Saturday, January 22, 2005

Local Shmokel

My in-laws had to run to Florida for a few days and came back with fresh grapefruits and oranges for us. What a treat. I do not like grapefruit but husband and daughters love them. A really good orange is such a treat.

But enjoying these treats made me think of a book I read recently, This Organic Life by Joan Dye Gussow. A nutritionist and gardener, her shtick is that it makes economic, environmental and gastronomic sense (and I would add, health sense) to eat locally grown foods in season. One example of the exploitation of the current food distribution system is that it consumes 435 fossil fuel calories to fly a 5-calorie strawberry from California to New York. Imagine what it consumes to transport food from Chile, Israel (lot of apples I’ve noticed come from there), Australia?

So, I buy her shtick, I think she’s right. But I like these oranges. Although only in season. And we wouldn’t have gotten them at all if they hadn’t been making the trip anyway. Still.

Still I would have olive oil AND olives. Chocolate (but I might be able to classify that as medicinal, along with the Madeira in winter and Mike’s Limes in summer). Cinnamon. Tea. Even grains, other than corn (and that we already produce ourselves), would be a stretch to find produced locally. Probably lots of other things too. I like maple syrup a lot, and we could make some of our own with much work, but if I didn’t have easy access to maple syrup at reasonable prices, I would quickly substitute sorghum molasses which is a local product.

I remember being at a molasses stir at my Uncle Bernard’s (that is accented on the first syllable, BERnerd) when I was a child. The mangle, stressed to be dangerous so steer clear; the pony going in a circle powering the mangle; the clear, watery cane juice; the huge deep pits of fire with shallow pans on top (probably 4’ X 12’ or better in size); the sorghum canes cut to a point for the kids to suck on and pretend we were still babies sucking a bottle; the steam; the foam being skimmed; the ever darkening, thickening syrup. I believe I was asleep before the bottling for I do not remember that at all.

My friend Nancy has said that the thing she finds most interesting is exploring where people “draw the line”. In her book, Joan expresses that perhaps shipping dry, concentrated things is ok, but shipping water around is abominable. Again, I can see that. Sometimes I’m not sure where I draw the line, if I draw any lines. I have principles and philosophies that guide but I’m not passing up that orange either.

Uncle Bernard was like that orange, rare but totally of the earth and in season. Today’s comfort food here on the farm is chicken and dumplings and his house is the first place I remember having that from a humongous stock pot on his stove. Years later when I wanted to give a boyfriend of mine a hive of bees, it was Bernard I called. He always kept bees and sure enough, he sold me two. I’ve been fascinated with bees ever since that day. I don’t remember if he came to our wedding or not but he died not six months after it, shot himself on the anniversary of his wife’s death. She’d had Alzheimer’s and he took care of her, himself, at home, until the end. Eleven years later he was afraid his mind was going and took his leave. I understood.

I must confess, the chicken in my chicken and dumplings is not my own. It could be, we’ve plenty of extra roosters. But it isn’t. This time. The dumplings are great though – just biscuits boiled in the broth of boiled chicken. I always boil the chicken first, take it out and bone it, put the dumplings in and cook them and then add the chicken back. You just make up regular biscuits but make them a bit tough by kneading them more than you would biscuits you’d bake, then roll them thin, cut into strips and drop into broth, cover for an hour or so, simmering. I always have garlic and onion in the water from the time I put the chicken in, I should probably mention that. I mean, really, this is the height of mid-winter comfort food. Make yourself some.

Even if it isn’t local.

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