The Abundance Gene

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     I have a thing with abundance.  Making a statement like that you might immediately think, Oh no, she’s a collector/hoarder, which isn’t true.  I actually live pretty minimally and love sparseness in my daily life, but when it comes to food, I have long harbored fantasies about having a lot of one food at a particular time and then knowing just what to do to cleverly cook or preserve it.  This either must come from a childhood on a farm or else it’s in my genes.  On our farm, when it was the day to butcher chickens or cut, wrap, and freeze a cow, the whole family got involved, all day.  And then we had IT for dinner.  Childhood summer memories for me recall waking up to my mom setting out all of the supplies: the jars and lids, colander, pressure cooker (we lived in the high plateaus of Colorado) and then beginning to process and jar 3-5 bushel-sized boxes of apricots, peaches, tomatoes, and green beans.  By day’s end, she and I sat adoring the still warm jars full of our labor and delighting every time another jar lid popped, indicating its contents were properly sealed.  But it’s not as though I looked forward to these rituals.  Processing food is sweaty, backbreaking work and there is no stopping mid-job or you lose the freshness peak you are trying to capture.  How on earth did my mom do it?  I truly think a lot of her motivation was that she loved interacting with the food, but then, of course, there was also the necessity to have the pantry stocked to feed a family of eight through the year in a day when there was no Costco or even the convenience of running to the store to pick up an ingredient.
      But it’s not really the idea of having a ton of a particular food that intrigues me; I love being thrown seasonal foods that I’m not completely familiar with and challenging myself to handily make use of them.  When we lived in Port Angeles, Washington there was an admirable organic farm in nearby Sequim.  You could become a member of their garden and during the harvest seasons, receive a surprise box each week containing an assortment of vegetables and herbs du jour.  This is the sort of thing that sends me over the moon.  I am thrilled by the idea of being delivered a bunch of rutabagas or kohlrabi or tiny artichokes and getting right into action, researching and making decisions about how best to use them.  Sadly, my skill level and my time haven’t always matched my enthusiasm and I will confess that more than one perfect vegetal specimen slowly withered away in my refrigerator due to my inaction. 
     That’s what I like about Daniel Klein http://www.theperennialplate.com/episodes-all/.  I especially like Episode 50:  Duck 5 Ways.  I think if I had a sudden windfall of about 25 ducks, I might get overwhelmed and stick them all in a chest freezer, which isn’t a terribly bad way to go.  This guy, however, has some classic cooking skills. Many of the techniques we consider to be fancy food preparations are in fact very old European preservation methods.  Rillettes is meat, slowly cooked in its own rendered fat until it is tender enough to shred.  Rillettes and pate can both be potted and then covered with a lid of rendered fat, forming a seal.  This preparation of the food gives it some longevity and also portability so it can be taken away to eat midday, as in the typical ploughman’s lunch. You have to look at the five ways Daniel Klein chose to prepare his ducks, using the entire bird.  It is inspiring, but man does it look like hard work.
     Our son has just spent his spring break from university breaking up the rocky sod and planting a vegetable garden on the island.  He is a busy student and in my mind I thought you probably don’t have time to tend a garden, but I clamped my hand over my mouth remembering how determinedly I’ve put in many an unlikely garden.  I haven’t always made huge yields from my efforts, but I have learned a lot about our food and I don’t regret any of the time or strength I’ve spent gardening.  The act, in itself, of a young man learning to grow food is a valuable practice and if he gets a bumper crop of one vegetable or another, he will get the opportunity to make some decisions about how to use it all.  And now, I’m thinking that abundance thing must be in the genes.

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