Just Like a Bite of Heaven

Chris Tsavatewa

Photo by Emma Quintal

When Chris Tsavatewa signed up for a potluck, he wanted to bring his wife’s first generation meatball recipe. After a debate between Tsavatewa and his wife, he ultimately decided on his family’s beloved Blueberry Yum-Yum.

“It came down to the definition like what is a family recipe,” Tsavatewa said. “Was it a recipe that was in your family that you use…Or is it something that was maybe its first generation?”

To some, a family recipe is just a dish made in their household. However, to Tsavatewa, a family recipe is something that is passed throughout the family on a worn-out index card.

Tsavatewa moved with his family from a Native American reservation to Sylva, North Carolina, knowing absolutely no one. The Tsavatewa’s and their new neighbors bonded through this blueberry dish that was brought as a welcoming gift with open arms.

“They came to introduce themselves and said ‘time for play dates’ and ‘welcome to the neighborhood,’” Tsavatewa said.

Growing up, Tsavatewa watched his single mother, and others, create delicious food out of the bulk items they would receive from the reservation they lived on.

“You know the grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup that everybody has that special place in your childhood,” Tsavatewa said. “But we had other family recipes that kind of came out of that, that have stayed with us today and it’s always fun to make those and they kind of get together even.”

Tsavatewa, now an assistant professor of public health, looks into the health effects that government bulk items have on Native Americans living on reservations.

“I’m a public health guy and there’s some research that suggests that access to commodity food and not fresh fruits and vegetables, everything that has contributed to diabetes and other chronic health conditions of Native Americans,” Tsavatewa said.

With his own family, Tsavatewa and his wife make an effort to cook with their two children to continue the family’s tradition. Tsavatewa has connected his children to previous generations through their unique family recipes, like Blueberry Yum-Yum, which will be passed down to them in years to come.

“My wife has started cooking with our kids,” Tsavatewa said. “I have a six-year-old and a two-year-old, so we’re developing those family memories.”

Photo by Emma Quintal