Tag Archives: vegetarian

Family Farms Then, Farm Food Now

I found this photograph with some old family things and wondered who the white-bearded gentleman might be. He showed up wearing overalls in another photo taken with my great-grandparents, Noah and Mabel Short, and three of their six sons. From the North Dakota license plate and the house front pose, it looked like an out-of-state family visit by car, making me suspect the distinguished looking man was my great-great-grandfather, George Washington Short, and his second wife, Flora, who lived outside Stillwell, Indiana. When I sent my great-aunt the photos, she agreed the man with the trim white beard must be her grandfather, GW.

Next I spotted George Washington in a group photo with Mabel and Noah holding their two oldest boys before they left Indiana for North Dakota in 1907. The building looks like the church near the cemetery where my great-great-grandfather is buried, a photo I found later on find-a-grave.com. Noah and Mabel are just left of the photo’s center. Can you find GW on the right next to Flora?

And then GW and Flora appeared again in another photo taken at a house with a fancy porch, probably another church gathering. I recognized the young woman next to Flora as their daughter Pansy, who I had seen in a photo from her 1915 visit to Noah and Mabel in North Dakota. I also figured out that the handsome young man with the mustache in both photos was probably Noah’s brother Frederick Pershing Short, the “Pershing” for their mother Mary McBroom, who was third cousin to the General John J. Pershing.

Recently, I met a first cousin twice-removed through ancestry.com (first cousin twice-removed means she was my grandfather’s cousin). Our DNA tests matched, so we contacted each other to share what we know. I sent this newly found cousin my photos of George Washington and she affirmed I was right in my guess. Her father was GW’s youngest son, Welcome. I was thrilled to think this cousin had known my great-great-grandfather when she was a child, but the timing seemed odd since my own grandfather Russell, her cousin, has been gone a long time. That’s because she is descended from the second, younger part of GW’s family with Flora Dennie and I am from the first, older part with Mary McBroom. After my great-great-grandmother died young, GW remarried, creating two separate families, with my side moving to North Dakota in 1907, which was where my grandfather was born.

With the help of my expert genealogy friend, a little more research uncovered that at 16, George Washington Short left his home in Indiana to serve in the Civil War. In 1864, he was wounded in the battle of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and was discharged after the war ended in 1865. He saw a bit of the world for a young man of his time, but when he came home, he bought some land for himself. A photo from my new cousin put it all in place. Here was George Washington in work shirt and suspenders on his farm. In the background you can see an earlier view of the barn in my first picture.

George Washington Short became a farmer, just like his father, Silas Short, and his grandfather, Curtis Short in Sussex, Delaware, before him. That’s as far back as my records go. But the farming lineage reaches forward to GW’s son Noah, his son Russell, and—although he left the farm to become a surveyor—my father, Robert Short. The census records don’t say “farmer” next to their names, but my paternal grandmothers were farmers, too, from Hannah (last name unknown), Mary Ann Thompson, and Mary McBroom to Mabel Amor and Olga Jacobson, my grandmother. Farmers are also on my maternal side, but that’s another story.

This story about George Washington Short has gotten me thinking about farming today. In GW’s time and before, farms and farming knowledge passed from generation to generation in this country because the majority of the population lived on family farms. They grew and ate their own food and sold crops when they could. Their land was not just where they lived but where they made their living.

I found GW’s land at the northwest intersection of two roads in section 14 of a 1921 plat for Pleasant township, LaPorte county, Indiana. Seeing his name on that plat gave me another thrill. Now I could picture the land that held that big barn and fences around fields on which he grew crops and raised livestock and Flora kept a big garden to feed her family of seven.

Today, food barely comes from a farm, not when you consider all the processing and packaging that happens before we eat it. Farms and farmland are shrinking, both from loss of land to development and from consolidation of farms into bigger, corporate-owned businesses. Food is big business—but it’s not the kind of food my great-great-grandparents or even my parents ate when they were young.

To get a sense of the food industry today, take a look at how much of your food dollars goes to farmers—a mere 8.6%. And from that, farmers pay the costs of production, including farm laborers, seeds, insurance (a big chunk), irrigation, machinery, and structures. The rest of your food dollar goes to stuff you probably rarely think about when you sit down to a meal, like transportation, packaging, advertising and the costs of retail and trade services that get your food from the field to your plate.

Community supported farms like ours are keeping smaller acreages in food production and that’s important not only for farmland preservation, but for helping people eat closer to the plant. Here’s a chart showing the most common veggies consumed in the US today, with the green part of the bar meaning “fresh.” Potatoes, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, and carrots are the most popular fresh vegetables on most people’s tables.

But when members join a CSA farm, their plate will include all kinds of other vegetables. Just this week for the third pick-up of our season, our subscribers took home spinach, green garlic, radishes, head lettuce, kale, and beet greens—all fresh, all just-picked, all organic. The first two weeks, they got rhubarb, too, which we’ll pick again this Saturday. And this is just the start of the season, with the bulk of the garden still to come. Once the basil’s in, we joke that people get back the cost of their membership in what they save on the price of supermarket basil (which comes in plastic, how appetizing).

Eating from a CSA farm isn’t exactly like eating from a family farm like my great-great-grandfather’s, but these days, it’s about as close as you can come. Small, local community farms help people eat closer to the land and closer to the health provided by the food. Even in the days before antibiotics and immunizations, George Washington Short lived to be 90 years old. I like to think fresh food and hard work on the land kept him healthy and fit. I hope eating food from Stonebridge Farm helps our members stay healthy too (check out our recipes here). Delicious vegetables, farmland preservation, and local community support for food production–I think my great-great-grandfather would approve.

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Protein vs Garlic: The Unsavory Side of Food

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John and I ate at a new Boulder café recently, one with a cute name and homey décor. I liked the selections of fresh vegetables (including peas with a creamy basil sauce), but I was put off by how the menu was meat-laden in disingenuous ways. For most of the dishes, “protein” choices were listed as extra options—except they were all animal meat products. When I asked whether the cafe carried any non-meat proteins like tofu, the server said haughtily, “Oh, we don’t do any SOY products here.” As if SOY were a bad word.

I know soy has problems, particularly of the genetically modified kind. To put U.S. agriculture into perspective, according to the latest USDA census just over 50% of ALL crops grown here are corn and soy. Just those two. And the vast majority of that production is genetically modified and used either for livestock feed or processed for products like high fructose corn syrup, corn sugar, sorbitol, soybean oil, and soy emulsifier, which doesn’t even sound appetizing.

But organic soy for tofu is available and I imagine a Boulder restaurant would have access to that product (especially with the headquarters of White Wave organic tofu located in nearby Broomfield, CO). So in response to the “We don’t carry soy” announcement, I wanted to say, “But you do carry DEAD ANIMAL products.” Whatever. Why not just say MEAT?

I’m not necessarily opposed to eating animals, but I am opposed to the extensive use of resources to raise, process, and market them, as well as to the cruel and disgusting ways they’re raised. (So-called “humane” treatment does not address the first concerns and barely addresses the second.)

Food writer Mark Bittman recently published “The True Cost of a Burger,”  a provocative analysis of the externalized costs of a cheeseburger, meaning the costs that aren’t paid directly by the consumer or the producer. Generally for meat, these are environmental costs like excessive CO2 emissions and health problems like obesity with its related chronic diseases. We all pay these costs both personally and socially through increased insurance premiums and ecological degradation, as well as lowered quality of life. In Bittman’s words, “Industrial food has manipulated cheap prices for excess profit at excess cost to everyone; low prices do not indicate “savings” or true inexpensiveness but deception. And all the products of industrial food consumption have externalities that would be lessened by a system that makes as its primary goal the links among nutrition, fairness and sustainability.”

I understand dietary concerns about gluten and the imaginatively named “paleo” diet’s de-emphasis on grains, especially wheat, since what passes for wheat flour in this society isn’t anything like real food. However, I worry that the emphasis on meat over a variety of whole grains will prove costly to our health, as well as to the planet’s. Certainly, the over-emphasis on protein these days seems suspicious.

It seems that the industrial food lobby is pumping up the idea that people in this country need more protein. Obviously, meat producers benefit from this marketing campaign, but it’s showing up in other areas too, like the new high-protein Cheerios, Special K, and Fiber One cereals that not only contain increased protein (from what source they don’t say) but also increased sugar of several different kinds, including–you guessed it—corn sugar and corn syrup. As food nutritionist Marilyn Nestle writes, “And just a reminder about protein: American consume roughly twice as much as needed.  Protein is not an issue in U.S. diets. This is about marketing, not health. I guess Cheerios SUGARS, Fiber One SUGARS, or Special K SUGARS PLUS ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS wouldn’t go over nearly as well.”

Sadly, food has become a quagmire these days. We feel guilty for eating some things and get sick from eating others. We don’t know the growing and labor conditions of many of the foods we eat—and many of them are unrecognizable as food, anyway.

That’s why I’m happy to grow vegetables, fruit, and herbs that can be used as close as possible to their natural, unprocessed forms. Like garlic. I spent a little time this afternoon choosing this Saturday’s share of garlic from the beautiful bulbs we’ve harvested the last couple weeks. We had some for lunch, in fact, sautéed with greens and sunflower seeds.

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Fresh garlic is hotter and juicier than aged garlic but its garlicky taste is milder, too. We love it as the preamble to all stir-fries and pasta toppings at Stonebridge. Garlic may not be high in protein, but each bulb has wonderful health benefits, is inexpensive, delicious, and easy to store. I’m willing to bet its carbon footprint is relatively low. Not to mention, garlic is simply beautiful! You just can’t get all that in a box or on a styrofoam tray.

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Reader’s Note: For a terrific new review of my book, A Bushel’s Worth: An Ecobiography, that looks at farming today, see “Weather or Not, We All Eat.”

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Horoscope, July 2012

I don’t follow my horoscope on a regular basis, but occasionally, I’ll read a particularly unconventional version in one of our local weekly newspapers. Last week’s summarized in trendy terms something I’ve been thinking about for a while. It started by defining a new type of mind/body practice that combines yoga, massage, and acrobatics (so already you see the Boulder theme) and then connected this idea to the Aries forecast: “I’d love to see you work on creating a comparable hybrid in the coming months, Aries—some practice or system or approach that would allow you to weave together your various specialties into a synergetic whole.”

The hipness of “synergy” aside, the idea of weaving parts of my life together is appealing to me because I’m always searching for balance in my busy life. In my yoga practice, I’m terrible at balance—positions like crane and tree and cactus are always hard for me. Maybe it’s just an inner ear problem, but I can’t help but interpret the difficulty of standing on one foot for long as a metaphor for my life.

Right now, balance is particularly challenging because of a wonderful change in my life to which I’m trying to adjust: our new grandchild arrived on July 8th to our awe and delight. Every moment I spend with him or talk about him or look at his pictures brings me joy.

Everyone with a grandchild has told me that grandparenting is different than parenting and now I know they’re right but it’s hard to put my finger on why. Somehow the passage of time is involved more in my sense of connection with a grandchild than it was with my own child—I sense of his life extending much beyond my own in ways I can’t even imagine and I’m trying not to be afraid for the future he might find. When I hold him, it’s easy to focus on the here and now and not worry about what’s next because each moment feels precious. That’s the word other grandparents exclaim to me over and over and now I know in a new way how much that word is true.

In the midst of this joy, I’m also happily bringing an important writing project to fruition—more on that in the coming months. I’m also spending more time on my photography (see an interview about this on photographer Martha Hughes’ blog, Dragonfly Photography, here). We picked the first eggplant for our farm shares last Saturday, the zucchini are over-running the barn (facilitating the need for more zucchini recipes), the garlic’s picked and waiting in trugs, and the farm season is almost half over with the bulk of the vegetables still to be harvested. Tomatoes slowed down in the 100 degree heat but the peppers will be on soon. The fall garden is progressing just fine and we’ve had time lately to spend celebrating the farm’s bounty with friends.

Is this” synergy”? Does the fact that I wake up happy each morning mean I’m weaving a “hybrid” life? Most days, I think I just about am. I don’t need a horoscope to predict that 2012 will continue to be a year my many “specialties” will coalesce in some new form of family, farm, friends, and creative efforts. Instead of worrying about how they’ll come together, I need to remember to be grateful for all the many experiences and relationships I have in my life and to follow what each brings, day after day.

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This is What Fresh Tastes Like

“What passes for cookery in England . . . is cutting off the delicious skins of vegetables. ‘In which,’ said Mr. Bankes, ‘all the virtue of the vegetable is contained.'”

                                                            Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

At Stonebridge Farm, we like to say that fresh is a flavor. Some students discovered that this weekend when our friend brought four of her sustainability students to the farm to help us weed the newly emerging spinach and carrot beds. As we worked with horis and hoes in the soft spring sun, one young man, a former student in John’s calculus class, asked me what my favorite thing was at the farm.

“Besides John?” I teased him.

I have so many favorites here, I had to think a bit. “The flowers,” I said, “and the chickens because they’re so friendly.” From his laughter, I don’t think he’d ever heard that chickens are friendly before.

Another new discovery was the taste of vegetables right out of the garden. After we finished weeding, we picked radishes for everyone to take home. I told the students they could eat some as they picked. “Is this what a radish tastes like?” one asked in wonder. “I’ve never tasted one like this before.”

“That’s because,” another friend said, “you can’t get a fresh radish at a grocery store. Not fresh like this anyway.”

“Fresh is a flavor,” I told them. “This is what fresh tastes like.”

When we moved to the spinach bed, another student declined the offer of spinach. “I don’t like spinach,” she assured us.

“Just try a leaf, okay?” She tentatively chewed a piece–and then smiled.

This is spinach? . . . Okay, I’ll take some.”

I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. How sad for 18-year-olds—from upper middle-class families who undoubtedly have some access to raw vegetables in stores—not to know the fresh taste of vegetables. A salad bar may be the closest they’ve encountered and that’s just not the same.

Fresh is a flavor. Years ago, before processed food composed the majority of people’s diets in this country, even the Morton’s salt company knew about the flavor of fresh. Here’s an ad from a 1940s Life magazine that features the taste of “tender, young” vegetables as part of a flavor duo:

At Stonebridge, spring means fresh, tender vegetables like the ones pictured in the ad. Our members anticipate the sweetness of newly harvested spinach and the sparkle of plump radishes on opening day. Our season starts a few weeks earlier than most CSAs in our area because we can grow early vegetables so well in our foothills microclimate. Green onions, radishes, and lettuce offer a first salad to our members, while spinach and chard are the main ingredients of so many of our favorite meals: lasagna, fritters, enchiladas, quiche, and pastas. Even fresh chives can flavor the filling for a goat cheese tart.

In the foraging class we recently hosted, we learned about other spring plants that provide delicious and nutritious meals. Dandelion greens, of course, are great in salad (watch a 92-year-old cook prepare her Depression-era salad here), but did you know that nettles make a wonderful saag? We got to sample some, along with nettle gnocchi, at our workshop, right after we picked nettle tops for everyone to try at home, a new taste for spring since it’s one of the first plants to emerge. (You can learn more about foraging at Hunger and Thirst for Life).

Asparagus, too, means spring. We have two patches on the farm, one we planted and another along the fence line that we didn’t. There the birds “plant” the asparagus as they sit on the wire and sing. We let some of those plants go to seed every year to help them spread.

And in the foraging class, our teacher discovered another wild spot for asparagus near a bridge over our irrigation ditch where we’d cleared willows last fall.

With asparagus at $5 a bunch in the store, we’re rich in asparagus. Tonight I’ll drizzle some fat spears with olive oil to roast and eat with grated goat cheese and walnuts over pasta. Last week, I placed a few spears left out of the previous night’s quiche on a pizza—delicious as it roasted on top of the cilantro pesto.

This is what fresh tastes like as April turns to May: the virtue of spring vegetables, the scent of lilacs and dogwood, and the down of dandelions drifting in the breeze.

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Winter Leftovers: From Closet to Bowl

Today feels like spring might be . . . almost . . . willing to show its face around here. That doesn’t mean we won’t get snow in March or even April or May. But it does mean it’s time to start working on Saturday mornings with our bartering crew again. Tomorrow we’ll make soil and seed brassicas and transplant lettuces into the newly renovated bluehouse and rake the sticks that have blown all over the farm this windy winter. Stonebridge Season 21 will be underway!

The advent of spring brings thoughts of fresh vegetables but we won’t have veggies in the garden for a while yet. We do have some wintered-over spinach in the fields that we can harvest from time to time, but mainly we’re still eating the food we preserved from last year’s gardens by freezing, dehydrating, canning, or just storing in various ways.

Carnival Winter Squash

We still have lots of “sundried”—dehydrated—tomatoes for pasta, quiches, and omelettes. In the insulated cool room of our barn, we have garlic and onions. In the bottom drawer of the refrigerator, we have a few carrots that haven’t gone soft yet (hint: leave just a stub of green stem on them and they’ll store longest). In the freezer, we have broccoli, peas, mushrooms, and some chopped peppers, along with frozen tubs of marinara sauce, salsa, and cooked squash. In the closet of the unheated bedroom, we have a butternut and a carnival squash that still look great (an insulated cooler in a garage works well too). The shelves of the root cellar are lined with canned chutneys and jams.  And in buckets in the barn, we have dried beans.

Speckled Rose Beans (we're not sure of the variety name)

This winter we pledged to start using a pressure cooker. Our friends who use them kept encouraging us to give it a try, but we’d both been scarred by childhood fears of kitchen explosions in the old days when pressure cookers didn’t have the safety features they have now. I also associate pressure cookers with what my grandmother called “pressed chicken,” which she’d make for sandwiches on our long drive home from North Dakota to Colorado every summer. My grandmother was a great cook and I miss her fresh bread, but I always found that chicken a little strange with its gooey texture and suspicious gel when refrigerated. Just another childhood memory to make me a vegetarian today.

But we figured we could get over those scars enough to use a pressure cooker for beans at the very least. We grow several varieties of dried beans at Stonebridge, including the Oregon state bean, Peregion, a beautiful black and white bean that has a distinctive flavor. I like beans but never felt like we were cooking them to their optimal texture.  One trick that helps is to put 1 tsp of baking soda in the soaking water overnight and then rinse well before cooking. This helps make the beans less gassy. Another trick is to never, ever salt them until they’re done cooking because salt makes them tougher.

Oregon Peregion Beans

These tricks helped my bean consumption but I still didn’t like having to leave them on the stove or in the crockpot for hours and I still didn’t love the texture. I wanted more from my beans, especially after we’d spent so much time growing, threshing, cleaning, and soaking them.

So we bought a 6-qt pressure cooker, held our breaths, and got it rocking with our soaked beans, water, a couple veggie broth cubes, some Cuban-inspired cumin and oregano, and a couple cloves of garlic. After about 20 minutes, the cooker come to pressure and the top regulator weight started dancing over low heat. We simmered for 15 minutes and then shut off the burner and let the cooker slowly release the pressure, another 25 minutes. Now we’re brave enough to put the whole thing under running water, which makes the steam release in a few minutes, but that first time, we thought we’d wait.

Jacob's Cattle Beans

The beans were wonderful—tender, creamy even, with delicious flavor. We’ve been making beans once a week all winter in a large enough batch to freeze extra for lunch burritos, nachos, or enchiladas.

We’ve graduated to another dish as well, one that uses a winter-stored squash from our closet. If you’ve got a pressure cooker, try the Risotto with Squash and Sage recipe below. I don’t have fresh sage this time of year so used dried and it was just fine. I also had enough uncooked squash left to use in a soup, so I got two dishes out of one butternut squash.

If you’ve still got pumpkin in your freezer (many people roast, puree, and freeze them for bread or pie), try the Pumpkin-Citrus Bundt Cake recipe too. We host digital storytelling workshops here in the summer so I was looking for something that I could make ahead and freeze for a morning treat later. This cake is delicious and gets even a little moister with freezing. I left out the poppy seeds & orange peel and added mini-chocolate chips because I love pumpkin and dark chocolate together. I don’t see why winter squash wouldn’t work here as well—they’re pretty interchangeable with pumpkins.

We’ll keep eating beans and finish off what’s left in our freezer and storage. By then, the spinach will be thriving and the lettuces will be big enough in the bluehouse for harvest. Next year, we’ll have greens and carrots growing all winter in the bluehouse and that will be a delight. But we’ve done okay this winter with what we’ve put by from our own fields–and we’re glad we got over our fear of exploding pressure cookers!

Pressure Cooker Risotto with Winter Squash and Sage
Adapted from County Home, Feb 2008

½ cup finely chopped onion
1 Tbl. Olive oil
1 ½ cups Arborio rice
½ cup dry white wine
3 ½ – 4 cups veggie broth
1 ½ Lb. butternut or other winter squash, peeled, seeded, and cut in 1-inch chunks
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tsp fresh sage or 1 heaping Tbl dried sage
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Grated parmesan cheese for topping

In a 4- or 6-qt pressure cooker, sauté onion in hot oil over medium-high heat until golden. Stir in rice and coat with oil. Carefully add wine; cook and stir until rice has absorbed the wine (about 30 seconds). Add 3 ½ cups broth and cubed squash.

Lock lid in place. Over high heat, bring cooker to pressure. Reduce heat just enough to retain pressure and cook for 5 minutes. Turn off heat.

Quick-release the pressure by placing cooker under cold running water. When the pressure indicator has popped down, carefully remove lid, tilting away from you to allow steam to escape.

Set the cooker over medium-high heat again and stir vigorously. It will look fairly soupy at this point.

Cook, uncovered, until mixture thickens and rice is tender but still chewy, about 3-5 minutes, stirring every minute or so. If it becomes dry before the rice is done, add ½ cup broth. The finished risotto should be slightly runny because it will continue to thicken on the plate.

Turn off heat. Stir in ½ cup Parmesan, sage, and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with additional cheese on top if desired. Makes 4 main dish servings or 8 side dish servings.

Pumpkin-Citrus Bundt Cake
Adapted from Krista Frank’s recipe in Country Woman

2 cups cooked pumpkin
1 ¼ cugs sugar (turbinado is fine)
1 ¼ cups fat-free milk
2 eggs
½ cup orange juice
1/3 cup safflower oil
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
1 ½ cup unbleached flour
1 ½ cup whole wheat or WW pastry flour
2 Tbl grated orange peel (optional)
4 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 Tbl cornstarch
1 Tbl poppy seeds (optional)
1 tsp each cinnamon, ginger, cardamom
½ each allspice, nutmeg
1 tsp. salt
1 cup mini dark chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 350.
Grease and flour a bundt cake pan.

In large bowl, beat pumpkin, sugar, milk, eggs, juice, oil, and vanilla until well blended.

In separate bowl, combine flours, orange peel, baking powder, baking soda, cornstarch, poppy sees, spices, and salt.

Beat dry mixture and chocolate chips into pumpkin mixture until blended. Pour into prepared bundt pan.

Bake at 350 for 60 minutes, until toothpick inserted in the thickest part comes clean.

Cool for 10 minutes. Place a rack on top of the pan and invert the cake onto the rack.

This freezes well when wrapped in foil and thawed before serving.

Winter Luxury Pie Pumpkins

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A Rogue Tomato and ’70s Quiche

I’m making a favorite recipe tonight, Tomato Tart, something I traditionally make with green tomatoes picked right before the first fall frost and ripened in the greenhouse. But this year the first frost was so late (Oct 27), the tomatoes had finished ripening well before, as if staying on the vine until the end of October was unnatural. I could have made it earlier with tomatoes gone red in the field but I hadn’t thought of it. No green tomatoes in the greenhouse, no tart.

Then last week John brought in a partially ripened tomato from a rogue tomato plant still growing in our greenhouse. Not in the shelf garden where we plant cherry and cluster tomatoes, but from a monstrous vine that had seeded itself in the soil floor of the greenhouse and grown up through the slats of the long table where we set out flats of starts each spring. In the greenhouse’s humidity, the vine had grown more exuberantly than it ever could outside in our dry heat; now in December tomatoes as big as our fists are slowly starting to ripen and one is red and ready for tonight’s tomato tart. Yahoo!

Made in the oversized stoneware pie plate that I routinely use for our Stonebridge Big Quiche, this tart is rich with a buttery crust and two cheeses and savory with herb-spiked olive oil drizzled over the tomato slices. I like that something delicious can be made from a tag-on, leftover vegetable that might have been disregarded after the season’s over.

But then I love anything on a crust. I grew up with my mom’s Bisquick pizza and grandmother’s pumpkin and apple pies, but the discovery of quiche when I was a sophomore in high school opened my eyes to pie crusty cuisine.

I drove my parents crazy in high school for all the usual reasons but also because I took up natural food. Even before the dangers of transfat were warned in the media, I insisted on butter instead of margarine. I would only eat whole grain bread or cook with whole wheat flour. I didn’t completely quit eating my mom’s homemade cookies, but I wouldn’t eat them frosted, or frosting on anything for that matter. I made granola cookies and unfrosted carrot cake and banana bread, a big change from my junior high daily snack of root beer floats and Ding Dongs. I also ate at least one banana every day, which earned me enough of a reputation that one friend gave me six bunches of bananas for my seventeenth birthday.

That was the spring—1976–my friend J. and I discovered quiche. A new restaurant had opened “near the college,” which was code in our small conservative town for “kinda kooky.” It was literally on the other side of the railroad tracks in a neighborhood we hadn’t even known existed. I’m not sure how J. and I heard about the place but we went looking for it one day, driving around the unfamiliar and slightly seedy side streets until we found a little hand-carved sign in front of an old, two-story house: The Harvest Restaurant.

We were seated in a booth with the requisite macramé and given simple menus listing salads, sandwiches, and something we’d never seen before and certainly didn’t know how to pronounce. The description sounded intriguing: cheese, egg, and vegetable filling on a whole wheat crust. We pointed to the dish and told the waitress we wanted that. “The quiche,” she said, undoubtedly realizing we had no idea what to call it. Yes, the quiche please.

The dish more than lived up to our expectations. To eat something with flaky crust that wasn’t just sweet seemed revolutionary to me—or European, same thing. I wouldn’t get to Europe until right after graduation but I had a sense that food was more extraordinary there than the casseroles, fried chicken, and roasts of the time. I loved the quiche, so much that I took my mother to The Harvest for mother’s day. I don’t think she was quite as impressed as I was, and probably more concerned with the neighborhood than with the food, but it was a step in forging my independent cuisine identity, and a well timed one since the restaurant closed shortly after that.

I wouldn’t have quiche again until I went to Europe. Until then, I didn’t have a recipe and I didn’t know where to look for one in those pre-epicurious days, but after I got back, I found one somewhere for an authentic “Quiche Lorraine.” That fall when I went to college, I found the Moosewood Cookbook and changed my eating forever, and two summers later I learned how to make great crusts from my former mother-in-law who got tired of making pies from all the blackberries I picked in Maine.  So now I’m making tomato tart for dinner, delicious and homegrown and still slightly Europeanish. Bon appétit!

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