As a homesteader, this is one act in the year when only one of the ingredients was actually grown here. I am using eggs which I froze during the summer, when the hens were laying in abundance. But I do not grow enough wheat for flour, have a milk-beast from whose offering to make butter, nor do I have bees. Of course, sugar (granulated and powdered), baking soda, molasses and most of the candied fruits would have to come from off site, as do the nuts, as my trees are all just babies. For a once-a-year special occasion, I bring in the necessary supplies - as the pioneers did, if they could. I do try to keep as much local as I can; the honey and the sifted wheat flour are both standards in the pantry.
But I was also thinking about tradition. Some of my friends are grandparents with their grand littles near at hand but not all of them are happy cookie bakers, with or without pint size helpers. While I do remember helping my mom with much that she did in the kitchen, cookie-baking included, "baking cookies with..." was not a designated traditional holiday happening. Mom baked, I helped just like any other day. The root of my holiday baking tradition comes from the year I was 11 or 12 and in 6th grade. We were studying other countries that year and each of us picked a country to research in detail and present an oral report. I picked France, and included Napoleons that I had made, one for each of my classmates and the teacher, as a "visual (and edible) aid." That got me thinking, later in the year, about Christmas
traditions around the world. I researched many counties traditional cookies and picked a large selection to bake for our
|Lebkuchen need to age|
with an apple or orange
to add moisture
|Russian Tea Cakes|
I modified my tradition (yes, even though I am not an experimental eater, I do that from time to time!) years ago, swapping in pastry whole wheat flour for the white stuff and now I just use the Maine Grains organic sifted wheat flour for everything in my kitchen.
|Butter cookie suns, moons|
(full, crescent and gibbous),
stars and wreath shapes.
Having got the cookies done for the day, it was time to think about supper. I wanted something quick and easy and do keep a few commercial meat products on hand for such times, in addition to the home grown poultry, local pork from the whole pig we bought from a friend and processed, along with home made sausage, ground turkey and a delicious supply of venison shared by a neighbor who could not fit both the deer she shot and the one her husband took into the freezer.
Since the oven was already hot, I had Tractor Guy halve a butternut squash from our garden, which I baked. And then, since the oven was still already hot, I pulled out a bag of fish sticks (we call them stick fishes just for fun) and put them in the oven. BUT I did not want to take the time to peel and slice and oil potatoes for oven fries -- a common starchy side with the stick fishes -- nor did I have a fresh cabbage from which to make slaw.
Let me take a step to the side here and say how glad I am that Tractor Guy is being able to move away from strictly traditional food pairings -- that quite often would require (a) something processed from the store or (b) eating out of season. It's something many of us may not even be aware of, and others struggle with:
- sandwiches "require" chips or fries
- fish "requires" chips and slaw
- pork "requires" kraut and/or applesauce
- meat "requires" gravy and gravy "requires" mashed potatoes
- chili "requires" corn bread and/or cheese
- eggs "require" meat
- beer "requires" pretzels
Eating what you have stored, and what is in season, requires change. And in the spirit of this article, our supper consisted of a baked winter squash as a veg and rice, cooked with dried pieces of onion and bell pepper, since I had a lousy crop of onions this year and we used our last fresh onion last week. Typically I cook the rice and then add it to a skillet in which I have sauteed some veg: onions and celery, usually and sometimes frozen bell pepper. And for me, since fish "requires" lemon, (we do have some frozen lemons, but I did not want to take the time to thaw one) I tried the Brit thing with vinegar... our own apple cider version, not the malt. Eh. Not as good as with lemon, in my mind about like eating the fish un-garnished, which I will likely continue to do when lemon is not at hand.
Food is so much more than "just something to eat" in so many ways. It can be consolation, perhaps help us sooth stress (or at least make us think it can) or even bring back strong memories of times of not having enough. I learned this last lesson from my former husband, who said soup never filled him up. Now, I never served watery or (Gods forbid) commercial soups. My soups, whether vegetarian, with meat flavor or actual meat, are all thick and substantial. In fact, many of them could easily be mistaken for stew, except for the smaller pieces into which the ingredients are cut. In talking with former hubs, I learned that through much of his youth as a latch-key kid, on his own during summer school vacations, his mom would set out a single can of commercial soup for him to warm for lunch. That was it, he said. Just the soup, no crackers, bread or anything else. This continued as he became a teen! Now, maybe not all teenagers have the voracious appetites of legend, but it was obvious from his story that the soup was insufficient. Why he did not "graze" on other foodstuffs or ask his mom for more is not for this story.
I had noticed that he loved and often complimented me on my "hearty, meaty stew" even when the only "meat" in the stew was the flavor from stock and no actual pieces were present. So I began an experiment. For a month, we ate a lot of soup and stew. It was winter, and that was not that uncommon a dish for us, so no red flags were raised. But what I did was to make my usual run of soups (potato, bean, vegetarian veg, veg with meat, chicken noodle, and even split pea) and made notes on the calendar when I served each one, the side dishes and Hubs' comments if any. Then I used the same recipes (well.. as much as I do recipes LOL) but cut the ingredients in to larger pieces and called the meal "stew." That was the extent of the difference. And yes, we had some strange stews. Potato stew, anyone? Vegetable stew? Chicken noodle stew? Strange thing was, Hubs did not make any comment on the names or the dishes, other than declaring, with great fervor near the end of the experiment, after a meal of vegetarian vegetable stew "now THAT was a meaty, filling dish!" I could not help it, but ended the experiment early, telling him first off that there was no meat at all involved, not even beef broth (which, at the time, I happened to be out of!) I even had to show him the cabinet where the broth and bullion cubes were kept, because he kept insisting he had tasted meat. But then I dropped the bombshell and told him that was exactly like my vegetarian vegetable soup, except cut into larger pieces, and that I had been doing this all month. It took dragging him to the calendar to show him my notes and then he had a hard time believing it. He never did get to the point where he felt satisfied after a meal of "soup" but from then on, we had many fine meals of stew, some with large pieces and some with smaller ones and all satisfied the man.