Archive for category History
Just a smidgen, add a pinch of salt, add enough water to cover, a handful of chopped onion, two fingers of butter… the oral tradition has preserved ancient recipes with measurements that guarantee a flavorful and satisfying outcome in the absence of standardized measuring tools. Surely, it has also provided much room for experimentation and personal input. “My grandmother’s” recipe may not be exactly as grandma made it anymore. Nonetheless, it retains its uniqueness merely because it was grandma’s, and because she was a pioneer.
The first publication of recipes on paper had to wait for the printing press to be invented. Before this, recipes were hand written and much fewer people than today knew how to read or write. Hired cooks and nannies were often given verbal instructions by mistresses who could read, or even by the children in their care. Imagine the wonderful relationship between a child who can read and a nanny who cannot, as they teach each other their respective skills.
I am of a different generation. I watched my mother and grandmother cook, but other than helping to mix this or that (especially when grandma made frosting for her wonderful cupcakes), I did not have an interest in learning, nor was I forced to develop one. I feel this was a great gap in my generation’s upbringing, at least in the context of the place where I grew up, in a white-collar neighborhood with professional parents who lived at a time when suburban life was sprouting everywhere as a sort of in-between community; not quite city, not quite country.
Nature is part of our makeup and it was inevitable that even hard-working, career-oriented adults would look at their backyards and long to dig their hands in the soil. Most of the families in my neighborhood (in fact, probably all of them) had the means to acquire all of their food at the store, but gardens began to pop up in every single backyard nonetheless. The previous generation had been close to the land, so it is them, in great part, who transmitted these values. But how do you draw the modern, career-oriented, 1960′s and 1970′s adult to the kitchen? Cookbooks. Cooking shows and cookbooks.
Cooking shows teach by demonstrating, somewhat like mothers had done. We are designed to learn by imitation after all. The cookbook provides the means for one to develop their own wings.
Producing a cookbook is an exercise in technical writing. The author must consider the audience, what language to use to both appeal to this audience and to make instructions user-friendly. The “step-by-step” format takes care of one important aspect of instructions books: breaking down a complex concept into immediately understandable and manageable parts.
Cooking, as you know, is an experiment in physics and chemistry. As with any other experiment, it is in the repeating of the process that we become aware of patterns and that our own miscalculations are brought to light. When we figure out what we did wrong, why we did not obtain the exact outcome the author describes for example, we also instantly understand a bit more about the physics and chemistry of food and cooking.
This knowledge is stored in the data bank of the mind and will be accessed automatically when we find ourselves in a similar situation again; in fact, this allows us to extrapolate, instinctively, and to grasp more and more of the art of cooking along the way. Because of this, over time, our relationship to the cookbook changes. We become hungry for greater challenges, feeling perfectly confident that we can learn something new.
I would venture to say that cookbooks build confidence and would not be surprised to learn that some therapists instruct their clients to buy a cookbook and learn to cook as a means of developing confidence and building self-esteem. How can you not have self-esteem when your own hands create a feast from scratch? Only yesterday you felt incompetent, yet now your own masterfully transformed harvest feeds every eye and stomach around your table.
The oral tradition is not gone; it is transformed by our literature. Cookbooks contain the voices of grandmothers and ancestors, for without their knowledge and teaching their pages would be blank. Opening a cookbook is like opening a book of secrets; as if someone had placed this on our lap saying, “Here. This is all I know. I trust you will make good use of it.” Maybe cooking helps us remember how capable we are, at anything.
Innovation kicks in the moment something is invented. In fact, the invention itself is an innovation from a previous design or practice. Now, before we get into a chicken and egg conundrum, let’s get straight to the gist of this article: The gardener’s seat.
On many occasions on this blog, I have mused about perfection of design. Take the can sealer for example. Manufacturing processes have changed, but the design has remained virtually identical over time, because it works. As far as I can tell, designs that work often happen to be the most elegant as well. Another good example, of course, is the Squeezo Strainer.
They have style, a personality of their own. They are timeless. They adorn the wooden table of a modest shack as well as the marble counter tops of our modern homes. They stood strong in the farmer’s field generations ago and are in a class of their own in today’s futuristic facilities. Even something as simple as a tractor seat has that sort of presence.
First of all, you look at it and you know it will fit the curves of your body to a T. Modern tractor seats offer many features and comforts. They are ergonomically designed, based on years of research and trials. The original tractor seat was everything it should be in and of itself, naturally. Go figure.
Surely if you are spending an entire day, every day, every week, sitting on a piece of equipment with the constant roar and vibration of a motor and the irregularities of the ground, a well-designed seat with the proper ratio of padding and even a suspension mechanism are a worthy and necessary innovation. In fact, they are a blessing. Nevertheless, we recognize and appreciate a classic look that works, because it tells a story.
And so it is that we bring back trusted design, again and again. The tractor seat is a perfect example of functionality and grace. If it is good for hours on the tractor, surely it is ideal for the gardening seat also. And it is… with class to boot.
Gardening and farming are part of an age-old tradition. It is through our practices and the tools with which we work the land that we feel an enduring connection to this tradition. This sense of connection is essential. It gives the proper tone to our gardening chores.
The traditional tractor seat, like many other tools and appliances that retain qualities from the past, connects us with our history the moment we lay eyes on it. More than this, when we sit upon a traditional tractor seat, even one used in a slightly different application, such as on a gardening seat, we take a place among a long line of hard-working men and women, even children, who have made a living by digging their own hands in the dirt and who have thought us how to live and also, simply, how to tend a flower.
Gardening makes us think of Spring, and vice versa. We think it will never come, and here it is, just a few weeks away. In some places, you are already planting outside while others who live further north nestle seedlings in windowsill pots. I love a touch of nature all year round, and I also have a sweet tooth. Here’s my favorite mid-day salad.
Sweet Greens & Fruit Lunch Salad
Mixed greens to taste
1 sweet or sour apple, cubed
1 slice pineapple, cubed
1/2 carrot, peeled (surface peel included)
1 leaf red or green cabbage, cut into small strips
Chopped walnuts or pumpkin seed to taste
In a large bowl (this recipe makes a generous portion, but you do not have to share!), mix all fruit and vegetables. Add nuts or seeds and sea salt to taste. Toss. Add a generous amount or Parmesan and olive oil to taste. Toss well. Serve with whole grain bread or cracker of choice. Substitute any fruit and vegetable you like. The trick is to include something healthy that will satisfy the sweet tooth without harming the body… and mostly, without guilt!
You might also enjoy -
When it comes to foods that are as old as the world, such as yogurt, the name Pliny the Elder pops up again and again and I’ve mentioned him countless times in this blog. In fact, one of these days we’ll have to dedicate an article to our friend Pliny, the notable Roman author and natural philosopher who lived between 23 AD and 79 AD.
As a well-educated man, and one who was clearly fascinated by the subjects of his studies, he kept records of much of his findings and musings. These have become invaluable resources for modern historians trying to understand the origins and evolution of human customs and dietary habits.
Thus it is to Pliny that we turn, once more, to find yogurt in its proper place in time, for the most ancient recorded evidence of the existence of fermented milk occurs in his writings, where he notes that even those nations that were considered barbarous in his time knew how “to thicken the milk into a substance with an agreeable acidity.”
There is speculation that cultured milk may have been an accident, for in spite of documentation such as Pliny’s, it is not clear when the process of making yogurt became intentional. Genetic analysis of the bacteria present in cultured milk suggests some may have occurred on the surface of a plant, which would in turn suggest that dairy product had to come in contact with these plants, perhaps accidentally, in order to be “infected.” A plausible hypothesis is that animals may have come in contact with such plant, allowing said bacteria to be transferred to the udder. This makes one wonder if not all milk product was at least slightly on the verge of becoming yogurt, which brings up an interesting question: What came first under the udder? Yogurt or milk?
How people in ancient times, barbarian or not (and it’s a matter of perspective), figured out how to purposely make yogurt is not clear. Or is it that yogurt came first and what they figured out is how to turn it into milk? Hah-ha! The word yogurt comes from a Turkish verb that means, “to thicken” or “to be curdled.” Interestingly, if indeed it does mean “to thicken,” this alone implies purposeful action. Hah-ha again!
While its consumption was widespread in Europe and much of the “old continents” for centuries, it is only in the early 1900′s that yogurt became widely consumed in America.
A dairy product is called yogurt when two essential bactieria are present: Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. While in America yogurt is generally produced from cow’s milk, in other parts of the world it is as commonly made from camel, goat and sheep milk.
The process of making yogurt is simple. Milk is heated to approximately 200° Fahrenheit for up to 30 minutes. The longer at high temperature, the thicker the resulting product. Following this first step, the milk is cooled rapidly. This is when yogurt starter containing the necessary bacteria is added. Then, the mixture is placed in containers for incubation. The incubation process requires a temperature of 100° and lasts at least four hours. Longer incubation times result in a more tart flavor since this allows more acidity to develop.
I wonder if, upon seeing some of our challenges in human relations (and yes, we are only human after all) Pliny might reflect upon our modern home yogurt making techniques and write, “Those barbarians can still make yogurt!” Pliny, my dear, with all due respect, you seem to have a bit of an attitude. Eat some yogurt, it will help your digestion and improve your disposition.