Garden, Plant, Cook!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Garden Like Your Quality Of Life Depended On It - Blast From The Past.

Dear Folks,

You have seen the references before - during World War II 40% of fresh foods were grown in backyards.

Here is a cool poster from 1917, with Uncle Sam urging home gardeners to save money.  Not mentioned is how wonderful home grown food tastes.  Our tomatoes are supplying us with yellow, striped and deep flavored options.  The last of our peaches are ripening and I'm still enjoying our summer apples, plus all the herbs for flavoring things.  My horseradish is getting close to harvesting time and I am awaiting a special order of sweet potato slips to plant for fall production.

Back to the poster - it is part of an exhibit at the National Archives on "What's Cooking, Uncle Sam?"

The exhibit explores some of the history of the government in the American dinner table, from farm to gardening, to shopping and menu planning, even the school lunch program.

What's For Lunch?

One of the posters is for something called "Ham Shortcake" one of the very first menu items in the school lunch program in 1946. The poster for the recipe feeds 100.  For a similar recipe to try at home, check out the one on  These kind of recipes arose out of farm life to make the most of what you had available.  In expensive and nutritious, this would make a hearty lunch for children or adults.  Fresh fruit or a salad on the side would make this a pretty complete meal.  By the way, when I say salad, I do not mean just lettuce and tomatoes.  To qualify as a good-for-you salad I personally like to have about 5 different ingredients - not including the croutons!  Greens (add fresh herbs to the mix of greens), tomatoes, celery, carrots, peppers, Jicama, maybe a small amount of shredded cabbage or kale, olives, apple if you want something sweet, dressing on the side so each person can add their own.  That also makes storing left over salad easier, it is not swimming in excess dressing and stays fresher, longer.  If you make up a large batch and store in the frig, it is easy to grab some for meals because all you need is the dressing.

If you are having trouble getting started gardening or don't think you have enough space for what you want to grow, check out community gardens in your area.

In the East Valley, Mesa Community College has opened up a community garden to the public with folks able to rent a 10 x 20 plot for $80 / year.  Considering they provide the water and access to help that is a smoking deal.

Because I am such a cookbook and food research nut, I am constantly reminded of how different foods we eat and meals are today (on average) from 40+ years ago.

In those years we were far more like our European neighbors.  Foods served were more seasonal and fresher.  Leftover fresh were canned.  "Leftovers" were "made over" into nutritious meals with little waste.

Digressing here a bit...
Did you happen to see the info-mercial on the vacuum food-storage ad? (I was at the gym - don't laugh - and working on the treadmill and watching the cooking channel - I said I was a nut.)  Anyway back to the ad, they wanted to show how a family wastes food by simply storing in the freezer, store packaged meats.  They tossed and tallied everything "freezer-burned" after 2 weeks!!!!!  I don't get it.  I think the vacuum storage option is great for some folks, but tossing the freezer-burned foods without assessing whether you can make a stew or soup is mind-boggling.  Once you understand the safe food handling options wasting food is just not right.  I grew up in one of those families where we told repeatedly that people were starving in (fill in the blanks -- now a days it could be your neighbor who is out of work) and I was supposed to appreciate the food I had on my plate.  Well it did make me eat the food, no matter how much I did not want to (flash forward to Bill Crosby's famous ad of children eating without swallowing LOL), and we did not have a lot of food choices - my mom bought what she could afford).

The point is careful consideration to what is seasonal and fresh, making it easier on yourself to prepare meals (for example: making a large batch of grains and freezing in portions for one meal (times how many are in your household), in addition to the easy salad reference above, and maybe sharing an abundance with neighbors is a better 'modern' way to approach food - by going backwards to what worked before.

If I get into one of my cooking modes and prepare more than we can feasibly eat in a couple of meals I share with my elderly neighbor, or my working mom neighbor.

Food can be about community and maybe should be.  What is growing locally, what are you growing and cooking and who can you share it with.  Food binds us whether we are family, extended family or a community - we have choices.

Have a wonderful day,

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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