Riddle me this, dear readers: what’s the worst thing about making a butternut squash?
It’s not the taste, obviously. Butternut squash is sweet and savory, and delicious. It caramelizes in the oven, lending it a complex smoky flavor that’s a little bit pumpkin on the surface, with a bubbling current of applewood smoked bacon — and maybe maple — somewhere down below. I’d venture to assert that many of the best pumpkin pies are in fact done in butternut squash. And the best pumpkin soups, too. The only problem with them is … is …
Kimchi is extraordinary and complicated and vast, and it would be no less than hubris to imagine that I could do justice to so rich a tradition in one post, or in a whole blog’s worth of posts. When I started thinking about kimchi — quite a while ago, now — I assumed that it would be a little like making sauerkraut — possibly based on something that Sandor Katz had written in The Art of Fermentation (a book I highly recommend!):
“Kraut-chi is a word I made up, a hybrid of sauerkraut and kimchi, the German and Korean words for fermented vegetables that we have adopted into the English language. The English language does not have its own word for fermented vegetables. It would not be inaccurate to describe fermented vegetables as “pickled,” but pickling covers much ground beyond fermentation.”
In the run-up to my pickling workshop, next month, it seems only appropriate that I should do a series of posts about some particularly tasty examples of that nutritionally rich, biologically diverse, sometimes slightly stinky genre of fermented foods. For the past year or so, I’ve scattered lacto-pickles here and there across the blog, with posts about fermented greens, full sours, krauts, and the like. But there’s nothing in my intermittent exploration that has been anything resembling systematic. And if we few, elite culinary pedagogues know anything at all, it’s that without systematicity — without the sort of enforced rigor that drains the brine of joy and fun out of the enterprise entirely — it can hardly be called an education at all.
In which I mostly make it up as I go
I was a great reader as a child. (Also, as one might expect, a maker of mudpies. But principally a reader.) Most of my introductions to the world came through books, and thus the first goats I met were Schwanli and Baerli, the goats kept by the Alm-Uncle in the book Heidi. They were kept for their milk. Through the lens of a novel written “for children and those who love children”, the goats seemed more like pets than livestock, and thus goats have always been to me, the most personable and most pet-like of farm animals.
People in Philadelphia! People who might have occasion to visit Philadelphia! You should all come out to this:
Saturday, September 28th, from 10 am to noon, I’ll be teaching a workshop on lacto-pickling and lacto-fermented vegetables, through the Mount Airy Learning Tree, at the Unitarian Society of Germantown on Lincoln Drive in Philadelphia. Participants will get a short presentation on the microbiology of fermentation. And then we’ll get our hands into the brine, and the shredded vegetables, and all the tasty spices, such that you’ll come away (dear readers!) not just with new knowledge and rich experience, but with one to two quarts of tasty living souvenir.
The satisfaction of growing one’s own food can almost – not quite, but almost – be matched by the satisfaction of finding one’s own food.
For me, it began with the raspberries. Indeed, raspberries are perhaps my rampion: like Rapunzel’s mother, I crave them above all other foods. The first thing we did when we bought a house, before we painted a single wall or moved a single stick of furniture, was to build a raised bed and plant three raspberry canes. They all died by summer’s end, apparently of ennui.
A couple of summers ago, now, Sarah and I invited a vegetarian friend to come to dinner. I was really excited to cook for her, and planned an elaborate menu out ahead of time: soup, composed salads, pasta primavera from our garden, and crisp for dessert. It was going to be great.
And it was going great, too, until it came time to cook the pasta. By that point in the meal prep, the part of me that was committed to making a fancy dinner had taken over, leaving the part of me that was making a fancy dinner for a vegetarian far behind. The pasta water came to a boil. And without giving it much thought, I reached for the upscaliest noodles that I had on hand: squid-ink spaghetti from Claudio’s Specialty Foods in Philadelphia’s Italian market.
I’m all alone this weekend. Sarah has gone a’visiting, and left me here to make my own fun.
I don’t actually much enjoy cooking for one, and usually, when this happens, my food situation quickly becomes more than a little bit dire. Either I revert to a state of stereotypical bachelorhood and subsist on boxed ramen, cereal, blocks of mediocre cheese, and the more nourishing varieties of beer. Or I decide to splurge and eat only the foods that I love, but that I know Sarah can’t abide: whole crabs, olives, and the occasional piece of steak.
Kraut, in the United States, isn’t a very nice word. Dating back to the nineteenth century, the stereotype of the sauerkraut-eating German immigrant was already a thing, and showed up in all the usual places — anecdotes in newspapers, on the minstrel stage, etc. — where one might expect humor at the expense of some racial or ethnic group or another.
During World War I, Kraut became a metonym for German, German became synonymous with wicked, and it became acceptable to use the term as a sneer or a snub, as a way of stirring up enmity and making school-children whose parents derived from Deutchland feel lousy about themselves and about their national heritage.
Here are some helpful rules for heading out to a local farm to pick your own produce:
Always wear sunscreen. And don’t forget dabs for your neck, ears, and the small of your back (plumbers out there, you know what I’m talking about).
Drink lots of water, and take lots of breaks. Fruit season is hot here in the mid-Atlantic, and you wouldn’t want to overdo it.
Don’t pick more than you need. Call this the ‘save some for the fishes’ rule, if you want. The point is that the next group might want some berries / peaches / asparagus, too.
And above all, be nice to the plants.