Chopping up the ends of sour dough loaves this morning to freeze for croutons, I recalled my grandmother Lolly so strongly it was as though I were watching her strong hands press down on the tang of the blade, and her hands cupping the crumbs and sweeping them across the counter into the waiting bag.
Food on the verge – not to be wasted but to be re-used in some new creative recipe never before tested or tasted. A kind of hallmark of the kind of cooking that is not “cooking” in the trendy chef sort of way – but the kind of cooking for a family, or a crew, that we grew up with here at Nepenthe.
Bananas at peak would be mashed into pancake batter. Now I freeze them (first peeling them and wrapping them in plastic) and use them in smoothies. Perfectly good bread that won’t get eaten because a new loaf is fresh on the table – I’ll slice, chop, and freeze for a casserole’s crumble, or a salad’s crouton crunch.
What else? Ends of beef and pork roasts saved to simmer with onions, garlic, a splash of wine – the beginning of a new hearty soup.
Even food receptacles were cherished. An early childhood job was soaking wine bottles to remove their labels. The windows in the family kitchen were lined with old bottles cleaned in just this way, deep greens and burgundy glass ranging along each sill. I remember once realizing that the bottle I was scrubbing might be worthy of adding to Lolly’s window collection and I scrubbed even harder at the thought.
Can I admit here that it was I, at the age of 14, who threw out all the Prep Kitchen Soup recipes? Chicken Tortilla Soup, Mexicali Bean, Vegetable Barley . . . my thinking, such as it was, that if I could make these recipes, you didn’t need a recipe.
Chopping bread this morning, I thought of these recipes of food “on the verge” that we valued more then, because money was hard to come by, shopping trips to town few and far between, and the effort of creating food greater. I value bread higher because I baked it – kneaded it – waited for it to rise – watched over the starter like an anxious mother – coaxed yeast out of the air with a magical concoction of water, pineapple juice and organic flour that needed constant attention. Each slice has a value, to me, because it has a lot of me in it