Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Foods of our forefathers

I know plenty of us have an image of grandma spending hours in the kitchen preparing complicated 5 course meals richly laden with sauces and home made breads.

Maybe some did, but I don't think most had the time or energy to do that. But what they did do is cook inexpensively. Most of the great dishes we love as ethnic cuisine, for the most part, came about because they were cheap.

A lot of Italians ate greens and pasta because they were dirt cheap. The greens were often found growing wild. I remember the old ladies used to go in the fields across the street from my home (and I lived in a small city) and pick greens throughout the growing season.

Early spring was dandelion. Before the flowers bloomed, the little weeds were excellent eating. And if it was a bumper crop, well, grandpa made some dandelion wine.

As the season progressed, they picked other greens, and incorporated these freebies into their diets.

Broccoli rhab should be out soon. This is a gourmet dish on some restaurant menus, costing 10 bucks or so a plate. It can be made at home for under a buck. Bitter greens like this can be very beneficial, health-wise.

Still others that I knew had gardens. Again, this was in a city, and I am talking about realtively small pieces of land. The entire property, including the house, couldn't have been more than 40' x 100'. And one neighbor, in particular, grew nearly all his family's tomatoes, peppers, onions, corn, grapes, zucchini, and beans. They canned a lot of it, too. He saved scraps for fertizer, and saved his seeds from year to year, so his cost was minimal.

Today, we would put up an awning, he had a grape arbor. It provided shade, fresh fruit, and some wine. This was a serious urban farmer.

And he wasn't the only one. It was common to see such things in very small spaces. We have gotten away from that, I think.

It may be too late to do much planting right now, but there may be some later crops that can be put in. At the very least, make plans for next year. Nothing is better (or cheaper) than fresh produce right from your own garden. And no need to worry about getting diseases from produce you grow yourself, organically, like tomatoes with salmonella.

Farmer's markets are getting ready to open. Pay them a visit for the best produce at the best prices. Eat seasonally and save the most.

1 comment:

shyne said...

My grandparents did alot of wild gathering, too. And meals always consisted of what was in season or, during the winter, what was least expensive or what had been preserved.
It was always good.

I'm amazed at how much they grew in small plots (even in NYC).
There was enough for the family, trade with neighbors for other produce, and still can.