Sauce, Not Gravy!

by Rebecca Snetselaar, Folklife Specialist, Nevada Arts Council, 2019

Foodways are one of the easiest kinds of folklife to find. Recipes that families brought with them when they came to the United States are treasured and passed down through generations. They may have secret ingredients (not to be shared outside the family). Some evolve over time, adapted to changing tastes, the availability of ingredients, and the creative impulses of a new generation of cooks.

The Eldorado’s annual Great Italian Festival in Reno includes a friendly competition that invites families in Nevada and neighboring California to share a family recipe for Italian sauce. This year (the 38th annual) there were about two dozen families, each manning a booth emblazoned with the family name and the region of Italy they were representing. Some families have been participating for decades.

Contestants provide their shopping lists in advance, and the Eldorado delivers the requested ingredients to the family booths on Fourth Street. Then the cooking begins: chopping, sautéing, stirring, seasoning, tasting. It’s a family affair, with all ages taking hand in the work. Family and friends […]

We Are the Folk!

By Rebecca Snetselaar, Folklife Specialist, Nevada Arts Council

Before there was folklore, there was lore, something that was taught.

The English word “folklore” appeared in 1846, describing “traditional beliefs and customs of the common people” that were shared by word of mouth. As a field of academic study, it focused at first on oral traditions and was associated with the study of language and literature.

By the middle of the 20th Century people in America had come to understand folk music, folk dance, folk tales, folk art, and folk medicine as old-fashioned or primitive art forms to be preserved intact as unchanging artifacts of cultural heritage.

Meanwhile American folklorists – scholars who study and document folklore – were coming to new understandings about what they were studying. Their interests had begun to shift from the “folklore” itself to the way it was passed on, and to the cultural communities in which it was shared.

The word “folklife” came into common usage in the 1960s to describe the living traditions, activities, skills, and products (such as handicrafts) of any particular people or group that are […]