GOOD FOOD: by Pene ThorntonNews Weekly
There are ants and there are grasshoppers
, March 1, 2014
As I dimly recollect the story of “The Ant and the Grasshopper”, from a copy of The Children’s Book of Aesop’s Fables, I realise that I am an ant, storing away the summer’s bounty for the cold and dark winter to come.
Not for me the grasshopper’s weekly trip to the fruit and veg section of the supermarket or visit to the greengrocer.
The author’s fruit and vegetable patch.
No, I am an ant, industrious and organised. I take pleasure in the shelves of bottled fruit and two full freezers containing enough fruit from the bountiful summer months for winter and spring eating to come.
Although we live on an average suburban block, my husband and I have enough fruit trees and bushes to enable us to be self-sufficient in fruit all year round.
From November, raspberries, to June, the last of the apples, I bottle, freeze, dehydrate and make fruit liquors, chutneys, relishes, jellies and jams. A chutney recipe that calls for one kilo of fruit does little to make a dent in the quickly ripening fruit still on the tree.
When I feel overwhelmed, I call for willing volunteers to take the surpluses from me.
The dogs help me pick raspberries and other berry fruit by delicately separating the fruit from the prickly stems and gorge themselves on the windfalls and crunch peach stones stolen from the kitchen bench, all with no apparent ill-effect.
One February, I heard a radio presenter say that the preserving season was nearly over. Nearly over! For the next two weeks I had peaches to process. The plum season was just over, the pears were nearly ripe, with apples and quinces still to come.
When I visit my step-daughter in Melbourne, my suitcase is full of jars of jams, jellies and chutneys and bottles of fruit liquor. Apricot brandy is a particular favourite. Every Christmas I buy three bottles of brandy, one for brandy butter and festive uses, and two for making apricot brandy.
My husband (her father) scans the newspaper advertisements for liquor specials, gin for sloes, rum for rumtopf and vodka for practically any fruit. Cold winter nights are warmed by remembrance of balmy summer days as we sip, sample and compare this year’s liquid bounty with previous years’.
By May every year, I am “over” the preserving thing; but come spring I am monitoring the blossom and planning the season to come.
I also grow some vegetables. In my opinion there is nothing better that eating produce that if any fresher would still be in the ground. I commented to a friend, as I handed her a bag of broad beans, that I had picked them the day before, so in my opinion they weren’t fresh. She just looked at me!
I like to know where my food comes from. Fortunately, the rise of farmers’ markets makes foraging for food easy, and it is so much more pleasurable than going to the supermarket.
A long time ago my mother advised that it is important to “know your butcher” — piece of advice I have never regretted taking.
I regularly go to my local farmers’ market to buy pork products, lamb and some vegetables. The conversations with stall-holders are so interesting, and very often one is able to buy a cut of meat that is not available at supermarkets because “there is no demand for it”.
I buy beef from a farmer who raises male milk-breed calves. These calves, who would otherwise be slaughtered at seven days, take about a year to raise until they are of a reasonable size. They are sold by the half or quarter of a beast, and all that one needs is freezer space.
I know that they have lived a good life, had as trauma-free slaughtering as possible and taste good.
I have also noticed that crackling is never a problem to achieve when roasting a joint from an old-fashioned breed of pig. Yes, the meat may be fattier, but it tastes better and you don’t eat so much to feel satisfied.
Food should not be cheap. Good food has more than a monetary value; it is what we put in our bodies to fuel our lives.
Does what we choose to eat reflect our lifestyle? I find convenience food addictive, and every so often I succumb.
I know what good food tastes like, and after a while taking the easy option every time begins to pall, so I wean myself off yet another fad.
How many people say that they hate supermarket shopping? I am ambivalent about supermarkets; but I love foraging, and building relationships with small businesses.
Yes, it takes time, but time spent in pleasurable activity doesn’t feel wasted. The young children I see accompanying their parents at the local farmers’ market are learning a valuable lesson for the future — good food demands time and attention.
Pene Thornton has been nominated for a Clarence City Council Australia Day award for her voluntary work in Landcare.