Saturday, June 13, 2009

A Matter of Perspective

Growing weather; enough rain;
the cow's udder tight with milk;
the peach tree bent with its yield;
honey golden in the white comb;

the pastures deep in clover and grass,
enough, and more than enough;

the ground, new worked, moist
and yielding underfoot, the feet
comfortable in it as roots;

the early garden: potatoes, onions,
peas, lettuce, spinach, cabbage carrots,
radishes, marking their straight rows
with green, before the trees are leafed;

raspberries ripe and heavy amid their foliage,
currants shining red in clusters amid their foliage,
strawberries red ripe with the white
flowers still on the vines--picked
with the dew on them, before breakfast...

from The Satisfactions of the Mad Farmer, by Wendell Berry

This evening, after an afternoon of long anticipated food experimentation (chronicled below--hooray for the return of recipes to The Raw and the Cook!) I was finally set loose in the strawberries. We had a rain yesterday morning as we harvested for CSA, and as a result, any ripe berries will rot on the vine if they aren't harvested quickly. We handed out quart containers to our Saturday shareholders and let them pick away, but as the steady stream of members slowed to a trickle red berries still winked from the patch.

I've been eyeing these tantelizing morsels for about a week now, with only the occasional indulgence when Don and Bridget's kids harvested the first few to share. We all ate those first berries with the exquisite slowness of folks who don't know when they'll get their next. Shareholders come first, afterall, even if farmers do get to glean.

With our next distribution not until Tuesday, however, the berries in the field this evening were now fair game. I danced down the pathway with a basket and an empty stomach. In the silvery late afternoon light, I crouched by the bed and hunted for the maroon-ripe berries. As I tasted my way from plant to plant, Wendell Berry sprang to mind, and I let gratitude for all of the blessings of the season settle into my soul. I could not think of anything I would rather be doing, or any place I would rather be, than right there, with juicy fingers and a heavy basket of fruit.

And yet. Soon after, another reference to strawberries sprang to mind, from Eric Schlosser's excellent book Reefer Madness. In Reefer Madness, Schlosser explores the workings of America's three largest illegal enterprises: marajuana, pronography, and illegal immigrant labor. As a case study for the labor chapter, Schlosser takes a closer look at the strawberry fields of California, where, more often than not, illegal immigrants--rather than excited shareholders-- are the people picking the strawberries. There, strawberries are commonly nicknamed "the fruit of the devil" for the intensity of their cultivation, the physicality of their harvest, and the low associated wages. Even as I am in my personal heaven, I can already feel a crick in my back from bending over and looking beneath the leaves, and I've only be out for about 30 minutes. Additionally, I'm harvesting in the pleasant temperatures of dusk, rather than the brutal sun of a California afternoon.

Schlosser reports that there are better and worse strawberry companies (a job picking for Driscoll is reported to be the most desireable, by far), but even so, conventional strawberries are one of the most pesticide laden crops on the market. Strawberries' thin skins absorb any chemicals with which they come into contact.

Sitting in the field and eating berries is an immenently simple pleasure for me. And yet these little fruits are are part of something far from simple, anything but pleasureable. The stories that bring us our food are not often so straight forward as mine was this afternoon, and we are not the only ones who stand to loose from this obscurity.

As I mentioned, it was an afternoon of culinary adventuring, and I am happy to share the results with any other daring eaters. From the excellent traditional American cookbook Country Tastes (Beatrice Ojakangas) I found a recipe for Rhubarb Marmelade, and from my fantastic soup cookbook, Soup (Pippa Cuthbert and Lindsay Cameron Wilson) the instructions for Rhubarb, Mango, and Jasmine Soup. Admittedly, I should have made the soup in Colombia, when I actually had local access to both mangoes and rhubarb. But I didn't. So I did today. And, if you believe in labels at least, it was a fairly traded mango. My guilt is mostly assuaged.

Rhubarb Marmalade

8 cups sliced rhubarb
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 T chopped fresh ginger
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 T grated orange peel
2 t grated lemon peel
2 oranges, peeled, seeded, sectioned
21 lemon, peeled, seeded, sectioned
1 1/2 cups walnut halves

In a enamel or stainless steel pot, combine the rhubarb, orange juice, lemon juice, and ginger. (There will not be much liquid initially, but once the heat gets going the rhubarb will basically juice itself). Bring to a boil and cover to keep the steam in. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, until the rhubarb is soft.

Stir in the sugar and return to a boil. Boil rapidly for 5 minutes, stirring constantly.

Add the peels and orange and lemon sections. Return to a boil, then promptly remove from heat. Add the walnuts.

Pour into hot sterilized pint jars and cap with sterilized lids and rings. Process in a boiling water bath fpr 15 minutes.

Rhubarb, Mango, and Jasmine Soup
(this is a dessert soup if ever there was one. Exotic and sweet, but certainly not suitable for a main course! My apologies for the weight measurements--my cookbook is British)

800 mL water
3 jasmine tea bags OR 3 T loose jasmine tea leaves, in a strainer (I used a Teavana mixture of Jasmine and Tropical Rooibus tea.)
750 g rhubarb, chopped
750 g mango, chopped (about two mangoes)
250 g sugar (you can cut this back without hurting anything.)
2 T finely chopped ginger
1 vanilla pod (or you can just add a bit of vanilla extract)
250 mL yogurt

Bring the water to a boil and add the tea. Let it steep for 15 minutes. Discard the tea leaves and add the rhubarb, mango, sugar, and ginger.

If you are using the vanilla pod, slit it to get the seeds and add the seeds and pod to the pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until the fruit is tender, about 20 minutes. If you are using vanilla extract, add it after the fruit has simmered.

Remove from heat and cook slightly, Puree until smooth, then whisk in the yogurt, and chill until ready to serve.

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