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Explore the culinary stories from our workshops in Kensington and Norris Square

Cooking, like storytelling, can be used as a means of passing down history and culture from one generation to another. By continuing the traditions of our ancestors and creating culinary connections with other communities, we are able to express the history of those who came before us while making new stories along the way.

This was the theme of our fall storytelling workshops, where a dozen or so community members and visitors — from young children to older adults — shared their stories related to food or cooking.

kensington culinary connections
Community members discuss possible culinary moments to write about on Sept. 30, 2021 at Ruth Street Community Garden. (Photo by Erin Blewett)

Kensington Voice and Interfaith Philadelphia facilitated the event as part of Interfaith Philadelphia’s Crafting Community Project “Kensington Grows, Cooks, and Serves.” The community art project is a series of online and in-person events exploring food systems and growing cross-cultural and interfaith connections in the neighborhood. Philly Unknown Project’s Ruth Street Community Garden hosted the first workshop on Sept. 30. The garden was decorated with pumpkins, murals, and raised garden beds. The second workshop on Oct. 2 took place in Norris Square Neighborhood Project’s Las Parcelas Community Garden, which is known for its celebration of Puerto Rican culture and fresh, home-grown food.

Each workshop included three stations where participants were guided through the storytelling process. At the audio station, people shared stories about their food-centered traditions while talking into a microphone, like a podcast. At the collage-making station, several people cut out photos from food magazines and creatively glued them onto construction paper. At the writing station, participants wrote down short stories related to food and family. A local food resources guide was distributed as well. 

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Below are the culinary stories and collages that were created during the two workshops.

To attend upcoming events in the neighborhood, check out the Kensington Voice Events Calendar. Stay up to date on Kensington news, conversations, and more by following us on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

Audio station

kensington culinary connections
A microphone and laptop set up for the audio station of the workshop at Ruth Street Community Garden. (Photo by Erin Blewett)

Carmen Laureano, Elba Lopez, and Kalú Fermandois (Kensington Voice translator) at Las Parcelas Community Garden

Jeremiah Montalvo at Las Parcelas Community Garden

Jim “Bear” Katona at Ruth Street Community Garden

Kalú Fermandois (Kensington Voice translator) at Las Parcelas Community Garden 

Stephen Hovanec at Ruth Street Community Garden

Parker Loesch at Las Parcelas Community Garden

Collage-making station 

kensington culinary connections
Collage station. (Photo by Erin Blewett)

Angel Rosado at Las Parcelas Community Garden

Britt Carpenter at Ruth Street Community Garden 

“Veggie Collage” by Britt Carpenter.

Elba Lopez at Las Parcelas Community Garden

Kalú Fermandois (Kensington Voice translator) at Ruth Street Community Garden

“Christmas dinner table in Chile.”

Mónica Perez (Kensington Voice translator) at Ruth Street Community Garden 

 “Traditional meals from Mexico.”

Parker Loesch at Las Parcelas Community Garden

“Farm to table” by Parker Loesch

Rosalind Pichardo at Ruth Street Community Garden

Pichardo said she’s been eating avocados more recently and sometimes she likes having a glass of wine.

Stephen Hovanec at Ruth Street Community Garden

“A balanced diet can allow you to build a stable foundation of health so you can glide through life.”

Writing station

kensington culinary connections
Writing station. (Photo by Erin Blewett)

Angel Rosado at Las Parcelas Community Garden

We, Hispanics, do family reunions. It is a holiday where all members of the family participate. They choose a place of preference and bring all kinds of food.

There is never a lack of typical food, which is traditionally rice with pigeon peas and roasted pork. They usually choose a park or a place with swimming pools.

Many photos are taken as memories and then shared. Games are played. Music is played and they dance. They also like to have T-shirts printed with the name, “Family Reunion.”

Jeremiah Montalvo at Las Parcelas Community Garden

I like eating arepas with the spicy green sauce. La Caleñita is where I go to get arepas with my mom. We go to 5th Street. 

I also like the beef empanadas at La Caleñita. The first time I ate those empanadas, I finished them in two bites. 

Mónica Perez (Kensington Voice translator) at Ruth Street Community Garden

My memories of family meals

In our Mexican culture, we have many special days to celebrate throughout the year, starting from January 6, when we celebrate the Three Kings Day and from there the celebrations begin, a bread roll called (Rosca de Reyes) is split. The people who participate and cut a piece of bread and a little doll comes out from inside of it have to prepare the tamales, which is the tradition for February 2, the day of candelaria, etc. (Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, festivities, Christmas and New Years among others). And so each month there is always a special time to celebrate. But in my family, every Sunday is like having a celebration since my maternal grandmother, my aunts, and my mother always brought a dish. It was like having a party every Sunday and even at the end, there is always food left over in which everyone shares and everyone takes for reheating.

Traditional meals are very extensive, but the main ones that my grandmother prepared were tamales. It was something very common among our celebrations since it is something practical, efficient, and inexpensive. My grandmother also always prepared large steamers and always prepared different stews of chicken or pork, red or green, even some of only vegetables and cheese. She also prepared pineapple candies, orange candies, etc. 

Now I understand how important it is to always pay attention and learn as much as possible from the experiences and learnings of older people, since they did not have access to technology or manuals but these delicious recipes were always fresh in their memory.

I remember that my grandmother would not let us help her. I asked her sometimes, “Grandma, can I help you?” She told me, “DO NOT! Leave it there,” because she said that even the temperature of your hands was important. It had to do with the moment of playing with the dough and the moment of putting them to cook. They should be layered little by little, that was the secret so that they were not squashed and were all fluffy.

In my community, we have many traditional dishes but tamales, pozole or mole, enchiladas and tacos with different types of sauces etc. always remind me of my grandmother. Even if I prepare them or taste the dishes that someone else made, they never have that exquisite and delicious flavor that always distinguished her food that when we tried it, we could not resist asking for another one.

I started cooking out of necessity, now I enjoy preparing food. I love seeing when my family or the people who come to try it, like it. It is a pleasure to learn and share culinary experiences.

Darryl Thomas from Norris Square

Sunday Dinner at Grandma’s

When I was young, Sunday was a day of gathering and worship. Most Sundays consisted of two main agendas: church and Sunday dinner. Sunday morning, we were up early. We bathed, got dressed in our Sunday best, and off we went to church. This day could sometimes start as early as 7:30 a.m. When we arrived at the church, the kids went to Sunday school and the adults went to bible study. While we were in church, dinner was slowly simmering on the stove and slow cooking in the oven. One of my aunts usually stayed home to make sure everything turned out right. On most occasions, we went to the Sunday sermon after Sunday school and bible study. The service would begin at 11 a.m. or noon and lasted well into the afternoon. After the sermon, we said our goodbyes and then headed home.

When we arrived, everyone got partially undressed and watched football on a black and white TV. There were not too many color TVs in households yet, and we had not yet bought one. The Baltimore Colts was the home team everyone rooted for, and we were proud to have them as such.

As we sat around the dining room table, where almost all the family would fit, we first blessed the food. Afterwards, dinner was served. These were some of the best meals I had ever eaten: fried chicken, baked ham, topped with pineapples, greens, corn on the cob, and mashed or baked potatoes. We washed it all down with iced tea. What a meal! With the holidays coming up, memories like these come to mind, and I cherish them.

The time spent with family and friends was always unforgettable. So, enjoy your holidays, stay safe and make the best of this holiday season.

Editors: Zari Tarazona, Siani Colón, Henry Savage / Designer: Henry Savage