We had dinner with friends last week and one of the dishes was a wonderful casserole of dried eggplant with a walnut sauce. I asked the cook about the origins and he said that he came across the recipe in an old Armenian cookbook. He got the cookbook as he realized that Armenia had a climate similar to ours and grew many of the staples that do well around here. I have read a Polish cookbook and found the same thing. The Poles grew turnips, cabbage, beets and potatoes and raised a lot of pork. We do the same. It seems like having a couple of good, old time cooking guides from those Eastern European countries with long, cold winters and temperate summers might be a good plan. The recipes don’t call for anything not local except for a few spices and none require picky techniques. Martha Stewart would not be impressed maybe but I am.
I also had a long conversation with a photagrapher on Friday about recreating beers, breads and pickles from recipes from long ago and far away. I had no idea that beers were flavored with all kinds of herbs like rosemary and sweet woodruff. He’s also the only person I know besides my good friend, Leni, who uses his must from wines and beers to make unique sourdough breads. Although he was taking pictures outdoors and I was only wearing a sweater and vest (I was freezing) the converstion was so warm I hated to go inside. This gentleman is writing a book on the Shakers which is how we got started talking about old food. He’s also a big fan of really old cookbooks form the Easterm European countries.
We have so much to learn from our elders. I never really knew my grandparents; one set had died before I was born and the other lived in Texas and we seldom visisted with them. I do however, know a lot of very old people right here in my neighborhood. Maybe it’s time to start picking their brains (and recipe files!) Whenever I hear someone say that we can’t live without the inputs from a technology based culture, I remeber that families lived in my house during the civil war. They didn’t have indoor plumbing, electricity, central heat or a municipal water system. Somehow they managed to eat and dance and write and enjoy their lives. We can too.