Putting up was definitely a thing when I was little. Bushels of tomatoes became canned tomatoes and tomato sauce (we weren’t sophisticated enough to eat salsa or make pizza sauce – pizza, in fact, was really something we just had at school, in squares, with just cheese. We did not have pizza places and did not have a culture of pizza. I remember making pizza out of a box once because it was such an event!), baskets of green beans and yellow wax beans were ‘tipped’ and canned, beets and eggs were pickled together (right next to other gallon jars of pickled pig’s feet), we made some jam – mostly blackberry and if we were lucky to ‘pick your own’ strawberries once in a blue summer moon, then we could get strawberry jam. But other than that, our creativity was lacking.
Food was not ‘creative’ when I was young. Granted, I lived in a cake baker’s house so decorating was very creative (and hot buttered cake tops for breakfast – mmmm) but not food so much. My favorite meals were generally simple and fresh ones – just caught brook or rainbow trout with foraged sauteed mushrooms, homey venison stew, roast pheasant, catfish fry and corn on the cob – to be honest, most of our vegetables came in a store can. Once a month we would cross the state border to shop for real groceries (we had a small market in our town, and a moderate one in the big town 20 miles away, but in NY state we could go to the cake flour store and then go to the really big grocery store to get goods) – and it was the 70’s/early 80’s: processed food was resplendent. Bologna with cheese holes (hot dogs with ‘cheese’ in them), cheese puffs/balls, Velveeta and Kraft slices (man, our culture was obsessed with fake cheese foods, eh?), pop tarts, cream-filled cupcakes, Froot Loops/Fruity or Chocolatey Pebbles (oh, the crazy cereals – Cap’n Crunch, Lucky Charms, etc), cookies, chips, Kool-aid/Tang, Tab/Shasta ‘Pop’, Chef Boyardee Spaghettios, Chicken & Stars can soup, peanut butter with the jelly in it, Maple & Sugar Instant Oatmeal packets, it was ridiculous. Not to mention the candy and ice cream treats we could get at our own little market (Fat Frog Ice Cream treat anyone?). We lived in a country sort of paradise and ate all hunted/fished meats but when it came to almost everything else – it was junk.
I look around our kitchen this morning – the island is piled with fresh bread and bagels (and the starter crock), sourdough cracker bags, a pitcher of fresh baby leeks from the local Farmer’s Market (which was an encouraging experience), last night’s projekt of canned fresh rhubarb jam, pickled cukes/asparagus/fiddleheads, and the setting fresh ricotta (soon to be jarred up, and then I can pull out the new Kimchi batch to jar up, as well). The substrate bag of Lion’s Mane Mushroom. The bone broth on the backburner. It’s a homestead cornucopia.
And right then and there I realize – it’s picnic for dinner tonite. Fresh ricotta and sourdough baguette (with a little rhubarb jam), pickles, baby radishes with butter, pea shoot and violet salad with medium-boiled local eggs…we can sit up on the hill and survey the zooming and amazing flights of the dragonflies and swifts saving us from the mosquitoes.
It seems easy here to forget about the troubles in the world – we are not immune. We are not worry-free. We aren’t hiding. We all need to hold tight to the moments that make us sane, where we have a moment of safety or at least a moment to be able to reflect on what safety and sanity mean. We are working hard – to make this life meaningful, to make this world (what little bit we are a part of) functional and sustainable. We have little to offer you – our hospitality, our space, our food, our love, our lives, but it’s freely given. We (so far) have that ability – to work in service of the world, of each other, in the ways we are able. It’s all any of us can and should do…
Be safe. Be alert. Be responsive. Be caring. Be well.