Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Beans and Biscuits

My great-grand parents, Henry and Mena Bennett, whom I called Poppy and Mom-mom, observed most of the twentieth century. They survived two world wars, the great depression, Korea, Vietnam, Water-Gate and disco. Even in my earliest recollections of them, they were already old. Intellectually, I know they were once young, I just never knew them that way. Most of my memories of them revolve around Fishing, working in the garden, and making home made ice cream. I did as a matter of course stay with them, particularly in the summer when I was out of school. The garden had all sorts of vegetables, and a bean patch that would have made Thoreau proud. They were not fat, and actually would probably be considered skinny by todays standards. I can still recall what they ate for breakfast every day, Corn flakes with milk and sugar, biscuits with butter and jam, coffee with cream and sugar. Every day. Being a woman of her generation, my great-grand mother used real butter and cream, real sugar, lard and gold medal flour to make her biscuits, and made her own jam. Lunch, especially this time of year as berries and other fruits become available locally, was often a piece of freshly baked pie or short-cake. I can still picture in my mind, Mom-mom standing at the sink in a plain house dress capping and slicing strawberries with the smell of short bread in the oven. How eagerly I waited for the cast iron skillet containing the short bread to be pulled from the oven. And the still warm biscuit to be topped with a generous scoop of sweetened strawberries and topped with clotted cream. Few things can match such childhood memories. The dinner I remember most often was biscuits and beans. Might great grand father loved lima beans. From a big pot with a big piece of fat pork came the beans served in blue agate bowls. My great grand mothers biscuits ( My grand mother has commented that my great-grand mother made biscuits every day for more than 60 years) and stewed tomatoes rounded out the meal. They would cut small pieces of the pork and mix it with my beans, and butter my biscuits. The stewed tomatoes were not my favorite, but I ate what was in front of me and didn't complain. Perhaps it was the love with which she made everything, but nobody could cook like my great-grand mother. The most simple foods had a flavor and a comforting effect that no gourmet meal can touch.

By current standards they did everything wrong. They ate butter and pork fat. They ate sugar and white flour. They ate fried foods, remind me sometime to tell you about her clam fritters. And in spite of all that they lived to ripe old ages with out succumbing to heart disease or diabetes. They lived quietly and with a deliberateness seldom seen today. How much did they know about how to live that we failed to learn?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Eat Food

Michael Pollan summed up his most recent work in seven words; Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants. Now I am going to admit that I have just started reading "In Defense of Food", but the admonition to "eat food" has gotten me to thinking. I suppose for a variety of reasons I always thought what most people ate was indeed food. By definition, if you ate it, it was food. Then on a recent trip to the grocery store, I actually started looking at many of the products lining the shelves of the store. Normally I just focus on the list. Being a man, I get the list. I go from item to item dutifully retrieving the items on my list, paying little attention to the various and sundry products not on my list. Generally the only isles I travel are canned goods and frozen foods for beans, fruits and veggies. I hit the produce, deli, dairy, and meats. During the holidays, I might visit the baking isle but thats about it. Even so, many of our groceries are purchased from our co-op where much of the food is in bulk bins, not boxes. On this particular occasion however I wandered aimlessly up and down the isles looking at all the brightly colored packages. All the while thinking, people eat this crap? I guess they must because the store certainly stocks a lot of it. I picked up a couple of boxes that had pictures of what looked like food on the cover and read the ingredients. Most of the stuff in the box wasn't anything I recognized as food. Is sodium benzoate, hydrolyzed starch, or red dye number 5 really food? They are not any where in my cupboards or list of ingredients in any of my cook books (I have a collection of more than 100). One box had a picture that looked like fish. The first Ingredient however was hydrolyzed starch, followed in order by salt, sugar, hydrogenated soybean oil, and then finally fish. It seemed like everything in these brightly colored boxes that I examined was what I would call imitation food. There is no way conceivable in my mind that a steady diet of this stuff could possibly be good for you. One of the things had processed and reformed meat. Why would you need to reform meat? Its already formed when they butcher the animal, and nature got it right the first time, it doesn't need to be reformed. For a while I had an image in my head of sending the bad meat to reform school. It was silly, but so is reformed meat. After passing what was probably an inordinate amount of time gawking at people and what was in their carts I realized that I was the only person I saw that didn't have a cart full of brightly colored boxes of imitation food. I'll bet that I was also the only person I saw that day who could stand up straight, look down and see their toes. Coincidence?