Monday, November 30, 2009

June 2009: “The Good Old Days”

The idea that past times were greatly preferable to today is the best evidence I know for the fallibility of human memory. I have had many a “full and frank discussion” with people who insist that periods of the past (varying from the 40’s through the 80’s) were somehow better times than these. That said, I must admit that where food is concerned there is an argument to be made that in former times we were much closer to the ideals of the Slow Food Movement: good food, locally produced, cooked using traditional recipes, and eaten in a convivial atmosphere with friends and family.

My recent column on bread brought this home to me when my friend, Linda Allison, wrote me a very poetic note about her memories of “the good old days:”
My Mom would bake bread - white and whole wheat at least once a month. At the end of the day, her counter and kitchen table would be covered with the cooling loaves. I can still see her running a buttered piece of wax paper over the top of each loaf while they were still warm -- must have given them shine or saltiness. She would call me at the school where I worked and say, ‘Drop by for your bread after school.’ She'd hand me a brown and a white, still warm… and I will admit, I would go home, get out the butter and her homemade strawberry jam and eat the loaf for supper. My Dad would cut off a thick slice, fold it in half with a big piece of cheddar cheese inside and walk to his big chair with a smile!!!! Many loaves were dropped off at neighbours' homes and the rest into the freezer for toast every morning.

Does this happen any more? Are there still Moms who spend a day every month baking bread for their families and neighbours?

Like Linda, like most people, I have “good old day” memories that involve food. My wife has similar memories to Linda’s, but hers involve her Ukrainian grandmother who summoned the Grabove clan on days when she prepared perogies and cabbage rolls. There always seemed to be someone in the small town neighbourhoods where I grew up who raised chickens in the back yard. My Dad, who was an Anglican minister, was sometimes paid for his services at weddings or funerals with food… and on one memorable occasion, with a recently killed chicken. I still remember him sitting on the front steps of the Rectory, laboriously plucking the bird while white feathers swirled around in the breeze.

The Slow Food Movement is an attempt to bring us back to some extent to those days when we knew where our food came from, knew how it was produced (and, often, who produced it), and took the time to prepare it with traditional recipes, and eat it with family and friends around the table. All that does not mean we would want to give up all the foodie benefits of the 21st century! Back when I was a kid, pizza was about as exotic as food got, and no one had heard of Thai or Vietnamese, Somali or Szechuan, Mexican or Moroccan. How much richer our food experiences are these days, when we can find ingredients in stores and markets, many of them locally grown, that our grandparents were completely ignorant of.

Moroccan Tagine
Brown in oil a kg. of lamb stew or shoulder cut into pieces, then add 3 onions cut into chunks and a handful of raisins, a tablespoon of coriander, a teaspoon of cinnamon, and ½ kilo of dried fruit (apricots or prunes are best). Add enough water to cover and a cup of tomato paste. Cover and simmer for about an hour. Add chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) and a handful of toasted pine nuts or almonds just before serving with couscous.

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