Twelve Grapes

“Are you trying to connect me to my culture?”

There I stood in the grocery store, clutching an enormous bunch of grapes. I was mid-argument, insisting that we needed them for New Years. It was tradition, I insisted, although I had never practiced it before and didn’t know exactly whose tradition it was.

I had seen mention of eating twelve grapes for New Years — one for each upcoming month — in an old, unopened cookbook titled simply, Phillipine Cooking. Clearly written by secondhand English speakers, it has become my favorite cookbook. It is brimming with ridiculous, unintentional humor and recipes specifying measurements in kilos.

As I stood in the aisle with a handful of large, seeded grapes, I could see perhaps why my native Filipino boyfriend thought I may be attempting to pigeonhole him into a stereotype.

But I was also very excited to have learned this wonderful new food tradition, just in time for the holiday.

We ended up buying the grapes. I was excited. I was about to enter (totally amateurishly) into a foreign food tradition. Food history is my jam.

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Of course, if you only eat twelve grapes at midnight, there’s still a hearty bunch left on the vine come the morning of January 1st.

And I don’t really even eat grapes.

So they sat there. It’s been a week and I’ve noticed a slight shrivel in their swollen purple bellies. It is as if their New Year’s resolution was to lose weight and aim for raisinhood.

So I did what any thrifty culinarian would do. I boiled them down with a little sugar, a dash of cinnamon, a hint of lemon zest … and folded them into hand pies.

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Not the healthiest resolution, I’m sure, but tasty nonetheless. And none of those grapes went to waste!

Also, if you’re curious: the original tradition, it would seem, has Spanish roots. This would make sense — the Philippines were conquered by the Spanish and left a flurry of mixed cultures and traditions behind. The goal is to eat all twelve grapes in the twelve seconds preceding the New Year, and must be calculated to finish with the ringing chimes or church bells welcoming in the year.

To not do so, some believe, is bad luck.

(But I believe that putting your spare grapes to use will even all that bad luck out in just a few bites.)

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