As lunchtime approaches for the Saturday crew picking CSA shares at Stonebridge Farm, our field talk turns to food. What to do with the lovely broccoli we’re harvesting; our favorite way to fix kale; our favorite meal from Stonebridge vegetables. For people who love food, chatting about what we like and how we’ll prepare it is almost as much fun as cooking and eating it.
Reading Jam Today Too by Tod Davies (Exterminating Angel Press) is like sharing food stories with a friend across a big bowl of shelling peas. One recipe leads to another until, all of sudden, the bowl is full and so are we. Because food is connected to the people and places we love, talking about food feeds us, too.
A sequel to her earlier Jam Today, JTT includes recipes for disasters, grief, home, friends, feasts, and even eating alone. Each chapter serves up new ideas for how to make the most of ingredients on hand.
But Jam Today Too is not just a cookbook in the compilation-of-recipes sense. As the title of chapter eight makes clear, JTT also offers Food for Thought. In Davies’ words, she writes “to join together sides of life that get artificially separated: as if what you eat every day doesn’t have to do with who you are and where you fit in your world.”
In the grab-and-go cuisine of the US today, food doesn’t seem to count for much. But a counter-movement (or would that be an anti-counter movement, in the case of fast food restaurants where meals are transacted at the counter?) that places food at the center of our lives reminds us to pay attention not only to what we eat, but to how. How do the food choices we make connect us to the health and well-being of our bodies and to the environment upon which we depend?
Over and over, Davies’ stories exemplify the relationships forged through the meals we eat each day. To Davies, meals taste better when you know where the ingredients come from. In “Best Spring Dinner for Two,” for example, she tells us not only what ingredients she used, but from whom they came: “Take out four eggs. These should be eggs from someone like Dawn the Egg Lady, who coddles her chickens in a warm shed built against her house, and feeds them table scraps.” And so on, until not only Dawn, but her husband Doug and their three dogs become characters in a story that concludes, “For some reason those eggs taste best. Don’t ask me why.”
By reading Jam Today Too, we know why. The overarching message of this book is that food matters. As Davies admits, “I love anything that makes something big out of something apparently small.” This is exactly what Jam Today Too teaches us. Food is much bigger than it appears. Food takes us from birth to death, with good times and bad in between, and Davies is there with us for all of it. Food for disasters? Think basics. Food for grieving? Think comfort. Reading about Aunt Celia’s beloved candied pecans and “green mold” prods us to ponder what recipes we’ll leave to loved ones at our own deaths. It’s no surprise that the biggest chapter in JTT is “Food for Home” because “Love and food go together—and they both mean home.”
The subtitle of Jam Today Too is “The Revolution Will Not Be Catered.” By this Davies means that no one should expect to be served by others but rather that we all should pay attention to the ways we can help each other be well. As a farmer, I agree. Safe, nutritious and delicious food should not be the privilege of the affluent in some hyper-individualist ethos, but rather the right of all through community cooperation. And what need is more commonplace than the growing, preparing, and eating of food? Jam Today Too is an antidote to the industrial food lobby’s portrayal of food as inconvenient, irrelevant, and even harmful. Davies’ book reminds us that real food–the kind that nourishes both body and soul—is found in the simplest meals made with love.
If you love talking–and writing–about food, join us September 18-19 at Stonebridge Farm for a food preservation snapshot story retreat sponsored by the Center for Digital Storytelling. For more info, see http://storycenter.org/savory-story-series/