The Foodness of FoodPosted: January 13, 2015
Joel Salatin likes to talk about the benefits of raising animals in a way that lets “chickens express their chickenness, and pigs express their pigness”. Farming as bio-mimicry has incredibly taste, ecological, and health benefits. While we live too far away from Polyface Farms to enjoy their livestock directly, similar farms in our area raise some incredibly tasty pork – I can just imagine the pigness being expressed there every time I bite into the most tender pork steak you’ve ever had!
Eating seasonally, locally, and raising as much of your own produce as possible opens a similar window into the world of fruits and vegetables. One of the best remarks I got last year was when my Dad commented on strawberries we’d picked from a local farm: “this tastes just like I remembered strawberries as a child”. We found a place that raises strawberries so well that, picked at their peak, they express the strawberriness of strawberries. The wonderful sweet-tart goodness lived on in the preserves I made, then hoarded to give out as surprise Christmas presents. The same farm grows the most amazing apples. Honeycrisp is an inherently tasty variety, but these blow the socks off the same variety at the grocery store. They’re an excellent storage variety, so I might chance a far bigger purchase and cellar them next year.
Just this week I splurged on a bag of carrots for far more than I usually pay because they were locally grown – and boy, did that pay off. Everyone who’s had them has agreed we’ve never had tastier carrots. They’re absolutely fantastic. Being locally grown, or even self-grown, isn’t a magic bullet. My sister expressed disappointment in the carrots they grew this year – whether because of variety or growing conditions – but tasting these gives me something to aspire to, as this year will be our first attempt at carrots.
I’m still a novice gardener despite my grand ambitions, but last year we had a few eidetic vegetable experiences from our own garden. Despite buying shelling pea seeds by mistake, we picked them at snow pea stage to avoid the vellum layer and they were incredible. Picking an entire salad spinner of basil to make pesto. The buttery, nutty sweetness of sauteed, just picked zucchini. Having so many cucumbers that cucumber water could be made ‘just because’. The smell of roasting pie pumpkins in the oven, and experiencing the fluffiness the resulting puree gives to my pan-fried pumpkin pancakes.
The bounty of the land is an amazing thing. Reconnecting with food by taste is the best way. Part of the reason one apple tastes better than another is the nutrient content. When it comes to real food, our tastebuds can tell what’s better for us. It’s right there in the way a given fruit or vegetables expresses the form generations of genetic selection have given it.
Winter is when we rest, remember, and plan for the next season. But what keeps us going are the memories of deliciousness we’ve stored in the roots of our memory. Sense memory is a very powerful thing. I can still remember helping pick sweetcorn at my grandparents’ farm, knowing it would be going in the steamer as soon as it was shucked. I have fond memories of the deliciously fresh, squeaky green beans my parents grew. And this past year has given me many more memories – and the desire to share this with my family and more as we get better (and bigger, with the potential for a distributed community garden).