I've been thinking a lot about heirloom foods recently and my mother keeps fanning the fires by sending me pictures of her pickles and apple sauce in the making. I haven't gotten any details yet (hint, hint, mother), but in the meantime I thought I'd post this photo of her apples as encouragement for her to get with it, as my father would say. (I've got a great picture of her pickle scum tucked away for future posting!) Maybe when she finishes canning the pickles and freezing the apple sauce, she'll have time to send me more information to share with you.
Mom started making applesauce this morning. This photo shows just fraction of the bushel of Rambo apples she's using in the process. I consider my mom's applesauce an "heirloom food" because I don't think you could buy apple sauce made entirely from Rambo apples if you tried. In fact, now that I think about it, I've never seen ANY apple sauce labeled with the kind of apples used in the product. But if if such a thing exists, I'm sure it wouldn't be as good as my mother's apple sauce. This is the best apple sauce in the world.
Just as my father's country hams have ruined my capacity to enjoy other hams without thinking of them as an entirely separate food product, I cannot eat apple sauce without comparing it to my mom's apple sauce. It is in a class by itself. I feel the same way about her pickles and I just finished making my first batch using her recipe. You can see the results by checking out my Pickle Project post. I have to admit that I feel a little exhausted by the process and I still haven't canned most of the pickles. I don't think I'm up for making apple sauce at the moment. Maybe next summer.
I'll print mom's applesauce recipe in a future posting once I can wrangle it out of her, but right now I want to say a bit more about the origins of my fascination with heirloom foods. As followers of this blog know, I recently made up the phrase "heirloom foods" to describe foods that you can't get without making, growing, or otherwise processing them yourself. Many of my favorite foods growing up were what I would now call "heirloom foods", but at the time, I didn't think they were special or unusual in any way. That is, until I went to summer camp.
I was about ten years old when I first went to sleep-away camp and this is where I ate my first canned green bean (the industrially-produced variety, not the homemade kind). I spit out the first bite of beans in disgust because I was sure they were rotten. Anything that tasted as horrible as that mouthful of green beans had to be rotten. A green bean shouldn't taste like that. Green beans were one of my favorite foods and I'd eaten hundred, probably thousands of green beans in my ten years of life. My parents grew them in our garden and canned dozens of jars each summer. But I'd never eaten anything that tasted like this. The strange thing was that everyone else was eating them. So I asked my fellow campers a few questions about the green beans and I finally came to the conclusion that I was the only one who had a problem with them. I can't remember the exact conversation, but I do remember that I ended up feeling embarrassed because I'd never tasted a canned green bean before. I was ten years old, for God's sake. How could I have reached this ripe old age without eating a canned green bean? Had I been raised under a rock? No. Next to a garden.
Looking back on it, this was a pivotal moment in my thinking about food... and about life in general. Until that moment, I didn't realize there was anything unusual about my family or the way we ate. But thanks to a mouthful of canned green bean I learned the truth. My family was different. And so was I. Other people thought it was weird that I was so sheltered and out of step with "normal" life. It certainly wouldn't be the last time I would feel this way. My husband says my family's lifestyle "lags one generation behind the rest of the country". Maybe that's true. But he's been roped into our way of life and I think he likes the change... and the weirdness. We might be out of step, but we eat better food. And we enjoy it.
I know there are other people out there who feel the same way. Write to me and tell me about your "heirloom food". In my continuing investigation of heirloom foods, I'm going to my friend Jared's house tomorrow to watch him brew beer using the hops he grows in his garden. I can't wait to share his story with you!