Eat What is Put Before You

So many things go wrong in stories when someone craves something they cannot have. Adam and Eve; Rapunzel’s mother; Aphrodite’s golden apples. (Even that forbidden radish – Rapunzel means radish – is round and red.)

roast potato wedges and stuffed squash

We have a surfeit of apples. We have plenty of turnips (rutabagas if you prefer), onions, potatoes and carrots. All are local. I have beans, beans, and more beans in the freezer, and a few pickled. I had enough radishes at the end of the season to make radish relish. Local food, and while some of it wasn’t magazine photo pretty, there is lots of it. The apples were bought in 30-40 pound bags for $10 a bag, labelled “deer apples,” which are people apples, cooked, and the not so nice ones are goat apples, and a little treat for the chickens to peck at. There is lettuce and tomatoes and oranges, melons and pineapples and celery in the markets, but they have flown in from far away places, and are as expensive and delicate as peacocks at the north pole.

Local supermarkets advertise massive bags of produce from New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia as incentives for us to come and buy not only the cheap raw vegetables, but linger long enough for the bakery products, the tiny cups of convenience fruit, the steamed mashed, extruded and lard-coated novelty oven fries. I load the buggy with the raw goods, lots of them, and after paying a pittance compared to the name brand boutique food, heft them into the bed of the pick-up. I sort through them at home, cooking, canning, freezing, saving. My refrigerator is mostly winter produce and flour.

If we ate the way advertised on television or in magazines, we would have no money left for rent. As it is, we get by each month by judicious planning and cooking from scratch. Real scratchy cooking – with the dirt still on. I don’t remember when I filled a grocery buggy (cart or trolley, if you prefer) with the brightly coloured plastic wrapped convenience or gourmet foods. Our generic brands in the biggest supermarket chain are in bright yellow wrappers with black lettering, and that’s as colourful as it gets when I am buying oatmeal or flour.

We eat baked beans and lentil soup, made  out of the jars of dried legumes I keep. Our bread is baked in-house, and often in the wood-burning stove. It’s also the best place for baked beans in the stoneware pot, slowly steamed in their molassy sauce. We don’t get take-out or eat in restaurants; both the budget and my dietary restrictions prohibit that. I don’t miss it, and my taste is for much less salt than is used in commercial cooking.

I used to think that locavore, slow-food eating would be way too expensive – and it was when I had to have fresh cherry tomatoes in January, and lettuce for a salad. That had to come from greenhouses, heated and cosseted, and shipped by special truck to special stores. What did my ancestors eat all winter? Potatoes, turnips, dried beans and oatmeal. Cabbage. Apples.

Sometimes it seems monotonous, especially when it’s toward the end of the month, the bills are paid, and the bank account rattles when shaken with the few coins left. The sustaining part is that we do have food, and we are willing to be satisfied with it. Yes, the last couple of days before the next cheque, we have eggs, potatoes and carrots for a couple of meals, or the closest thing to meat we can manage is some frozen broth heated with a potato and some beans, augmented with homemade noodles, but it is satisfyingly real food.

vegetable meal

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13 thoughts on “Eat What is Put Before You

  1. Hello my friend on the apples could you use the peels for apple sauce? Or the chickens get them… enjoy your blog have a great night..

  2. I know that feeling eating the same boring thing waiting for the money to come in. Every year I increase foods that I grow hoping to make our winter meals more tasteful. What can beat that homemade bread and home made baked beans though? From scratch cooking is the only way I can afford food anyway. Good thing my husband likes it!

  3. Your food looks wonderful, MJ. I was just thinking about the slavery to personal preference that dictates strawberries flown hundreds of miles in the dead of winter. I liken it to the current wave of having little tiny girls (3 or 4) try out to be cheerleaders for similarly young boys playing football. What is there to wait for and relish these days? If you’ve already been there, done that as far as cheering when you’re a toddler, what special reward for teens is there? Yes, waiting tries the patience, but then the reward is that much sweeter when you wait and watch the strawberry blooms in May and then pick the luscious fruit in June (here in the Mid-Atlantic, anyway). Then they’re not here so long…maybe a month…and then the raspberries come in with their unique inviting taste, as well. A time for every season…each one with something to be savored and then remembered.

    And, as with most things, the more complex or complicated and “sophisticated” the meal, the more one’s thoughts are turned from the giver of the food. I’m sure you’re much healthier sans “boutique” foods.

    (and, personally, I went veg and have never regreted it a moment. Meatless meals are quite fine by me! Start saving your eggs, though, for when the chickens stop laying soon…they’ll last if you rub some oil on the shells.)

  4. Good post, Magdalena! My mother commented to me the other day that she thought part of he problem for us in this economic downturn is that over the years we have allowed our expectations of what we should be able to have creep higher and higher, so that anything less than affordable luxuries seems shocking to us now. She said that if we could only be content with what once seemed entirely acceptable to us we would be far less vulnerable to fluctuations in the financial markets.
    Local produce, appreciated, thriftily used, appetisingly prepared – wonderful – well done you!

    • This makes me think of my stepchildren, when circumstances in their lives unavoidably changed, regretting loudly that a constant supply of frozen pizzas and packaged snacks was no longer available. They have all changed their eating habits since, and it is much easier, I believe, for young people to adjust their expectations than those of us old enough to be parents and grandparents, who have been spoiled for choice since the 1970s, at least.

  5. One of the prices we all pay for “strawberries-all-the-year-round” is, of course, tasteless watery strawberries and, indeed, tasteless watery everything else. Never mind the price!

    Have you ever thought of sharing your recipes? So many vegetarian recipes (in my experience, anyway) seem to call for endless preparation and rather exotic ingredients (which you can’t get in South Africa, where I live).

    Jane

    • I have a recent cooking blog at http://inaplainkitchen.blogspot.com, and I am gradually adding recipes and anecdotes to it. I am not hurrying to write something in it everyday, as I am testing and photographing each recipe, and most of them are suitable for both modern ranges and my wiod-burning stove. I realize that many people are not willing to invest, or cannot invest, in stand mixers, specialized kitchen equipment, or are moving away from the ubiquitous American microwave.

  6. Could you tell me about the stuffing in the squash? Looks interesting and I am always looking for vegetable recipes. I am so grateful for potatoes!!! This was the first year out of 29 that our potatoes failed miserably. Thankfully they are cheap but nothing tastes as fresh and good as from one’s garden.

    Great post, too!!
    Joanie

    • It is just a bread stuffing, much as you would use in a turkey. I mixed an egg into it to increase the protein content. I often roast potatoes this way rather than bake them, as it takes half the time.

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