Tuesday, September 15, 2015

From Scratch II

" I had a greengage tree, that's the best of all plants, espaliered on the wall outside my bedroom. And there is nothing that tastes better than a warm greengage plucked out of your bedroom window on a summer evening. And I did have the extraordinary good fortune to grow up eating what I think the romantic movement dreams of. We had milk fresh from the cow; I never had pasteurized milk until I went to school. We had fish from the river, pheasant from the farm. The food was extremely good. French friends used to come and stay for great long periods of time because they liked it so much. It wasn't fancy, but it was--we never had cans, we never had tins, we never had--everything was fresh from the garden. So, I do romanticize--some of that because the taste was often extraordinary. " Rachel Laudan, author of Cuisine and Empire, from the interview with Russ Roberts on the EconTalk podcast: (Rachel Laudan on the History of Food)

"This book of recipes of wonderful things to eat suggests that we were all raised with a background and heritage of good food, and for the most part, this is true.  But the definition of luxury food has changed over the years.  What is now economy food was in some cases a luxury item 50 years ago. For example, chicken is now one of the cheapest meats, but several decades ago chicken was the choice for Sunday dinner or when there were guests.  Lucky indeed was the man who married a girl that could fry chicken since it was an inborn trait."
C. John Renken, Jr. , Introduction to The Renken's Recipes to Die For, Thanksgiving 1992
Nelson Ladies with Peach orchard
Millie: "Mom baked bread every Saturday; she made loaves enough to last all week.  She baked home made donuts with some of the dough. The older kids told us younger ones biting into a donut hole would kill us.  And when we left a chewed around hole behind, the older kids came after and ate them all.....   Mom baked biscuits from scratch every morning for breakfast...biscuits and gravy and fried leftover potatoes and fried beef.  We got a bucket of beef every week from the Farmers City beef club; it was always gone by Friday.  Mom had to get up early to get the fire going in the wood stove to cook breakfast."

Charlie :  "There was an upstairs room in the old house that we stored salted meat in.  When we tore the house down, it still smelled like Morton salt. We didn't eat much beef....mostly pork and chicken. "

Millie: "We only had iced tea...though it wasn't cold...when the haymen or threshers came to work and eat with us.  That's when we would eat "special food" like chicken..  First the men would eat, then the children, and the women would eat after everyone else was finished.  Everything was from scratch.  We ate roast, noodles, and a lot of hash...onions, beef, and leftover potatoes."

Millie: "My grandma kept butter and milk cold in her well. We had an icebox. Mom made cottage cheese every week, setting milk out in a crock on an enameled table in the kitchen.  We churned butter by hand and separated the cream. "

Charlie: "We had a water separator for cream; it was a 10 gallon column with a valve at the bottom and a sight gauge.  You'd pour the milk in the top and then pour in water.  The water made the cream separate faster.  You'd open the valve to let out the cream.  The chickens got the leftover milk and water.  It stood on a three legged stand."

Millie: "We'd shell peas til our fingers blistered."

Charlie: "Mom tried shelling peas onto a sheet by running them through the Maytag wringer washer...peas flew everywhere!"

Millie: " We 'd walk by Grandma's after church after she'd  baked bread.  If she was home we'd stay and visit.  If she wasn't, we ate all her food. We'd spread mustard on the homemade bread..."
Young Charlie Hurst

Charlie: "When I was six, we had three single men and the school teacher living upstairs and eating with us."

Millie:  "There were always nine people to feed."

"Raising five kids on a letter carrier's salary required holding the weekly grocery bill down but we certainly never went hungry.  However we did have some menus which represented a real challenge to a kid's palate.  Even now, I can feel the gorge rising at the thought of breaded beef brains or fried eggplant.  Often when something new was on the evening menu, Mom would take me aside before the meal and charge me with trying the new food and showing a favorable response to my younger brother and sisters. The responsibility was awesome; at the first bite, I could see their eyes scanning my throat muscles.....
.....Dad was also the recipient of occasional gifts of dressed coon from some of his patrons especially when he was carrying mail in the east side of town.  Mom would dutifully bake the coon.  I can't remember any negative reaction to it which means it must have been good.  Dad and I would also go down to Weir's creek below Lincoln University and seine for crawdads which were delicious.  We frequently received gifts of cooked cheese which was a special treat on homemade bread.  Momma Beck would buy it from out in the country.  I have never seen anything like it in the supermarkets or delicatessens.  I don't know its proper name; maybe it doesn't exist anymore except perhaps in rural Germany or Switzerland."  C. John Renken, Jr.

 Millie: "We ate A LOT of eggs."

Charlie: "You had to boil and boil to get rid of enough salt to make that pork edible."

 If we say that peasants in the past ate healthier and safer food, it's easy to translate that into the world of development and say, 'We really want people to stay in small farms on the land. We want women in South Africa to continue pounding their maize in a mortar with a great big pestle.' And to condemn them to the kind of poverty that our ancestors escaped, 3, 4, 5, 6 generations ago. I think we just simply have to give up the myth of a golden age in the past that is a template for the present.
Rachel Laudan

History professor Rachel Laudan wishes critics of today's food systems would  look back to the not so distant past and have a conversation or two with people who truly ate what they grew and lived on the food available seasonally.  Folks who were pork folks...or beef folks...and killed, not the fatted calf, but a squawking chicken, when company called.  The breakfast my husband's grandmother prepared for her large family every morning: from scratch biscuits and gravy, fried steak and potatoes, cornmeal mush, sounds like a feast. But it required her to rise early to revive the fire in the wood stove to bake and fry and boil the water she hauled from the well to clean up the dishes afterward.   Today's abundance of food is no mystery; it is the result of both the revolutionary increase in productivity on the farm and a concurrent transformation of processing, preserving and transportation, increasing not just the amount of food available, but giving consumers of all incomes an astronomical increase of choices and variety....

And then I tweak myself and I say, 'Look, Rachel, your mother spent all day, every day gardening or cooking.' Essentially. As well as doing other chores. And she said to you, 'Rachel, it's servitude. I want you to have a life I didn't have.' And here I am sitting in this very privileged position of having had a life as an academic, which has to be one of the happiest situations a human being can find themselves in, with time to think and money to live on and the chance to travel. Rachel Laudan

  Whenever we add up the pluses and minuses of a modern food system, we are less than honest if we do not include the freedom to do something else with one's time and talent besides make a meal.  Cooking can be art, created and composed with loving attention to the mingling of tastes and textures; we all remember and treasure meals like that.  But food is also fuel and sustenance; the world is a richer place if Mom throws a take and bake pizza in the oven before she goes to church for children's choir with one kid and Dad gets home from coaching Little League with the other....

We haven''t always had that choice....
Renken family circa mid 60s

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