I suppose I could blame it on the job–working on trails gives a person a roaring appetite and food is the fuel. Or it could be the rural upbringing: being nourished on raw milk from cows I knew by name; homegrown beef, pork and chicken; fruit from the orchard and vegetables from the garden; bread baked by my mom and gramma. Knowing where food comes from, whose hands processed it, knowing how it tastes when it’s fresh and natural…that seems more important than ever. I spend a lot of time on food.
When I was recovering from heart failure a year and a half ago, diet was on my list of things to be mindful of. I’ve always been inclined toward the natural, wholesome, and organic, but I delved further in. Processed foods were to be avoided because of excess sodium and fats. I’m sensitive to sugar. Even many so-called natural foods contain more salt, fat and sugar than I want to be consuming. Amazing to notice how the taste buds wake up after being deadened by salt and sugar. It’s a good thing I love to cook and grow my own. This summer and fall I squirreled more food away than I have in many years. The freezer is full. I am still drying the last of the fruit, and I have to build more shelves for everything I canned. What could be more satisfying than opening a jar of pears from my own tree in February?
Recently I’ve heard radio interviews with Barry Estabrook about his book Tomatoland: How Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit. I was not surprised to hear about the fertilizer and pesticides dumped on commercial tomatoes, nor that they are mostly grown in Florida which is not really suitable for tomatoes. But Florida is within a long day’s drive of most places where tomatoes are shipped. They are picked green, and exposed to ethylene gas which turns them red but not ripe. What made me most upset (and I could hear this in the author’s voice too) was how workers are treated. There are documented cases of slavery and beatings. In 2011. In America.
I don’t need to eat tomatoes in winter. I don’t need to eat grapes shipped from Chile. (What about chemicals and workers there?) I don’t want to eat anything that has been genetically modified. If it was imported from China, I don’t want it.
My commitment to local, seasonal, and organic has deepened. The beets I pickled came from the farmer’s market and were grown organically. Bless those earnest young farmers with their clear eyes and rough hands! The onions and garlic came from Thorp just down the road, grown without chemicals and irrigated with water from the Yakima River which flows through my town. The green beans and pears are from my garden. The tomatoes too. The bread was baked with organic rye flour from the Methow Valley. I’m paying attention to groceries I buy, and have started looking for sources of bulk organic food grown on this continent. (Chocolate, coffee, and tea are exceptions, but they still need to be healthy and humane.) My pantry is starting to feel like Gramma’s “fruit room.”
I want to put the best quality fuel into my working body. I may pay a little more, and spend more time in the kitchen. But what else was I going to do with my time that could be any more worthwhile? Baking bread and cooking are really enjoyable, especially when it can be shared with friends and family.
Here’s a fall dish to try:
Bean and Kale Stew
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 bay leaves
1 onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 pound kale, stems removed and
leaves coarsely chopped
2 (15 ounce) cans white beans
1 (14 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh basil
salt and pepper to taste
Heat the olive oil in a deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and kale. Cook and stir until the onions become transparent and the kale wilts and reduces in volume.
Reduce heat to medium. Stir in the tomatoes, garlic, water, bay leaves and cumin. Cover with a lid and simmer until the kale is soft, about 45 minutes. Stir in the white beans and simmer 10 more minutes. Add the fresh chopped herbs and season with salt and pepper.
Deb’s notes: Kale is good for you, and is a very long-season crop here. I go out to the garden and cut some whenever I want. It will winter over (under cover) and revive in the spring. The original recipe calls for italian cannellini beans, but I cook organic great northern beans in the slow-cooker and store them in the freezer to be available as needed. And I used home-canned tomatoes. Dried herbs are fine. You can also add a little italian sausage or ground meat to make it carnivorous. This stew is good with bread, of course, and makes a fine field lunch in the thermos.
Happy autumn eating!