Food of My Youth

It’s been an interesting few weeks. We’ve seen unpresidented swings in the stock market. We’ve seen a bailout/rescue bill fail in the House of Representatives. We’ve seen the Senate take up the same bill and add favorite tax cuts and incentives to the bill. The Senate passed the bill…so did the House. So we’ve been bailed out. The stock market didn’t come bounding back after the bill was passed.

How does this affect me? How does this affect you? Does it affect us at all? I believe that it will impact our world. Whether your world is in rural America, suburbia or the inner city. There will be a ripple happen. Whether that ripple is a result of the original cause (the need for a bail out) or whether it is the result of the bail out itself, we may never know. I believe that we are in for a rough ride ahead. This bail out plan may not have the desired results. I’ve been reading about the Great Depression in America. It is believed that the bailout plans instituted then may have actually prolonged the depression. By trying to do good, the natural recovery of the economy was prolonged. I am not an economist. I have not studied these things in depth. I openly admit when I do not have all the answers.

What I do know, however, is that we must begin to change the way that we are living. We cannot continue to live in the credit bubble that has been providing the livestyle for many of us. I am not happy with my current credit state. I would like to have less credit and more money in the bank. My plan for the future is to pay off as many bills as possible and get back to saving. I plan to change the way I eat, the way I shop, and the way I cook.

Lately, I’ve been reading lots of food books. They are interesting and tend to involve travel and eating the local foods. Then I realized that many of these books were written by wealthy people; people who every year spend a month in Maine. I began to wonder why poor people didn’t write food books. Is it that we are boring? Surely the food of poor folks is just as interesting as that of the more affluent. I began to think back on the food of my youth. I grew up poor; one of six kids on a rocky flint and limestone farm in hillbilly country. What did we eat? So I sat one afternoon and started listed the foods that I grew up eating. There were always the brown beans. There were pots of brown beans with an oxtail. Not a ham hock, as mother attended a church with psuedo-Jewish traditions, so there was no pork eaten. The beans were always served with a vinegary relish called chow chow. We made chow chow every fall. It consisted of all the garden leftovers that would die with the first frost. Cabbage, green peppers, green tomatoes, sweet red peppers, cucumbers and onions all ground in the hand grinder then cooked with vinegar, sugar, and spices. It smelled heavenly when cooking and going into the jars. It tasted heavenly during the winter over plates of brown beans with thick homemade bread spread with butter. If the milk cow was giving milk, there would be homemade butter. Hard and tough to spread but which melted into the hot slices of freshly baked bread.

The beans might have been my first thought but as I wrote I realized that our diet was quite varied. There were the greens picked wild from the field and cooked down. These were lamb’s quarter or poke salad. From the garden there was swiss chard and mustard greens. Tossed into the big pot with water and salt and cooked down. They were often served beside the brown beans. There was a glass cruet filled with vinegar to pour over the greens once they were on your plate.

I find the regional differences in eating styles amusing. My husband seems to have little reference to vinegary foods. I’m not even sure that he eats relish on his hot dogs. Perhaps it’s my Southern upbringing or my German genes. I have a love of sauerkraut, pickled herring, beans with chow chow, a freezer coleslaw that has a vinegar base and greens with vinegar. In my more adult years, I gravitated to vinegar and salt potato chips. Vinegar seems to be a staple of life for me. I feel that it is a good thing. Vinegar is a good preservative.

One of my recent joys is fermentation. It’s not exactly recent to me. It’s more like a rediscovery of something that I haven’t done in many years. I used to help my mother prepare cabbage for sauerkraut. Many delicious things come from things that most people throw out. We’ve become so out of touch with how food is manufactured that we’re afraid of anything that doesn’t look surgically sterile. It never ceases to amuse me when people want to discard sour cream that has been sitting out for a few hours. I am certain that they are unaware of how to sour cream, cheese, and yogurt are made. It is that very process of letting the milk sit and sour that creates these wonderful concoctions. I often laugh about my kids making ricotta cheese in their lost sippy cups. But the truth is that it’s a pretty good start on a pretty good cheese.

I think we need to start getting back in touch with our food. It can save us in the future. Save us from wasting perfectly good food. Save our life from starvation because we fear eating perfectly good food. We need to get over these food phobias.


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