I’ve been eating my way around this farm for a while now. Long enough that my preserving projects from one season now spill over into my projects of another, later season.
And still, I’m not sure if I’ve yet managed to clearly communicate just what it is that captivates me so deeply. And what I’m sure will enchant you too if you give it a chance.
Over the holiday I was making this jellyroll and pondering New Year’s manifestos and resolutions. And it suddenly snapped into focus. This book, the source of my jellyroll recipe, this book explains everything.
How so? I’m going to let Alice Waters explain it to you. Several quotes from the forward she wrote for Edna Lewis’ book bring focus to my muddled, intuitive dreamy-eyed groping and illustrate my quest with much greater clarity than I’ve managed so far:
“Miss Edna Regina Lewis was born in Virginia in 1916, in a bucolic, out-ot-the-way settlement known as Freetown, which had been founded by her grandfather and other freed slaves after the emancipation of 1865. She enjoyed a childhood that could only be described as idyllic, in which the never-ending hard work of farming and cooking both sustained and entertained an entire community.”
“ Thanks to this book, a new generation was introduced to the glories of an American tradition worthy of comparison to the most evolved cuisines on earth, a tradition of simplicity and purity and sheer deliciousness that is only possible when food tastes like what it is, from a particular place, at a particular point in time.”
Oh boy. Now. Edna Lewis, hailing from Virginia, is a southern girl through and through. I am Western Pennsylvania all the way. Obviously some of our food roots are different. But the spirit of the thing, the part where nearly all of the ingredients of the delicious foods enjoyed so heartily were raised, harvested and foraged at home? That is exactly the same.
The kitchen was truly the heart of Freetown. And everyone in Freetown had a role in stocking the larder. And the community table was a source of warmth, industry, pride and pleasure for young and old alike.
Because it’s not just food. It’s a way of being in the world. Grounded. Present. Aware.
It’s the love and appreciation of the gifts of the soil upon which we live. Pretend all you want that nature is irrelevant and life is really at the mall or on Facebook, but all that shiny distraction isn’t the foundation under all; it’s more like a parallel universe or an alternate reality.
Amazing food is not complicated food. You don’t need a larder of expensive spices or appliances. You really only need one thing: attention. Becoming attentive to the nuances of your ingredients, tuned in to what’s in season where you live and being willing to explore some new ways of provisioning. That’s all you need.
Because (thanks again Alice Waters),
“… along with her recipes and reminiscences, Miss Lewis was able to gently suggest another way of being, one on a human scale, in harmony with the seasons and with our fellow man. For her, always, as it had in her childhood, pleasure flowed unstoppably out of doing. She saw clearly that the store-bought cake never brings lasting satisfaction; true contentment comes from baking it yourself, by hand, for someone you love.”
How could I possibly explain Edna Lewis (or myself) better than that? Thanks Alice Waters.
And so, I’m embarking upon an Edna Lewis-themed year here at Auburn Meadow Farm. Which does not mean I’m suddenly going full-on Southern style, or a rigid execution of another “year-of” stunt. Follow along with me and let’s richly celebrate the benchmarks of the year – your table and your pantry are all you’ll need.
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Except of course a copy of the book.
It’s small, simple rituals attended with devotion that create the ripples that grow into big change. Mindful attention, working a devotion and sharing with community – is there a better first step towards taking a deep, quiet breath and striding with purpose into this fresh new year?
What ripples are you intending to create this year?