Yes, there are those who claim that the present food landscape sparkles with the dreamy hue reminiscent of rose-colored glasses, that the perfume of nostalgia permeates too much of present-day “discourse” on food. And then there’s the flip side of that discourse — I hate that word, so pompous, nay, plump with the moral sensitivities of a Cotton Matheresque preacher — the self-righteous guilt-producers crusading to turn every bottle of milk into a white elixir free of anything but pure “cowness.”* Ditto eggs. Ditto greens. Ditto, ditto, ditto.
In other words, the holy organic, the true path, the way of our ancestors. (Tongue in cheek at this point, but still a kernel of truth.)
Peddling fear of food or yearning for non-existent days of yore, at one point these two actually merge, much like libertarians and right-wingers join together quietly as it all comes full circle.
Stepping back from the constant exhortations to “eat organic” or grow my own tomatoes or feel guilty about the plight of chickens and cows (and believe me, I do feel very badly about the factory mentality that allows all of us to buy meat at much reduced prices), I take refuge in my kitchen, my cookbooks, and my “foodie” books by writers like M. F. K. Fisher, Elizabeth David (much maligned in certain circles), and Roy Andries de Groot. In other words, books that extol food memories as portrayed in Éduard Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’Herbe. (I try not to think of the one flaw — the naked woman and the undeniable insect population that usually attends picnics in swarms … .)
More and more, the shrillness of the pure-food advocates, the Pollan and the Waters groupies, turns me off my feed. Their fear-mongering strips the jubilance found in the act of eating.
You see, I enjoy eating, the blissful enchantment of it.
I learned this — again — the hard way. Recently, a vicious stomach virus laid me flat for a week. I could not eat. In a few delirious moments I dreamed of Africa, where I once suffered from amoebas and lost 15 pounds in two weeks. I couldn’t eat then, either.
Food is indeed a blessing and being able to eat an even greater one. It inserts a bit of magic into the routine of everyday life. Even if it’s the same food at every meal, as is the case in much of the world, food still provides pleasure.
That’s why, from now on, I’ll be writing about cookbooks — primary sources for historical contemplation in spite of what some pundits say — and other food writing, a lot of it international (where people still actually struggle to get enough to eat and don’t have the liberty or the money to be fussy about their food), still focusing on history, ever mindful of the sacrifice of the animals who die so that we may live and of the labor of the people who produce the food sizzling in my pans, but refusing to buy into the current dietary fad (and it IS a fad) based on so much fear.
On the radiator the sections of tangerines have grown even plumper, hot and full. You carry them to the window, pull it open, and leave them for a few minutes on the packed snow of the sill. They are ready.
All afternoon you can sit, then, looking down on the corner. Afternoon papers are delivered to the kiosk. Children come home from school just as three lovely whores mince smartly into the pension’s chic tearoom. A basketful of Dutch tulips stations itself by the tram-stop, ready to tempt tired clerks at six o’clock. Finally the soldiers stump back from the Rhine. It is dark.
The sections of the tangerine are gone, and I cannot tell you why they are so magical. Perhaps it is that little shell, thin as one layer of enamel on a Chinese bowl, that crackles so tinily, so ultimately under your teeth. Or the rush of cold pulp just after it. Or the perfume. I cannot tell. (From Serve it Forth)
See what I mean?
Nostalgia — yes. Romanticism — yes.
*If they’d ever drunk milk straight from the cow, they’d know just what pure “cowness” would taste and smell like.
CANDIED TANGERINE PEELS
8 tangerines, washed well
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups water
Superfine granulated sugar for coating
Peel tangerines with a sharp vegetable peeler and cut into 1/8-inch julienne strips. Put strips/zest into a pan with cold water, bring to a boil, and drain.
Place sugar, water, and zest in a pan, bring to boil, then reduce to a simmer, and cook for about 45 minutes until zest is translucent and syrup is thick.
Remove zest from syrup (save syrup for another use if desired) and put zest on well-oiled baking rack over baking sheets covered with foil or wax paper. Let zest cool — when almost dry, sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar. Allow to dry completely. Keeps two days at room temperature in an air-tight container.
© 2010 C. Bertelsen