As I continue my informal education in the culinary arts, I thought I should turn to my original inspiration for learning to cook – culture. Food can say so much about a place. In addition to flavor, a food’s climate, accessibility to markets and political situation all contribute to how people eat. That said, I was thrilled when I found this great list of 55 Great Global Food Blogs at Saveur.com. What an ideal place to start!
I originally began to learn to cook because I realized that I didn’t really know how to cook from scratch. After watching African women begin their day with a trip to the market and continue with cooking over an outdoor stove, I questioned whether throwing a store-bought spice mix into ground meat and rolling it in a tortilla was real cooking. What is in the spice mix? How does one make a tortilla? And as I later began to ask: Where did the meat come from? How was it farmed? Were the workers who helped to bring the meat to my table treated fairly?
I also began to project qualities onto the African women who cooked daily. Industrious. Resourceful. Caring. Intelligent. I wanted to be like them.
Thus, began my cooking education. I started with tacos once I returned from Africa focusing on the tortillas. Realizing how simple they are to make and how much more tasty they are when made from scratch, I was hooked. I began to aim to make as much from scratch as possible, preferring to dissect each of my favorite foods down to its basic elements. I soon realized that knowing exactly what is in my food is quite also empowering. I have much more control over my health when I don’t have to read through a codified list of ingredients containing mysterious scientific sounding words.
Because of my own background as a North Dakota farmer’s daughter, I felt particularly drawn to the art of preserving the produce from a year’s harvest. Though I now live in Oregon, I began visiting U-pick fields with my friends to pick berries to make jam, and we even harvested fruit from the overgrown, neglected pear tree in our backyard and canned our day’s work. It just seemed a shame to let the fruit go to waste when there are people who are starving around the world.
I am on my way to accomplishing at least one summer goal. Yesterday I went strawberry picking with two friends at Sauvie Island Farms. I picked 12 pounds and am still in the process of figuring out what I am going to do with them all. For now, I froze most of them, but I will likely make some preserves and maybe fruit leather. And of course, I can’t forget the (hopefully) endless number of smoothies from now until next summer. I aim to preserve enough fruit and veggies to last us through the winter. (Not that we won’t purchase other produce over the winter, but perhaps I hope to supplement that with local produce as much as possible).
For the last few years I have been reading and learning about the benefits of organic produce and am additionally becoming a believer in the slow food movement. So I hope to carry on the traditions of our grandmothers by learning the art of preserving food.
The more of it I pick personally, the better it will be for my pocketbook. But I also plan to hitting up farmer’s markets to get as much local produce as I can. I think shopping locally is a two-for-one punch when you’re buying from farmers. Not only are you financially supporting farmers, but you are also taking the time to learn about what grows in your region and in what season. This generation has become so disconnected from the land and its bounty. We can have whatever we want when we want it. But reality is that seasonal fruits and veggies are so much better!