Archive for the ‘Speaking from the Past’ Category

Christmas Eve 2014: No Pictures, Please

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

Fez, Morocco…Christmas Eve. I couldn’t, didn’t take a picture, though my hand itched for the camera. All I have is mental images, translated here:

“And, this,” says Ali, the city guide, “is the caravanserai (CAR-uh-van-sir-I).” He continues, “The farmers stay here when they come to sell in the Medina.” A donkey wreathed in a rope harness stands in one corner. Two women pull veils closer around their faces and watch us warily, four American women, decidedly unveiled. The men stare at our way, expressionless. I look away to the baskets, woven from palm fronds holding onions, garlic bulbs, potatoes and carrots. Nearby, a cluster of chickens tied together at the feet, cluck and mutter, in a feathered pile on blue plastic mesh.

Ali points to a row of blue battered doors on the second floor. “That’s where the farmers sleep.”

Standing here is almost unbearably intimate. We. are. not. welcome. I smell the straw, the donkey dung, and the dust and try to nod or acknowledge a greeting? That we’ve intruded?  Ali led us here, but I can’t look away.

Each cobblestone lane in Fez’s Medina, seems more Canterbury Tales than 2015 Christmas Eve.  I’m jolted to remember the celebration of Jesus’ birth in an obscure stable in Bethlehem, another Mediterranean city 2000 years ago. This courtyard, this caravanserai, could be that barnyard. Tonight on a farm in South Dakota after Christmas Eve supper, my brother will read aloud the passage from Luke 2:7 in the New Testament:  “… and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” (Holy Bible, NIV). This real life moment in Fez feels like a very, very old story. Time travelers? Them? Us?









Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 21st, 2011

To add to your own Thanksgiving traditions, have a look at Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving Recipes and History, from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie by Kathleen Curtin, Sandra L. Oliver and Plimoth Plantation (2005). And, more about Thanksgiving and early life in New England at Plimoth Plantation.

Food Legends

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

Family food legends have a way of nourishing body and soul. 2011 marked the Minnesota State Fair’s inaugural Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance’s Heirloom Recipe Contest. I  joined in the judging to honor slices of cherished Minnesota family history. Eighteen women and men, aged 24 to 70, each displayed a story and a prepared recipe. The judges tasted potato soup, chocolate cake, ginger cookies, butterflake rolls , and perfectly cooked spare ribs with homemade sauerkraut.

Four stories and recipes broke out of the pack as the winners.

1st Place: Roberta Casey, St. Paul, MN. We laughed out loud at Roberta Casey’s story of her grandmother’s Pretzel Cookies and the lengths to which Roberta and her cousins went to get more than their fair share. Casey’s display was accurate right down to the layers of plastic wrap she described as being essential to her grandmother’s storage method. Hilma Cherney Rivan passed away at age 97. The family served Pretzel Cookies at her funeral reception.

2nd Place: Gwendolyn Swenson, North Branch, MN. Swenson used peaches for this version of Fruit Upside-Down Cake, presented on a Depression glass plate on a vintage doily. The crumb and flavor of the cake were excellent. Swenson noted: “I have been making the recipe for nearly 50 years. Mom is nearly 84 years old. So between the two of us, we been making this recipe for over 70 years.”

3rd Place:  Natalie Tangen, West St. Paul, MN.  Tangen told her grandparent’s touching love story and described the hard-working life Louise and Fred Paez shared. Members of the family still make Louise’s Spanish Rice and eat it rolled up in homemade tortillas. “Her rice with tortillas was simple fare, but lovingly made by her beautiful hands.”

4th Place: Josette Repke, Plymouth, MN, Wash-Day Supper. Josette remembers this  surprising delicious Wiener Hot Dish with Boiled Potatoes (or, if you prefer, Hot Dog Casserole) from Mondays of her childhood, the day the wash was always done.

Read the winner’s essays and try their recipes and read about previous contests.

The Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance, based in Chicago, debuted the competition in 2009 in Illinois and has since expanded to Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, and this year to Minnesota and Missouri, with plans to take the contest to more state fairs next year.–From Farm to Fork co-sponsors the event. Watch GMFA for information about 2012 participating fairs and information about how to enter.

The Year of Poultry

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

I marvel at all the people raising chickens…in the city. My food colleague, Janice Cole, has written a lovely book about it: Chicken and Egg: A Memoir of Suburban Homesteading with 125 Recipes (Chronicle Books, 2011). More about that in another post. Back to the actual animals.

Up to the 1960s and 70s in chickens were raised for what was called, ‘egg money.’ Farm wives sold eggs to have a little more money for groceries, things for their kids, and maybe a bit for themselves. Eggs were 30 cents a dozen. I rode my bike a half mile into the country from Irene, South Dakota, to Gladys and Edwin Larson’s farm to pick up  cartons for my mom.

Gladys and I walked into the hen house, the chickens scattering out of our way, as we picked the warm eggs, sometimes marked with a light smear of feces. All this seemed only natural. Though it was natural, as well, that we didn’t raise chickens ourselves.

I won’t be joining the ranks of chicken keepers in Minnesota. However, I do have a duck. I’d noticed a Mallard pair in my garden in early April. I’m a block from a pond, only accessible by crossing two streets. Didn’t think they’d find my yard very hospitable. And, then, there is the neighborhood coyote (I pronounce it ‘KY-yote.) But, last week, I saw the ducks quite close to the house and not particularly concerned that I was nearby:

Yesterday, I saw her, the hen, nesting in a pile of last fall’s maple leaves. She’s made a thick nest of those neglected leaves between a peony and the brick planter wall.

Today, the male was watching from further out in the yard. I understand that duck gestation is 28 days. We’ll see.



Raised Gardens and a Chicken-Wire Memory

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

I started gardening in raised beds last year. Special thanks to my neighbor Terry who built them for me! This year I’m adding four more beds.

Simple raised bed tips:  1)  Use screws, not nails, to connect the boards. They’ll hold together longer.

2) Brace the corners.

Before filling with 1/3 peat moss-1/3 vermiculite-1/3 mixed variety compost, I lined the beds with newspapers to discourage weeds and chicken wire to discourage burrowing animals.

(A side note on the chicken wire: Always reminds me of  homecoming parades in our small town in South Dakota. Instead of flowers as they use for the renowned Rose Bowl parade, we stuffed fluffed-up paper table napkins in the chicken wire to create our creations.

Coming up with the design was great fun! Really!)

But, I digress. Gardening season is here and I’m ready!





“My Antonia” Onstage

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

I was a teenager in a prairie town when I first read Willa Cather’s My Antonia — accent on the first ‘A.’ I’d read the Laura Ingalls Wilder “Little House” books and identified mightily with them. But, My Antonia was a revelation. I suppose I was beginning to know there was a big world beyond my little town. This wasn’t a kids’ book. Here was a story about the immigrant life and the promise of something more. For Antonia, the promise lies in the prairie.  For Jim, the narrator, it’s in cities and universities.

Cather wrote My Antonia and her other novels about prairie life long after she moved east from the Nebraska prairie. This and others of her novels mined her memories of the prairie, its harsh beauty, and, most importantly, the people.

Last week, I experienced a world premier stage production of My Antonia at the Illusion Theatre in downtown Minneapolis, showing through March 20, 2010. If you’re in or near Minneapolis, I highly recommend the show.

The stage was simple and the adaptation faithful to Cather’s book. Allison Moore captures the essence of the characters and the actors are just right in each part.

I left the theater refreshed, again connected to my own span of prairie memories and reminded of what we make from our memories. More about Cather and the food in My Antonia, soon.

A Moment in Time

Saturday, February 20th, 2010

I’m fascinated by the clues found in historical records. Sure, the outcome is often known, but the details can change the modern reader’s perspective. I love to imagine a moment in the past, when in command of some facts and moved by imagination, I recreate a moment to better understand its significance.

A picture on a calendar from 1929 gave me such a moment.  It’s a beautifully mounted photograph of a sunny child with two German Shepards.

The 1920’s were kind to small farm towns in the Midwest. The post-world war years were times of plentiful rains and good crops. Irene, South Dakota had a lively main street and thriving businesses, including Johnson Bros. & Iverson General Merchandise. Down the street, my grandfather operated C.H. Gunderson & Son, the son being my dad who was born in 1923. Grandfather sold tractors and cattle.

We know that in late October of 1929, a different era began. Within a few years, the rains stopped, the dust blew, and prosperity was a memory.

The current financial crisis has often reminded me of the stories I’ve read and heard from my parents about their childhood years in a lean time. This image from the calendar is both optimistic and bittersweet. It reminds me of the waves and rolls of time: what we keep, what we must relinquish, and what is sometimes gone against our wishes.