Food, food culture, food as culture and the cultures that grow our food

Actually, this IS my harvest

July 28, 2006

potager en fin juillet
Back to square one, but with better soil composition

At the kitchen gardens, the question on everyone’s lips is, ‘Don’t you feel utterly demoralised by the fact that since January, you’ve only been able to produce a shitload of weeds?” But because I can’t admit defeat in front of my neighbours, I usually answer that I grew these specific plants on purpose as green manure to improve soil condition, and that they they should count themselves lucky to bear witness to this premier harvest of green manures. One woman, a dislocated urban Algerian that has befriended me because I seem to fulfill her misguided notion of rural bliss and independent thought, brought her boyfriend out to ogle the melange of green and brown veg, saying that she would like to grow next season’s potager in this ‘fashion’ (façon), as if it were a bedhead coiffure.

Not a day goes by that I don’t think about how my ridiculous notion of gainful employment caused me to miss out on an entire summer season of ambling fruit. In the lower garden, my entire crop of melon plants (cantaloup, galia and water) rotted underneath the burgeoning weed mass that grew faster and higher than the ‘other’ intended crop. My peppers and luffahs never even emerged, my cukes wilted once exposed to the sunlight, and only the gourds, pumpkins and spaghetti squash dared enter the survival contest, competing with the weeds for sunlight and soil nutrients during the growing season that occured while I was up in the Polar Circle.

tangle of courgettes
A tangle of courgettes

During the first days of weeding, I engaged in the acultural act of wing-flapping every time I discovered a fruitbearing plant that had survived underneath the ‘canopy’. My vertical gardening arches are not exactly being used as I had intended, and I’ve just laid the surviving plants over the first rung, hoping they will get the hang of climbing before August. My neighbours feel sorry for me and give me piles of tomatoes, peppers and aubergines. In return, I give them fat bouquets of shiso, but everyone knows that to a French person, a tomato is worth a heq of a lot more than some strange hippy herb that their wife is just going to throw away anyway.

potager en fin juillet
View from upper garden, weeds used to mulch the preferred plants. Looks sloppy, but smells good and is less dusty. Hoping the intended plants will fill out a bit and get the eye to focus on their bountiful shapes instead of the mulching.

potager bas closeup
Closeup of le potager bas

On the bright side, I am truly impressed with the 15cm thick mats of vegetation that are quickly turning from mulch to compost right on what will soon be my autumn beds and I remind myself that I did intend to increase the soil’s organic matter by growing these particular plants. Under the parts where there is still remaining weed layer, I reach in and yank the alfalfa and buckwheat by the roots and roll the mat back over itself. When I’m done with a section of the row, I have voluminous ‘felted’ piece of weed mat that is easily manipulated to cover the planting surface. The soil texture is superb, dark and moist, so that the weeding process goes quickly, but every now and again I look at all the other folks’ gardens, nice and neat, light sand, scraped clean of all organic matter, and think about how dogmatic I am. Sidi ElGouche still jokingly refers to the mustard covercrop I grew last Spring as mayonnaise. It all reminds me of the intro in Masanobu Fukuoka’s book One Straw Revolution, where he talks about how often he screwed up before getting the hang of his own form of no-till agriculture.

Enough talking shit about my garden, the courgette, calabash gourds, spaghetti squash and pumpkin plants all have numerous flowers, and I’ve seen a bunch of slutty bees engage them in some thorough and lengthy deep-kissing, only to go on to the next plant when they’ve had enough, flitting back and forth from the sunflowers. The summer isn’t halfway over.

Potager haut en fin juillet
When the plants fill out in a few weeks, I’m hoping that some of my intended colour fields will begin to emerge.

(Please

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Daddy brung home the bacon

July 26, 2006

Jamón Iberico
Jamón Iberico, oooh Mama!

If you haven’t been home for six weeks, there’s really nothing that screams ‘I love you, Mama!’ like a big fat ham. Especially when that ham was raised on acorns, rooting around under the dappled shade of oak trees in Southern Spain. I swear these animals lead better lives than we do. Just compare your potential career as a ham to travelling back and forth across the Puddle and to and fro from the Continent and you’ll understand where I’m going with this. So after six weeks of absence, Mama was pleased with the return of her ham-bearing man, but more importantly, it seems she has developed a talent for shaving off ultra-thin slices of the complexly flavoured meat.

What, you like my cooking?
Mama ends up being a superb ham slicer

Only a few short days after his return, my parents arrive for their first visit, and nothing screams, ‘Welcome, crazy Jewish people!’ like a big fat ham. My family has its own funky brand of Judaism, ‘Jewism’ as Mama calls it, and we don’t let centuries of learned post mortem debate and culture get in the way at the dinner table. I’m certain that my porkatarianism stems from the forbidden fruit aspect genetically instilled in me by several millenia of inbreeding. Growing up, my folks would eat bacon and call it ‘veal’, giggling at each bite, like eleven year olds smoking their first joint.

(Please

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In Memoriam
Anna de Casparis

July 20, 2006

Anna at the river


15th August 1947 - 18th July 2006

Anna died on Tuesday evening. Her extraordinary, indomitable spirit was evident to the end. We will miss her as a comrade, mother, sister and friend, as someone who lived life with relish and brought great beauty and delicious tarte oignon into so many of our lives.

Okay, the tarte oignon was great, but her tortilla, the Spanish kind of tortilla, were really extraordinary. I guess you can’t put every dang yummy morsel into in an obituary, but while we’re remembering the culinary Anna, I’d like to also remember her tortilla.

Anna was among other things, the translator of a book by farmer/activist José Bové, The World is Not For Sale, and it is oddly because of Anna that I re-encountered Bové in the summer of 2002. José Bové, as you may know, is the roquefort farmer/producer who, in an eloquent expression of Yanqee, Git yer Ass off my Acre, dismantled a McDonalds’ building site in his home town of Millau. With his colleagues he then paraded the debris through the town as trophée, the bits of the McDo held high in whatever tractors use for arms, crowds lining the streets cheering praise.

Bové was sentenced to three months at the prison in Montpellier, which is close to where I was staying with dear familial friends, and where Anna lived upstairs. A lot of extraordinary Anna-centric things happened in just a few short days that summer, including a near-death experience involving dear Anna.

Because near-death experiences tend to involve a lot of waiting around worrying for the living, we decided to distract ourselves I mean do something constructive, by attending an event that Anna would have attended, had she not been half a nanometer from death’s door. This event was an enormous demonstration on the hills above Montpellier, on the occasion of Bové’s release from prison.

Life is one big fashion show, so the night before the ‘demo’, we spent quite some hours preparing a rather large banner painted with the words,

a bi-lingual joke in honour of Anna, that sadly, only we could appreciate. And by ‘we’ I mean ‘I’. When we arrived at the demonstration, it seemed that tout le monde was there to celebrate Bové’s release and get in a little anti-globalisation protesting as well. This wasn’t just a case of agitated young longhairs, marching around shouting in ill-fitting black clothing. All sorts of civilised and semi-civilised locals and middle-aged goat-knitters gathered to show their support for Bové. (I count myself amongst the group semi-civilised, middle-aged goat knitters btw.) Especially nice were the farmer-families who came carrying picnic baskets brimming with homemade and regional delicacies. For show, but not just for show. They really eat that stuff down here.

The demo was held on a hill covered with wild thyme and other scrubby plants, which we attendees trampled and pulverised in the walk to get to the protest/celebration. I shall always remember this day for the feeling of release it gave our little group, to not only worry about Anna cum sui, but to start living again. I shall also remember this as the most aromatic political demonstration I’ve ever attended.

Thank you Anna, Rock Fort!

(Please

debra at 18:40 | Comments (3) | post to

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