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Community Cooking

 

Pita bread Ellie and I made for the dinner at Oakwood. Photo credit Ellie Markovitch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I started this blog, it was a place to record my family’s interests in food. My husband and eldest son were very curious about gardening, and my youngest son didn’t care much for eating. I loved to cook and bake, and wonder why American habits had strayed so far from the kitchen.

I wanted to make our own food, and in these writings show that cooking is not as onerous as we’ve been led to believe. I taught a class called Industrialize Your Own Food Supply, demonstrating how to make yogurt, bread, and mixes. Jack and Francis gardened, and Jack and I canned and froze as much produce as possible.

I read about the cycles of food self-sufficiency, discovering that back to the land movements didn’t begin in the 1960s. Almost as soon as people began to leave the land for urban and factory–centered lives, notions of returning to a more self-reliant lifestyle took root.

 

More people making food for Oakwood. Photo credit Ellie Markovitch.

More people making food for Oakwood. Photo credit Ellie Markovitch.

I wanted to understand how we as a culture had surrendered the very intimate act of feeding ourselves and each other. Overwhelmed by our manic food pursuits, I could see why people developed machines to help grow and process food. And yet on my blog, I felt I should only write about our points of food independence. If I wrote about how many times we ate quesadillas made from block cheddar and cheap tortillas, I would be breaking some unwritten laws about DIY fortitude.

As I began to explore grains and flour, and research what would become my book, The New Bread Basket, I realized that home scale production was impractical. Perhaps a family of four could grow all their wheat on a quarter of an acre, but the many steps from seed to table are time-consuming and tool intensive. Staple crops take a lot of work.

 

I also was very enchanted by community scale processing. The farmer–miller–baker partnership I observed around Ithaca New York seemed a much better route to our daily bread then trying to go it alone at home. The days of threshing parties, where people would help each other harvest and thresh their grain are over, and I don’t know if and when this style of food handling will return.

 

Now, I’m curious about community cooking. I love that I have a big kitchen where many hands and knives can work to make volumes of food. Friday we will be using everything in the kitchen to get ready for a big burrito bar for Troy Bike Rescue, whose fundraiser is Saturday.

 

Portrait of ramps by Ellie Markovitch.

Portrait of ramps by Ellie Markovitch.

Last week my friend Ellie and I made pita breads for a dinner at the Oakwood Community Center. The meal was not just ours, but a collaboration built around donated and culled produce by a crew of volunteer cooks, servers, and dedicated cleaner-uppers.

 

Group cooking makes far more sense than figuring out ways to busily preserve every food under the sun in my own house. I have a job at Unity House steering daily meals for 100 to 200 people. Using salvaged foods and a skeleton staff, we serve breakfast and lunch every day the year. Volunteers help us incorporate as much fresh food as possible into the menu.

A full plate at Oakwood. Thanks for the picture Ellie Markovitch.

A full plate at Oakwood. Thanks for the picture Ellie Markovitch.

 

I would love to see more cafeteria and cooperative cooking enterprises take over the work of feeding that fast and processed foods have done. Cooking together is so much more efficient than cooking for ourselves, and eating together might help ease the social stratification that exists in our country.

Flour Goes to the Moon

What if we went to the moon and no one noticed? That’s what’s going in regional flour, I think.

Le Moulins des Cedres at Les Fermes Longpres. Photo credit Loic Dewavrin.

Le Moulins des Cedres at Les Fermes Longpres. Photo credit Loic Dewavrin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Red Hen, a bakery in Central Vermont, will soon be sourcing all its flour from within 150 miles. This is the equivalent of the lunar landing for regional flour, in my eyes.  To be able to fetch all your flour from such a tight radius is unusual, especially in the Northeast, where growing wheat for bread fell out of favor more than a century ago.

Yet the bakery has been dogged in sourcing local ingredients, including flour. Over its 15 years in business, Red Hen has developed partnerships with growers. Le Moulins des Cedres, a new on-farm mill in Quebec at Les Fermes Longpres, is the latest connection, and is enabling the bakery to take this bold step. Read more about this in a story I wrote for Zester Daily.