Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Importance of Foodways

I wanted to take a desert to the dressage clinician who comes every so often to the barn I work at. He’d asked for a flan but it is not spring, the time of abundant eggs, so what he got was an apple pie since it is the time of abundant apples.

I wasn’t going to be in town the days he would be at the barn so I took the pie by the barn the day before his clinic began and left it with my boss. He would be staying with her anyway, and the pie was as much for her as for him. Arriving at the barn, the children piled out of the car to speak to each and every horse. The vet was there and with my boss but they were just waiting for sedation to take effect on one horse, so while the children made rounds through the barn, I spoke with them.

“Hey! I brought you and Pierre an apple pie!” I said as I uncovered it so they could admire the lattice crust. When it was duly admired I added, “Now, be sure you let Pierre know that this is really home made. I mean, there is lard in that crust and I raised the pig, slaughtered the pig, rendered the lard, then made the crust.”

The vet smiled a little smile and said, “Next you are going to tell us that you ground the wheat!”

“She did!” my boss said.

“Well, actually the blond child you see running around here ground the wheat, but yes, we did grind the wheat in there, and it is whole wheat.”

He was a bit flabbergasted, much to my delight, and my boss actually said, “She’s amazing,” which was also pretty nice to hear.

But I guess I really wish that people were less flabbergasted and less amazed too. I just feel like everybody has to eat -- we might as well be passionate about food.

I come from a culture in which food is extremely important. Southern culture in general, and Appalachian culture in particular, has specific foodways. Now, my boss who is from one or the other of those tiny New England states and Pierre who is from the Seychelles Islands may or may not know the Southern or the Appalachian significance of pie, but I’m pretty sure they can both feel the vibrations in its goodness. (and whoever said we weren’t cosmopolitan hillbillies?)

What I want to say is, it is important to have a food culture. It doesn’t matter what it is, but it is important to have. For us hillbillies, it begins with a bowl of beans and a pone of cornbread. That is the bottom line basic. It can be grown here, it is nutritious, it fulfills pretty much everything, and it is delicious to boot. To that, all else is added. A slice of onion. A dollop of chowchow. A piece of backbone. Pork is the next layer of staple, adding meat and most importantly fat to the diet. And potatoes, another great grower and good keeper. Then you can get to the greens, a lot of wild ones but also cabbage (good keeper, easy preserver) and the fruits (apples and pears and berries). And it goes on and on, each adding to and complimenting all the others.

With a food culture, you always have something to eat, something that is satisfying, something that can grow where you are, something that you can preserve and that can thus preserve you through the winter. It is lack of a food culture that seduces people to think it is ok to transport food (and especially food that is primarily water) all across the globe. A food culture knows how to eat seasonally. It is lack of a revered food culture that permits the insertion of industrial food substitutes.

It isn’t that we don’t enjoy other food cultures: on the contrary, we very much enjoy many cultural foods. I’m good with the baba ganouch and the tabouli (although I severely wonder about the people who buy tabouli mix) and the falafel. Our culture gets along great with Mexican food since it is basically the same staples as hillbilly food, just variations on the preparations. Stir-fries are always on our list of potential meals. I lovelovelove seafood, mountain girl though I am. Every single place around the globe has a legitimate food culture, and there are parts from each that we can incorporate into our own food culture. But to make baba ganouch, then you are going to have to figure out how to grow the eggplants. When Gary Nabhan (in Coming Home to Eat) brought some squash seeds from his ancestral home Turkey to his current desert home and tried to grow them, he found that variety was susceptible to squash bugs and thus a native, hairy, variety grew better . . . and that he could adapt his ancestral foodways to his desert home foodways. On those rare occasions when I travel, what I most want to do is eat the local food, not the haute food, not some chef’s version of the food, but the real food -- what keeps the people native of that place alive and happy.

But when it comes down to it, a bowl of beans with a little fat back in them, a side of steamed greens, and a pone of cornbread (with lots of butter), and I am a happy hillbilly woman.

(of course, then I can vary the beans into “cowboy beans” -- basically a sort of barbeque chili bean thing -- or the beans can be pintos or Octobers or limas or little navies or great northerns or Jacob’s cattle beans or green beans, and the meat can be fatback or backbone or jowl or salt or fresh or lots or just flavoring or some green herbs instead, and the greens might be coleslaw or steamed cabbage or wild nettles or kale or chard or beet greens, and I can add a little garlic, or fry potatoes, or stew some apples, or just about anything at all -- and the leftovers I can make into bean cakes or burrito filling or add to a pot of soup or just heat up and eat and any meal becomes a celebration when it ends with a pie or a cobbler or a cake, and pretty much all of it can be home grown or bought in dry bulk or wild crafted and there you go)

below is one recent, highly enjoyed, entirely off the farm meal. Only the salt and the shoyu were not our own. Baked potato with butter, cheese, onions, garlic, grilled pork, topped with a dollop of sour cream. And we could make the shoyu!

By the way, it was reported that Pierre, while eating his second piece of pie, said, "This is healthy AND it is desert!"


Hot Belly Mama - taking it all back said...

As was said, you are truly amazing. I aspire to be more like you...

Kitt said...

Well put! I would be impressed by the home-rendered lard and hand-ground wheat, too. What amazes me is the look of surprise when I tell a co-worker who's admiring my lunch that I made the pasta sauce myself. Doesn't everyone get it from a jar?

How sad.

CG said...

yeah, doesn't everyone get it from a jar? Exactly. I love that. Homemade is warming up Chef Boy'ArDee.

Now, here is a simple thing about it that you no doubt well know: it isn't rocket science or brain surgery. In fact, it can be rather hard to mess it up too bad, whether growing or cooking. I mean, certainly, things do fail but things do succeed too.

WHILE AT THE SAME TIME, it is so interesting, there is so much one can learn, open one's self up to, if one is willing to.

Although I should probably clarify: we have a little electric grinder that gets used the most often. I aspire to a Diamonte mill one day. We have several hand-powered mills, but the wheat most often gets done by the electric mill our aunt gave to us, and the corn most often by the VitaMix (blender on steroids).

laura said...

this just went and made me hungry!!

great post...but i'd have to say that if you wish people wouldn't be so flabbergasted by all the homemadeness, don't make such a point of uncovering the pie for it to be admired. i'm not saying it shouldn't be admired and appreciated, because it sure should be. but if you want people to see this sort of thing as normal, you should be the one being flabbergasted by their reactions. say to them "you mean you don't render your own lard? how unusual!" now that would make quite an impression.

no matter how much i read from you, i always find there is more to be inspired by. thanks again! i really love this and i needed it. i am getting back to the beans again, to my children's great delight. i'm feeling brave enough even that i'm working on my fall/winter garden!!

maybe by next year i'll know how to grow enough to put up!!

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

Great post! It's too easy to go to the store for most people. But I find I would rather go to the garden or the barn to get my food.

CG said...

oh come on la, I LIKE my pie being admired! And even when everyone did it, they (pies) were admired. It is something real to be admired, not something just for the attention. When you make or do something really really real, you (the creator) admire it and what someone else thinks REALLY doesn't matter one whit. (please read the deleted parentheticals there)

I do, however, get what you say about re-norming stuff. Breast fed kids are not healthier; rather formula kids are sicker. Naturally birthed children are not more alert and able to nurse, interfered with birthed kids are drugged out of their gourds. Etc.

And you don't have to grow enough to put up! Produce stands! Etc.

Speaking of which, though, well, this should probably be a post, but the frost got all the hot weather stuff so we're making beau coup salsa verde!

throwback, people don't even buy food at the store -- they buy gelatainized industrial starch waste products for the most part and pretend it is food. That's why the majority of the population is fat. Well, that and because they don't move enough. But that's another rant.

Wendy said...

Ayuh! All of what you said I learned while I was aspiring to a more local diet, which I feel I have actually acheived rather well ;). Having grown up all around the country and all over the world, and not ever really having any "roots" (literal or figurative), I've never had a "local" diet in the way that you've grown up with a "hillbilly" diet (although my father hails from those same hills). I had to learn it all from scratch, by myself, and in a completely different environment. Coastal Maine is NOT Appalachia ;).

But, I did learn that it is not rocket science, and it IS incredible, and sometimes I even amaze myself - both in what I've learned to do, and my incredible ignorance of what is possible (rendering lard? Haven't tried it, but it's on my "to do" list ;).

Now, to find that wheat grinder :).

J said...

Kentucky born and bred the 'Hillbilly' diet was how we were raised. We didn't stray far when we got older. Now we're working to gain back what was lost.
I think the enjoyment from the praise would come from the great sense of accomplishment your hard work made real. Good for you CG!