As I study food security, local and seasonal concerns always come up. While I know that it’s a good idea, I often find it hard to make personal changes. It was easy last summer when the farm markets were so active; but I struggled with local and seasonal as the fall wore on. I didn’t seem to know what to eat. But then, as I dug into into my pioneer roots, I discovered food memories I’d long forgotten…
My family has been in the West for many generations, and my parents were both children of the Depression. They grew up in farming and ranching communities, and idealized a frugal, rural life. We rarely shopped more than once a month when I was young, and every meal was a pantry meal.
My mother was a canner, and filled shelves with tomatoes, pickles, green beans, peaches, jams and applesauce, among many other foods. The cellar would be neatly lined with jars of summer’s bounty. Their modern life included the freezer, which she filled with red and green chile, meat, and masses of zucchini, grated for bread and casseroles. Frozen sweet corn was a regular side dish of winter meals.
My father’s root cellar was a mystery to me. For all that I did with him, I never visited that cellar. He would come in from the cold, arms full of his earthy treasures—turnips, potatoes, onions. His shop was my other room, though, and I often played there. The rafters hung with cloth bags full of dry fruits, which my parents had sliced and spread on screens on our roof in fall. Mom would stew them into dark compote that we’d eat over her delicious breads.
My dad was a gardener, raising peas, corn, onions, peppers, tomatoes and other vegetables, many of which went into the freezer, cellar or canner. He always planted extra summer squash, which vexed my mother, who had to deal with the inevitable surplus. He raised blue corn for meal, which he ground himself. It was quite coarse, and my mom would grease her cast iron skillet with bacon drippings and bake cornbread in it. We would eat it hot with butter and honey or molasses.
Meat is a powerful winter food. My mom remembers when winter was a natural time for storing and aging meat, something impossible in summer without electricity. It takes stored or bought feed to keep an animal through winter, so some get culled. Summer butchering was packed neatly and frozen. The winter kitchen was often warm, and perfumed with roasting meat and baking bread.
I think the food I remember the most was beans, which we ate regularly. I still love stewing them with onions and canned tomatoes, my mom’s favorite way to extend leftovers. My dad loved beans and often requested them for Christmas dinners.
When I was young, I resented my parents’ isolation and simplicity, longing for a modern world. Now I realize I lost something, which deserves to be remembered, resurrected: the connection to the seasons, of eating and the land. Not everything modern is progress. Surprisingly, I have rediscovered part of myself in the winter kitchen.