The Foodness of Food

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).


9 Comments on “The Foodness of Food”

  1. bribikes says:

    It is always so strange to look through seed catalogues and read the descriptions. “This corn is hyper triple sweet to the second degree.” “These blueberries have mango undertones.”

    Variety is cool, but the constant breeding to just make food sweeter or taste like other foods, no stop. I want to grow sweet corn not sugar, if I raise blueberries I don’t want mangos.

    • David says:

      I have close to zero issues with plant breeding for the home gardener. Some of the ‘variety’ is no doubt the technical writer trying to come up with a distinct way to describe the fiftieth variety of the same thing.

      If you’re at all interested in the back-end of plant breeding and seed saving, Carol Deppe’s books are quite interesting, even if (like me) your climate is nothing like the PacNW.

      • bribikes says:

        I would love to learn more about it, plant genetics and heirloom plants fascinate me. I have so many books I want to read though…maybe I’ll find time one day! 😉

      • David says:

        Well, I (and a whole comimunity of gardeners out there) would gladly talk your ear off about it when you decide you want to learn 😀

  2. mrs ssc says:

    I found myself completely lost in an online heritage seed catalog a few weeks ago. I found Parisienne carrots in my local market, and quickly became addicted (and I never liked carrots before). Now, I eat them most days of the week. Discovering them has made me wonder what other delicious vegetables are out there to taste! Now, if only I was even a semi-competent gardener…

  3. I’ve never been able to grow anything. I’m pretty jealous of your harvest, but not of all the work it must have taken!

  4. I really enjoyed this post (just found your blog through the MMM forum). I agree with what you’ve said here and love your descriptions of produce right from the garden. I’m hoping we get to the point soon where we can grow more. Right now we do a lot at my father-in-law’s because he has tons of land and a huge garden. I still have Long Island cheese pumpkins in the basement and puree in the freezer from this past fall and we grew those from seed. It’s really rewarding!

    • David says:

      Glad you enjoyed the post! I’ve been slowly using up the pumpkin puree I made, and still have two pumpkins in the basement/cellar. A lot of folks seem to like using them in curries, which I’ve never tried before, so one of those is earmarked for that attempt for sure.

  5. […] trying to build this for our family. The drive to have real food, food that exceeds your wildest expectations of taste, is what drives my homesteading dream. While we’re stuck in the city, we’re still doing […]

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