Zaleski: Grandmother was original locavore
I'm reading an article the other day about food, the food police and "foodies," that catch-all characterization of a cadre of know-it-alls who believe the extraordinarily successful American food system peddles poison. They've gone from organic t...
I'm reading an article the other day about food, the food police and "foodies," that catch-all characterization of a cadre of know-it-alls who believe the extraordinarily successful American food system peddles poison. They've gone from organic to locavore in the time it takes to whip up a tater tot hotdish. They apparently can't abide by organic going mainstream.
Locavore? The quick definition is the person who strives mightily to prepare and consume foods produced within 100 miles or so of home. That's a tough sell for North Dakotans who like oranges, but on balance locavorism is a good idea.
Well, all that aside, the locavore phenomenon got me thinking of the hours my sister and I would spend in our Polish grandmother's kitchen. Grandma was a locavore long before the term became fashionable. What she didn't grow in her gardens, she bought from nearby farmers. Meats came from Charlie's Market, the neighborhood butcher whose suppliers were local or regional. Dairy products were delivered by Ferndale Dairy, a few miles away in the next town over.
In fall and winter she would round us up to help prepare two Polish delights: head cheese and sour grass soup, pronounced chaff in Polish. (Don't ask me to spell it in Polish.)
She'd unwrap and cook up the ingredients for head cheese (we didn't want to know), stir it all into a gelatinous suspension in a great square cooker and then let it cool on the porch. Once chilled and set she'd cut the stuff into loaves. My sister and I wrapped the loaves in cheesecloth and twine for storage.
The sour grass soup featured a cream and chicken stock base. In what seemed like the biggest pot in the world, Grandma would strike the careful balance between cream and temperature, stir in salt and clouds of black pepper and then add handfuls of sour grass we'd picked in her yard. The mix would simmer for hours, a pungent aroma filling the house - even overcoming the unique smell of new head cheese.
My treat was a steaming bowl of soup and a mustard-smeared head cheese sandwich on sour rye. My sister usually passed, settling for something less challenging. In food, she favored her Italian heritage.
Later, we'd be ready with caps as Grandma ladled hot soup into tall Mason jars. The sour grass soup supply lasted all winter.
I can still taste her magical creations - still be lifted away by the aromas in her small kitchen - still see the bright smile and twinkle in her eyes as I enjoyed her simple feast and my sister turned up her Italian nose.
Grandma's old-world recipes might fit the new locavore ethic, but without the pretension.
Reach Forum Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at 701-241-5521.