Wild Places, Slow Food
Without such a thing as fast food, there would be no need for slow food.
One of the reasons I’m always thinking about my next voyage is that I can’t wait to get a break from my relatively sedentary work life to actively explore new places and enjoy new culinary experiences without guilt. During visits to my grandparents’ farm in Ohio, friends’ in Maine and wild adventures in Washington, Oregon and Canada, I’ve discovered that one of the best ways to inspire my creativity is to indulge my inner hunter and gatherer.
Whether you chalk it up to free time, opportunity or archetypal memory, a few weeks in beautiful, bountiful place brings out the native in me. There’s almost no satisfaction like gathering food myself, then incorporating it into a delicious meal.No bowl of chowder or blackberry pie will ever taste as good as one I’ve earned the appetite to eat. Muddy pants and stained hands are badges of honor–the price of a meal when no money changes hands.
As a child I was fascinated with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books (The Complete Little House Nine-Book Set) about pioneer life on the American frontier. Wilder’s vivid descriptions of days spent churning butter, kneading and baking bread, tapping trees for maple syrup, smoking meat and drying herbs taught me about the difficult and satisfying effort that sustained families before corner groceries. Alone in the wilderness, the family used what it had. During long winters, Laura and her sister played with handmade cornhusk dolls in the attic among the squashes, potatoes and canned goods. At butchering time, their Pa made them a balloon out of a pig’s bladder. Store-bought goods were rare and precious possessions: china figurines, calico fabric for new dresses, a violin and an illustrated bible.
Knowing this, I could understand Laura’s delight in receiving a single peppermint stick at Christmas, and the way she savored it over many weeks. A century later, my life is nothing like Laura’s. Cut off from the wilderness, with necessities readily available, it’s easy to lose sight of the effort required to produce food and the multitude of other goods I regularly consume.
Traveling always makes me more conscious of my next meal. In an unfamiliar area, I’m not always sure where to find the best food at the best price and how to eat like a local, not a tourist. For example, driving through the Swiss countryside on a Sunday over a decade ago, my husband and I were surprised to find every market and restaurant closed. Since we had expected to buy food on the road, we were starving by the time we arrived at the farmhouse where we were staying. I felt embarrassed as I explained this to the owner and impressed when she harvested carrots, tomatoes and lettuce from her substantial garden and pulled red potatoes and several large, farm-raised eggs from her pantry. This, I thought, is the way to live. Over dinner, I promised myself that I would become more self-sufficient. And although I haven’t always succeeded in reaching that goal, at least I’ve managed to keep it in sight. The care and effort involved in raising and tending a garden and cooking fresh food are like the best blackberries on the vine: worth the reach.