(This is another special posting by Suzy. I hope you enjoy it.)
Locavores pride themselves on eating locally grown and prepared foods. Some of them are just food snobs trying to make the rest of us feel like food slobs. Most really enjoy and are proud of the foods their locality produces. Philly cheesesteaks, North Carolina pulled pork, Texas Chili, Neapolitan pizza, beers from various localities, or a spicy barbeque all make us salivate. Each reminds us of a region, or a special meal, or at the very least a clear and distinct flavor. There is a difference to be enjoyed between New York and Philly cheesecakes. New York cheesecake is a bit creamier and tangier. I prefer one for dessert and the other as a breakfast treat.
Each time I moved I would develop a taste for a regional specialty that would be the source of cravings when we moved to the next place. Living in Southern California I missed mid-Atlantic favorites. Now, back in the Philadelphia area, I am constantly craving foods with a Mexican flair. Several weeks ago we had a family movie night. That is to say we were showing home movies of the growing up years of my siblings and myself to which we subjected our mates. And here I commend them for being good sports about the entire evening. Seeing where we lived in Naples made me hungry for the pizza we would buy from a small shop at the foot of the hill on which we lived. Nothing else will sate this craving, so Walt and I are now thinking about a trip. There was also this one particular wine I remember, so it isn’t just about the pizza.
When I lived in Naples the world was a slightly slower place. When we moved there we traveled, not by plane, but by an ocean liner. All the American goods that we got at the Base Exchange were brought in by cargo ship. Due to temperature changes in the hulls of the cargo ships that could affect the look or efficacy of some products, Hershey’s Chocolate bars often had a white powdery coating. Our mail was flown over from the States. Much of our shopping for American style products was done through mail order catalogs. That meant flipping through the pages of a catalog, filling out an order form, mailing it to the company back in the States, having the company fill the order, and then ship, yes literally send it on a ship, back to us. It took time. Sometimes we didn’t remember quite what we had ordered, so opening the package was a bit exciting. Gifts to or from family and friends were also shipped. My Grandmother decided she would not send us the annual supply of Christmas cookies. She was afraid that the shipping would cause then to be stale or nothing but crumbs. She sent Moma copies of my Great-grandfather’s treasured holiday cookie recipies instead and wished Moma luck in finding the ingredients and making them. At that point I had learned a bit more Italian than Moma, so armed with my trusty bi-lingual dictionary we went together to the local shops to find some of the candied fruit bits and spices. It was a family project to make the cookies and Daddy documented it with his trusty 8mm movie camera with its 4 floodlight light bar. My Grandmother’s education wasn’t the best, and in her copying of the recipes she left out some key instructions and an ingredient or two, thus making the project more of a challenge. As Moma had often helped with the baking when she lived at home, or we lived near Grandmom, she was able to see some of the discrepancies or she just got a bit creative. During the course of the project we all talked about how various flavors and aromas reminded us of different places and times.
My fertile little mind took off on tangents. I began to think of all the places we had been and the various things we had enjoyed wherever we were. One of the fun things was walking with my Grandmother to the local farmers’ market at least once during each of our visits with her. As that’s where she did most of her food shopping, she knew all the farmers and their families in each of the stalls, and they knew her. She would tell the butcher she wanted to make ox-tail soup, and he would have a tail for her on her next visit. Though Daddy often teased her that it was just from some cow he had just butchered she insisted that it was from an ox. She would ask each seller she visited about children who weren’t there that day. Then she would push my brother and me forward to be seen and praised. It had its rewards, as we would often be given tastes. As we were then living in Naples, Italy I decided I really would enjoy a sandwich with Lebanon bologna. The local shops had prosciutto, Parma ham, mortadella, capicola, but no Lebanon bologna.
Having been rewarded by the Italian consulate in New York with all sorts of wonderful information about Italy when I had written to them about our up-coming move, I responded as rapidly as Pavlov’s dog. I wasn’t fussy about a brand name since I had never noticed any on the bologna Grandmom had brought home from the farmers’ market, so I didn’t have an address nor even a company name. I had no idea where to send a letter. Remember, this was before the Internet, so I couldn’t just Google it. I decided to write to the Chamber of Commerce in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. After all, shouldn’t Lebanon bologna come from Lebanon, Pennsylvania? In my letter, I explained how far away we were, how the Italians didn’t understand lunchmeat, and, most grievously, how the Commissary didn’t carry Lebanon bologna. I wanted to know how I could buy some and have it sent to us. Having signed, sealed and stamped it I placed my letter in the pile of out-going mail and pretty much forgot about it. I’m not sure how the Chamber of Commerce reacted upon receipt of the letter. Hopefully they had a pretty good laugh.
Quite a while later, getting on into spring, Daddy arrived from work with a box that was about three foot long, and maybe nine inches on a side. Accusingly he looked to Moma and me and asked what we had ordered this time. Moma was puzzled. By then, I had forgotten about my letter. We all stood around the kitchen table as Daddy carefully opened the box and slid out an entire roll of Weaver’s Lebanon bologna and a very nice letter. The Chamber of Commerce had forwarded my letter to the Weaver family, who gifted us with an entire bologna. Moma had a hand-cranked meat-slicing machine, which she immediately set up on the table and proceeded to cut off several slices. It was the best I had ever had or have had since.
Times have changed. We expect immediate gratification. We now buy foods from all over just about anywhere any time of year, though travel time and distance mean that especially fresh foods aren’t always at their peak. People don’t write letters anymore, either, contenting themselves with ephemeral e-mail, texts or twitter. But that’s for another rant.
The last word:
This is the view from their apartment in Naples, Italy. Many years later, this story helps explain why Suzy really likes to cook, is pretty good at it, creates many of her dishes from scratch, and makes me create an herb garden everyplace we have lived.
Keep your sense of humor.