"Eaters must understand that eating takes place inescapably in the world, this is inescapably an agricultural act, and that how we eat determines, to a considerable extent, how the world is used."
-- Wendell Berry, from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
Pie Lovers United in Ypsilanti, Michigan on Saturday, September 1, 2007!
If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, first you must create the universe.
-- E.O. Wilson
If there is a sensory pleasure better than wrapping your mouth around sweet, warm fruit swaddled in a crisp pastry crust, it hasn't been invented yet. And if there is a gesture than conveys more caring than a freshly baked pie in front of an expectant table of family and friends, it can't compete. Human history's greatest psycho-social achievement is simply: pie.
Pie is as individual as the person who bakes it. Are you a shortening, oil, lard or all-butter crust person? I have switched from Grandma's Crisco crust to my all-butter recipe.
The choice you make says something about you. Do you prefer sweet or tart or savory? A gooey nut, custard base or fruit filling? Fruit fresh from the vine, bush or tree please.
Is meringue on top a good choice or whipped cream or naked as the day it was born? Anything on top is an excellent choice. Would you bring a store-bought pie to Thanksgiving dinner or rather be burned at the stake than allow such blasphemy? Store-bought pie is Blasphemy - why do you even ask?
"By the turn of the century, it was not unusual for an American to eat a slice of pie daily. In 1902 when an Englishman suggested this was gluttony and that, perhaps two slices a week would be plenty the New York Times responded thusly:
- American Pie, Pascale le Draoulee
'It is utterly insufficient...as anyone who knows the secret of our strength as a nation and the foundation of our industrial supremacy must admit. Pie is the American synonym of prosperity, and its varying contents mark the calendar of the changing seasons. PIE IS THE FOOD OF THE HEROIC. No pie-eating people can ever be vanquished.'"
Soylent Green. That has to be what they're selling in grocery stores now. Marion Nestle, author of What to Eat says there are more than 30,000 different products in any good-sized grocery. Our ridiculous laws about information on food packaging mean that as a consumer you can't really know what exactly is inside. It might well be Soylent Green. You should look and try to find out. Where do Doritos come from and what exactly are the origins of the things that grew to make them? Except for the produce aisle (where you can be pretty sure that almost nothing was grown in your area), it seems like everything comes in a package filled with corn syrup, or it comes from China, or it is covered in plastic wrap completely indiscernible from its original form. There is something wrong with the picture when what's behind the scenes at the grocery is not a farm but a giant corporate and transportation machine whose only goal is resource extraction to make a giant profit. And there is something very wrong when that giant machine prevents you from knowing where your food comes from and how it was treated along the way to your grocery cart. Since ground truth about why is hidden, ask "Who benefits?"
Tomatoes, corn, basil. The summer trifecta. The real summer ephemerals. Daily happiness for about 1 or 2 months, then gone for another year. Everyone has the experience of looking forward to and waiting for your own county's tomatoes and corn to be ripe - because they are the best. Wherever you are, the ones from the farmstand down the road are the best in the entire country. Period. They just are.
What I wonder about us as Americans, is why we're so easily pacified with inferior substitutes for keen pleasures like these? Why do we accept woody corn from the supermarket in February? And by extension, why is watching tv an adequate substitute for having a daily experience, even if it's sitting outside talking to the neighbors that pass by? Are we so brainwashed that it we can't identify what's meaningful about making a real meal for people we care about? I have to think that there is something about food that is more primal than the other parts of our brains that the advertising agencies can enter at will.
"Press on: Nothing can take the place of persistence.
Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.
Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.
Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."
-- Calvin Coolidge
A few weeks ago at the end of April, we tried the Eat Local Challenge to see if my husband and I could eat food produced locally, within the $144 weekly budget of the average American 2-income family. I started out by making a list of what's available locally in Michigan in April and then arranged those ingredients into dishes and meals that we would make. On the menu were things like Leek and Potato Soup, Eggs and Sausage, Lamb Stew, Spinach Quiche with Bacon, Roasted Root Veggies, and Rhubarb Pie!
Yes, Virginia, there is a Michigan Artisanal Cheese. And surprise - according to the Michigan Department of Agriculture, Michigan is the 8th largest producer of cow's milk in the country, with 300,000 cows producing 5.7 billion pounds of milk. While everyone in Michigan probably knows about Pinconning cheese produced on a massive scale and sold in hard orange vacuum packed bricks, less well-known is that Michigan also has a few small scale cheesemakers turning out some very unique regional specialties. Some of these special cheeses include an amazing nutty and firm Raclette from Leelanau County and John Loomis' incredible goat cheeses at Zingerman's in Ann Arbor.
- Calder Dairy - in Carleton, MI supplying milk, butter, cream, yogurt, cottage cheese and still offering home delivery.
- Grassfields Farm - in Coopersville, MI makes Raw Milk Gouda, Edam and Leyden cheeses along with their own special Polkton Corners cheese.
- Cook's Farm Dairy - in Ortonville, MI also makes their own ice cream which they sell on site.
There is joy in Muddville when the first robins materialize, the first crocus blooms and the first spring offerings appear at the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market. For those of us who spend the cold months hibernating inside, swaddled in woolens, and finding solace in pots of hot soup, Market days in early spring are the grace for our penance.
In meditating upon the nature of edible leaves, the thought bubble above my head says that these early spinach leaves (like everything else) are recycled from everything and everyone. The idea that I am eating a small part of everything that has ever been on the earth and perhaps of every person who has ever been here too is a thought too deep and profound to sustain. My thought bubble happily floats back up to figuring out what's for dinner, if it's only greens that we're eating rather than the totality of creation.
Part of the pleasure of a dinner including greens is knowing that you can still find them growing wild (often as weeds) and in reading about their part in our culinary history and heritage.
"People have been eating salads since the time of classical Greece. Tudor salads were edible art, with primroses, violets, and marigolds in among the greens. When William Byrd promoted the Virginia colony, he listed salad makings as three kinds of lettuce, two of garlic, several of cabbage and cucumbers, radishes, and many suitable herbs.
Our first box of Tantré vegetables arrived today. We will be tingeing green from eating many, many leaves. Including: beet, radish, turnip, bok choy, arugula, spinach, spicy, and 2 kinds of lettuce. There is about a laundry tub full of greens to wash. My favorite technique: fill a clean sink with cool water, remove any roots, inedible stems, or particularly dirty bits, submerge. Rinse greens then repeat, refilling sink with clean water. The repeat step is important. I hate the crunch of sand in my food! The prepared cook will find it wise to put cleaned greens through the salad spinner if not cooking immediately. Otherwise, the time-pressed cook will find clean green slime a few days hence.
Our first Tantré meal will be Asian-inspired grilled chicken (from Bob Sparrow of course) salad with spicy greens, picked radishes and turnips, and a peanut ginger dressing. Perhaps with some noodles and mint for excitemint.
And since I bought strawberries, I'd like to make a lemon-lavender poundcake to go under them for dessert.