Thursday, November 27, 2008


Getting all this good food onto the table, with all the conveniences and ease that have come to be taken so lightly, I think of the past cooks whose lives and kitchens and cooking and hours were filled by the simplest of chores---the gathering and the finding and all the grim, hard FACTS of feeding a family before electricity, before stores, before stoves.

We went to the Feast of the Hunters’ Moon a couple of years ago, and were just enthralled by all the anachronistic costumes and weapons and the carved furniture, the carpets and various hand-made home and kitchen items. We strolled among the crude kitchens and firepits which were created by the participants, there for several days, and living in the manner of the past.

Great black pots of beans, of sauerkraut stew a bit the worse for wear, with its days’-old countenance and the primitive stirring stick in the cauldron. One sign advertised croquinoles and buffalo stew---the fried bread and the game medley of whatever they could shoot, trap or catch.

The stew was one that caught my eye, because of the little couple who purchased two flimsy white bowls of the stuff. They carried it and their swaddled baby over to a shady spot, sat down, and began to spoon up the steaming red stew. Perhaps it was the absolute authenticity of the event, in that there was no modern food-for-sale---no tacos, no hot dogs, no grill-immolated burgers, just beans and stew and fried bread.

The pair and their child sat and ate their supper, quietly speaking, taking turns holding the baby in their folded legs as they sat in the dirt. They wore rough clothes, and the wee one wore a long-tailed dress. Their demeanor was that of a subdued, hard-driven young couple, making their way along the trail to new horizons, not that of young folks out for a sunny afternoon of fun and games, who would toss off those hot clothes for shorts and tanks, and crank up a sizzling CD as soon as they hit the parking lot.

I noticed a dropped pink pacifier at my feet. I caught the mother’s eye, signaled to the lost passy, and she looked at it, at me, and back at it, with a puzzled look of one who gazes on an artifact unknown. With a little frisson of amazement, I had the absurd feeling that I was gazing at people of another age and time, lost in this strange place, finding others familiarly dressed and grubby, just having a meal and a rest before passing through.


nakji said...

Some people still cook like this every day, and I really respect their cooking chops. Here is a picture I snapped of a kitchen in a village in Northern Vietnam:

Keetha said...

Have you ever read How to Cook a Wolf by M.F.K. Fisher? One passage talked about cooking lots and lots of things in the oven so as to use the heat as efficiently as possible. I'd learned about WWII and Victory Gardens and all that but until I read that book, I'd never thought about what it must have been like on a day to day basis on the women at home. Enlightening.