Rainy Weekend of Apples and Michael Twitty

Freshly picked Honeygold, Bert’s Special, Crimson Crisp, Jonagold, Daybreak Fuji and Alvin Gilliam’s Seedling apples.

My Saturday and Sunday shifts at the orchard were cancelled because of almost continuous thunderstorms during the weekend.

I’ll miss the income, although will get by.

Saturday I canned the next batch of tomatoes. With the pantry containing 24 quarts of whole and diced, 24 quarts of tomato water and 48 pints of whole and diced, there should be enough to last all of 2020 and then some. I didn’t mention the quart bags of tomato sauce in the freezer… or the four dozen fresh on the counter… or the next wave ready for harvest. We’re good on tomatoes.

Sunday was a punk day. To get out of the house and take my daily exercise I returned to the orchard and picked the apples in the photo… in the rain… wearing the wax jacket I bought in Stratford, Ontario during one of our summer trips when our daughter was in high school. The wax jacket worked as far as keeping the rain off goes. The plastic lining made it too hot for humans by the time I returned to the sales barn to pay for my apples. I lost count of how many varieties of apples I tried thus far this season, maybe two dozen. The Robinette and Alvin Gilliam’s Seedling were astoundingly flavorful. It would be tough for me to return to supermarket apples.

Every once in a while we are reminded of how little we actually know about our daily lives. While it rained I made it halfway through Michael W. Twitty’s book The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South. It is one of few books I know like it. Twitty presents expository words about his genetic history and how that influenced the culture of slavery from a culinary perspective. He brings together something worth studying if interested at all in the local food movement.

There is a lot in the book. Although I don’t consume much meat and no fish or seafood, I’ve been thinking about my approach to growing and cooking since I started the book. Twitty provides new insight into the idea of a kitchen garden and using food that’s found or produced locally. There is a lot of discussion of greens, the liquid they are cooked in, and staples like corn, rice and root vegetables. I consider my own culinary practices and it’s a hodge-podge of dishes, techniques and ingredients rather than something coherent as Twitty recounts.

Culinary times have changed since the 17th and 18th century through increased urbanization. If everyone that lives in the nearby cities of Cedar Rapids and Iowa City trekked out to the country to forage nuts, wild plants, fish and game on a subsistence basis, the land would soon be stripped clean. That’s not to mention land in private ownership with prime foraging areas and posted no trespassing signs. In that sense, only a small percentage of the population can return to that lifestyle. When the oceans are over-fished, and marine ecosystems are collapsing there is no reason to consume more fish and seafood. When poring over a menu that contains sushi, I shake my head and end up explaining to diners at my table why it shouldn’t be consumed. It doesn’t always go over well.

At the same time there is an ecology of food. If the cultural elements have changed, the instinctual behavior hasn’t. There’s a lot to learn and think about in The Cooking Gene. That’s part of why we read books.

Next I need another walk near the lake or through the orchard to let the ideas ferment. Only then will I see whether it is fleeting enthusiasm or something from which to make structural changes in my kitchen garden.

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