Chef: ‘Cultural amnesia persists about origins of food

HARPERS FERRY – As a toddler, my son had a conversation with his grandmother about the relationship between chickens and eggs. She had explained to him that eggs came from chickens. The knowing 3-year-old’s response: “Don’t be silly, Grandma. Eggs come from the store.”

He wasn’t wrong, not wrong at all. For most of us, that is exactly where our eggs and all other foods come from. It is simply the way of life in our modern world, and the easy access to dairy, meat and produce has caused a kind of cultural amnesia about our food sources.

And it must be said that despite occasional food-borne illness spikes, “pink slime” or animal abuse situations, the vast majority of our food production is conducted and inspected in a way designed to ensure that we have safe, available and convenient foods. So why bother to seek out fresh local alternatives to what is available in the grocery store aisle?

Apart from the obvious – supporting local growers and farmers, boosting the local economy, reducing our carbon imprint – I can offer some other reasons: freshness, taste, community and fun.

As a chef, I always seek the freshest ingredients I can to work with – the fresher, the better. There’s more flavor, more texture. I am able to be much more creative with spinach just picked and washed, than with spinach picked earlier that has been shipped, washed, stuffed in a plastic bag and left on the grocery shelf. You have all smelled “the smell” when you open the bag.

Friday evening brings the start of Wild Food Weekend Retreat, to be held at For the Love of Children in Harpers Ferry. I am planning a gourmet dinner with the ingredients supplied by our hikers, and am really looking forward to the challenge. At this time of the year I expect to have dandelions, sorrel and nettles to name just a few. Our menu will include soft-shell crabs with wild onions and garlic mustard, chicken marinated in dandelion and nettle beer. I can’t wait and am very excited to see what our participants will bring back for me to use. Cooking starts with the eye and the nose; and finishes with taste and texture. Every sense is involved in preparing and eating food – and it should always be pleasurable. There’s still a bit of time left to sign up for the retreat, which concludes with a cooking demonstration and brunch on Sunday afternoon. Contact Kristen Dorsey of Divine Journeys in Martinsburg at Kristen@Divine-Journeys.com or at 304-261-8157.

For those unable to come to this weekend’s retreat, there are numerous resources available to determine which natural plants are edible and when they are at their peak including “Peterson Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants and Edible Wild Plants.” Going out on a hike and finding natural ingredients yourself is a relaxing, entertaining and involved way to ensure that freshness and goodness. Joining up with friends and family to search out wild greens is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. When you get your bounty home, a wonderful cooking and storing resource is www.celtnet.org.uk.

Another idea: Get your produce from a local organic farm. For me, it’s a way to provide my customers with the freshest, most nutritious fare that I can, and food that has no added chemicals or enhancement. Chef Cindy Gruber and I will be at the Morgan’s Grove Farmer’s Market this summer offering prepared foods with ingredients supplied by other vendors in the market – truly, the freshest ingredients available.

Buying products from your local farmer’s market also provides a sense of community and fun. You get to meet the people growing and raising what you are ingesting. You get to take the measure of those growers. You get information about what you are buying, recipes and suggestions. In turn, they get feedback, suggestions, recipes and encouragement from you.

Going to the farmer’s market may be the one time during the week you get to meet with friends or neighbors with the same busy schedule you have. You can talk with them about local items, gossip and enjoy each other’s company.

 

– Miriam Conroy, a chef and caterer, owns Chef Miriam, a Harpers Ferry-based catering business. Her trademark: local flavors with a French flair. Reach her at Miriam@chefmiriam.com.

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