my fried egg this morning (HOW annoying is that?), an old piece of folk wisdom came instantly to mind. 'Break the yolk and the day is broke.' It was the sort of saying our grandmothers dinned into us long before we had even tried cracking an egg for ourselves.
That something as central to our lives as food should have generated a whole series of popular beliefs and superstitions is hardly surprising. Some of the forms they have taken are rather unusual, though, and their logic may not always be apparent.
Most of us have thrown salt over our shoulders when spilling it, compounding our initial clumsiness by chucking some more on the host's carpet
Most of us, I bet, have thrown salt over our shoulders when spilling it, compounding our initial clumsiness by chucking some more on the host's carpet. What you are doing is blinding the Devil, who might just have been grinning over your shoulder as you inadvertently wasted one of life's more precious commodities. And who hasn't pulled a wishbone? It refers back to the Roman days of reading the future in a slaughtered bird's entrails (haruspicy, if anyone's asking).
Not just foods, but the means of eating them, have been shrouded with magical significance. Two spoons turning up one atop the other in a saucer betoken a marriage. Don't they look, after all, just like the happy couple will, once snuggled up in the conjugal bed? Knives are laden with meanings, mostly sinister. A pair of knives that become crossed should be quickly separated, in case they should prove symbolic of the crossing of swords, and 'stirring with a knife causes strife' - find one of those loved-up spoons to do the job instead.
Other food cultures are as rife with superstition as our own. The use of chopsticks is a minefield. To the Chinese, a pair of chopsticks carelessly laid across the top of an empty rice bowl is a portent of death, as is turning over a fish in the serving bowl (it suggests the capsizing of the fisherman's boat). Instead, the skeleton should be carefully removed after the top half has been eaten.
New Year's Eve is the most superstitious time of year for everybody. The Spanish custom of wolfing down a grape with each strike of the clock at midnight, in order to ensure plenty in each of the twelve months ahead, is good fun. I wouldn't say 'Nein' to the little marzipan pigs scoffed in Austria. I'm less sold on the Danish and northern German tradition of eating thickened stewed kale at New Year. I think I'd rather go without the luck. There's tempting fate for you.
What unusual food beliefs have you, or your senior relatives, come across?