When there's a stash of strawberries in the fridge, and when there's rhubarb in the neighbor's yard down the road (which she has told you to come and pick), you tend to think about strawberry-rhubarb jam. You think about that sweet-tart taste slathered on toast, on biscuits, and even warmed, then drizzled over cheese cakes.
You might even think about eating it right off a spoon, straight from the jar, if truth be told.
And in those jars of ruby-colored jam lined up there on the pantry shelf, sits a bit of a dream come true: provisioning the cupboards with handmade food.
I couldn't have known the treasure that my parents were handing me in the wholesome diet they provided when I was growing up. Of necessity, and a love for gardening, my family grew much of our own food. I learned to prepare it, to cook it, to jar and preserve it.
I remember making fresh whipped cream, sweetened with a dollop of raw honey. I remember making fresh cheese that squeaked between our teeth. The paddles of my grandmother's butter churn sloshed heavy cream until butter floated on top. I watched in awe.
The local dairy farmer, who sold raw milk by the gallons, would call in spring when he had an abundance, and we'd come get extra to make yogurt, which we'd drizzle with maple syrup and flavor with wild huckleberries.
Baking bread, cooking with whole grains, wild meat, and wholesome fats - all this was our normal. I guess you could say we were scratch cooks, making our food with ingredients instead of mixes, following recipes instead of directions. With the occasional exception, boxed, prepared foods just weren't part of our world.
This was my foundation, and my inspiration. It's the force that brings me to set wholesome food on our family's table, to seek local food, to turn the garden soil, to plant the seeds.
Reconciling the dream of whole food living with the reality of the budget has been a process. Though it's easy to get discouraged when the means don't meet the dream, we've persevered, doing what we can. Choosing to eat out less has made more money available for first-choice food in the pantry. Making what we need instead of buying it has helped, too (bread, iced tea, lemonade, anyone?). It really has been a little here, a little there.
Step-by-step, we are also making decisions, as we can, to support local providers, small-scale farmers, and independant suppliers. Supporting fair trade for things that can't be found locally (like chocolate and sugar), has become an interest and priority (when possible) as well.
For the first time, our freezer is full of grass-fed beef, grown by some friends down the road. And half a hog, that was grown just across the border in Montana, is cut and wrapped in our freezer, too. Throughout the summer, batches of free-range chickens from a local farmer will land in the freezer, or the canning jar (I ordered 50 this year! Yikes). Come fall, wild game will fill the empty spaces.
Along the way, there have been books that have built upon the foundation that my parents laid for me. The voices of their authors have brought even more to my adult understanding of food and our relationship with it. You may have read them, too:
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
Real Food by Nina Plank
An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler
The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters
How to Cook a Wolf by M.F.K. Fisher
Slice the strawberries, chop the rhubarb. This.