Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Growing up Locavore in the Fifties

In case the word doesn't explain itself, a Locavore is someone who tries to eat locally.

It makes perfect sense for many so reasons. As good old semi-hippies we have been onto this one for a long time, but it sure is nice to see the idea go mainstream. There is hope for this world yet!

I just read ''Animal, Vegetable, Miracle", by Barbara Kingsolver, who is one of my all-time favorite writers. The book describes Barbara's move to the farm in Virginia and the family's efforts to live more or less strictly on local food for the year. They grow a lot of their own.

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Growing Up Locavore in the Fifties

During my childhood in post-war Holland eating with the seasons was still the normal way of life.

I'd say produce was 90% local. There was a band of market gardens, many with greenhouses, surrounding Amsterdam. They got paved over when the city expanded in the mid fifties.

Shopping for bread, milk and produce was done daily, at specialized stores or by home delivery. Most people did not own a fridge or a car and there were no supermarkets. Mothers were at home, whether they enjoyed it or not. Mine didn't, but that is a whole other topic.

Winter was the time for fat winter carrots, Brussel's sprouts, witloof, various cabbages, leeks, onions, endive, and kale. Sourkraut, liberally spiced with juniper berries, was scooped up fresh from the vat at the greengrocer's.

Vegetables like fresh lettuce, cauliflower, green beans, broad beans, had to wait for spring and summer.
First would come the more expensive greenhouse crop, which my frugal mother might serve on a Sunday, but certainly not during the week. A few weeks later we would come to the main season, when green snap beans or cauliflower would be available "van de kouwe grond", literally "from the cold ground".

I didn't mention potatoes, because they went without saying. If you asked mother what was for dinner, the answer would be the vegetable of that day. Potatoes with jus, made with the Sunday meat and stretched with Blue Band margarine (yuck, in retrospect) to last all week, were always on the table. Protein was meat only on Sunday.

On weekdays the protein might be an egg, or a slice of blood sausage, a tiny piece of smoked sausage, or fish, or it might be missing altogether. We got plenty of cheese at other meals and were in no danger of kwashiorkor.

Delicacies like strawberries, raspberries, cherries and red currants were all available for a brief but much prized season only. My birthday is in July. Never mind cake, the special treat was always a tall glass with various soft red fruits layered with vanilla ice-cream and whipped cream.

Broccoli, zucchini and green peppers were still unknown, garlic frowned upon and generally disliked. I remember my grandparents returning from a bus tour to Austria with a bunch of garlicky sausage. It was declared to be inedible.

During the sixties the place became more cosmopolitan. These days Dutch supermarkets have the usual assortment of everything, from everywhere, all the time.

However, when I became a gardener in Canada I went back to eating with the seasons, because it just makes sense!

One of my favorite crops is KALE. It gives us the first tender greens in spring, the last fresh food in fall, and its abundance feeds chickens as well.

I was incredibly proud when a Vancouver food writer described my garden as "the mother of all kale gardens".

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