Thursday, September 25, 2008

My Grandparents Had It Figured Out

In the spirit of my TreeHugger-in-Training theme of the week, "Eating Your Way Green," I am reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. In one of the first chapters, Kingsolver points out that over the course of a couple of generations, we have unlearned how to take advantage of locally grown food and make it last throughout the year.

I have made the same observation as I have been inhaling "Simple Living" books for the past several weeks:
My grandparents had it figured out!
Let me explain. My maternal grandparents had a huge yard and garden surrounding their quaint, yellow house in the small village of Rappestad in southern Sweden. There grew every fruit tree imaginable (at least the cold weather varieties), berries ranging from raspberries to red and black currants to gooseberries, and beds and beds of vegetables.
As a child, I got to help thin the carrots to allow the remaining carrots to grow big and strong. If we needed chives for dinner, we would just run outside with a pair of scissors (OK, don't run with scissors...) and cut a few stems. Likewise, during the summer months, lettuce always came from the garden.
Every summer and fall, we harvested the bounty: Apples, cherries, pears, berries, rhubarb, potatoes - you name it. Then the fun began as we converted these gifts into goodies which would last all year. We filled dozens of jars with fresh apple sauce (in fact, I didn't know you could buy apple sauce in the grocery store until I was in my late teens), black and red current jelly, and picked onions. Strawberries and raspberries were turned into "saft," the Swedish version of juice concentrate. We packed the freezer with blueberries, rhubarb, and strawberries to fill pies and cobblers and top our ice cream during the cold winter months (yes, we eat ice cream in the dead of winter). Nothing went to waste.
My paternal grandparents had the same concept going on, but on a slightly smaller scale. Yet, they managed to fill their root cellar with winter apples which lasted all the way until Christmas. We ate local, because it tasted good and it was available.
How sad it is that most people in my generation and definitely my daughter's generation have no idea where their food comes from. We eat it because it is available, not because it's good. Strawberries have lost their magic for me, because I can get them year around. It used to be that the best weeks of the year were when the strawberries were ripe. At least once during these golden weeks, we would go to a strawberry farm and pick, eat, and pick some more all day long.
It was magical.
The good news is that my parents still have these skills. They still freeze blueberries for the winter and they still make applesauce. I intend to start paying attention and learn from them and make sure I pass on the knowledge to my child - because she will most likely need to know when we run out of gas to haul strawberries from California so we can eat those poor, tasteless specimens whenever we want.
Why did we ever forget?

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