I have been lucky to receive bushels of apples from friends this fall. Especially from Michele who likes to leave things on my porch like an elf. She’ll often drop things off on her way to Mendocino, from Marin. We met over thirteen years ago when they moved to Fairfax to be closer to work for her husband. We connected in so many ways but mostly around making things and raising “free range” kids. We often joked that we were ready to pack the wagons when life felt too rushed and our kids cared more about iPads than climbing a tree or going to the beach. Her kids are older than mine and now that two are in their 20's and her youngest is 15, she is packing her wagon this month, for real. Moving back to the beautiful property full of apple trees and redwoods in Mendocino. Back to the land and a more connected life, not to technology but to the earth.
The apples she brings me are turning into lots of applesauce. I make it now without much thought but there was a time when I would buy it in jars or worse yet, little plastic “cups” for my kids. I guess I thought it was hard to make? I know I’m not the only one who has thought that - people are literally buying presliced apples now, wrapped in plastic and more likely to go bad than a fresh apple sitting on your counter waiting patiently to be eaten at the just the right time. One day I had too many apples and I thought, how hard can it be? So I sliced and peeled and put all the apples in a pot with a tiny (SO much less than what you think you need) bit of water and cooked on low for 20 minutes, then mashed the soft apples into a sauce and it was the best apple sauce I had had since Catherine’s mom, Alice made home canned apple sauce when I was a kid. It was SO easy and SO yummy!
And then there are French fries - available prepackaged if you want to “make” them at home. When I did Whole 30 a few months ago I wanted to make fries that didn’t have any added ingredients like rice flour and strange vegetable oils. So I sliced up some potatoes and put them on parchment paper, drizzled lots of oilive oil over them and sprinkled salt and pepper. Roasted at 425 for about 20 minutes and they made the yummiest fries! And the craziest part, that still amazes me is that you can make so many fries from 2 or 3 potatoes. When I used to buy them in a bag, I was getting a plastic bag I had to throw away and there were not that many in a bag so sometimes I had to buy two for my family of five. Expensive and wasteful - fresh potatoes cut up and baked are a much better solution. And now my family prefers homemade fries and gets so excited on “burger night”.
We are not doing handwork anymore - we think it’s easier and faster not to. Instead we keep our hands busy with keypads and screens. We feel kind of empty and unhappy and we wonder why. I think it's because our hands want to MAKE things! Just imagine all the packaging you avoid when you cook from scratch. It’s the way food was meant to be prepared and going “backwards” is the solution for a better future. What do you make now that you used to buy? What could you be making at home instead of buying it?
As we face PG&E shutdowns for wildfire safety in California, I am feeling the intensity of being on the front lines of climate change. And as part of that I am pondering what can we do to be less fearful and more empowered? Well we know that for several hundred years before us, people ate food but they had little to no refrigeration.
Some of the things they did: collect and harvest food at the height of the season and then preserve and/or store it. Canning, pickling, salting, smoking and root cellars or cold storage of root vegetables and onions. Fresh dairy meant you had a cow, goat or sheep and milked them daily or you traded with someone who had a cow, goat or sheep. I know a modern day mom who is part of a milk share - one cow, many families. And to make that dairy last even longer, make cheese.
Fermented foods are trendy right now, because we are realizing we need the beneficial bacteria that are present when we preserve food in this traditional way. What I am fascinated by is that they also do not require refrigeration.
If you have chickens or buy eggs from someone you know, you don't have to wash them. Unwashed eggs have a coating that keeps them fresh without refrigeration. The list goes on and on. It's worth considering how much food security we have handed over to big agriculture or even the local grocery store. When the power went out for most of Marin County (the county next to where I now live and where I grew up) the stores were closed, you could not get food, gas or money and by day four, panic set in, what would we do if this lasted weeks? years? I think the best thing we can do is start now, learn how to do things the way we used to do them, take the best of old and new technology and move forward stronger and happier into a brave new future.
Sometimes I wonder if I was born in the right time... I long for a bygone era and yet I dream of a future that holds the best of technology mixed with the “old ways” that are so much gentler on us and the earth.