Category Archives: Food

First Time Foods

Today’s post comes from Cynthia in Mahtowa

Going through some old letters I had sent to my mother from my first teaching job in Port Angeles, Washington in 1964, I found a paragraph describing all the “new” foods I was eating. Foods I had never heard of in my small northeastern Minnesota hometown such as artichokes, zucchini, Swiss chard, eggplant, turnips, parsnips. (I led a very sheltered food life.)

I remember that first taste of an artichoke – a more worldly friend teaching me how to tear off a leaf, dip it in butter and scrape off the soft inner part with my lower teeth. How exotic. Later that friend’s aunt taught me to use mayonnaise with dry vermouth and garlic for dipping — still my preference.

Washington state firsts: Dungeness crab. Fresh salmon. Fresh apricots. Carrot cake.

So this got me to thinking of all the “exotic” foods that I was introduced to since then.   Five months in Switzerland, four of them living above and eating in a bakery/tea room — cheese fondue with bread dipped in kirsch (cherry brandy), lamb curry, gibfeli (croissants), café au lait, escargot, tripe soup. I have fond memories of all but the tripe soup.

On the small Italian ship I took to Europe in 1965 I had tongue and my first cappuccino. When we landed In England I had coffee with Demerara (brown) sugar. Did I try steak and kidney pie? I might have. But that really hot Indian curry in a English restaurant made me feel guilty for not eating it all because of the hungry children of India.

In Greece I watched a man slam an octopus repeatedly on the rocks. Was he trying to kill it or tenderize it? But I did not eat octopus until many years later and then in a sushi restaurant. (A friend traveling in the Orient had octopus so fresh the sucker stuck to the top of his mouth. But that may have been the least exotic thing he ate on that trip…was it duck bills or duck feet?) Squid entered my eating repertoire much later, though the first time I had it I was unnerved by the little tentacles.

When I was a child my father paid me to eat asparagus – or, tried to. He had tricked me into eating horseradish when I was five. How could I trust him to steer me right? Asparagus cooked to a gray mush? Then in 1972 I paid $2.50 for three spears of properly cooked white asparagus in a San Francisco restaurant. There I also had a “bird with a long beak” for an entrée. It had four legs and no wings…a rabbit, perhaps? Did the waiter mistranslate or was he leading me astray and making fun because I didn’t know French?

Asparagus was the first thing I planted when I moved to this farm. It still comes back every spring. I eat it sautéed it to a bright and crispy green.


First time food that has not been repeated: Rocky Mountain “oysters” (our kid goats’ testicles). Foods have become favorites: really, really hot Mexican food, goat meat, spanakopita, lobster, clams, mussels, lamb. Swedish Princess cake made with marzipan, whipped cream, raspberries and custard. Every cake I ate in Norway. Scandinavian open face sandwiches (smørsbrød). French goat cheeses and Norwegian brown cheese. I could go on…but won’t.

What “exotic” foods have you tried and fallen in love with….or not?



Come Along, Don’t Go Along

Today’s post comes from Jim Tjepkma

I had the very good fortune to spend five years working closely with Dick and Sharon Thompson in my job as the coordinator of the Rodale Institute’s Midwest On-Farm Education and Research Network.  The Thompsons were among the nation’s foremost leaders in the development and promotion of sustainable farming.   I meet them soon after Rodale hired me early in 1989.   I was the second coordinator for the Rodale network that had been setup several years earlier.   The network was based on Dick and Sharon’s approach to advancing sustainable farming, which was centered around farmer participation in education and research programs for the development of alternatives to conventional farming methods.

Screenshot 2015-12-09 at 6.47.31 AM

Dick said that he had received a message telling him that his approach to farming should be one of coming along and not going along.   For him this meant that he should question the current farming methods that were very widely used and look for better ways to farm.   He started by trying out some unconventional farming practices he learned about from other farmers who were also questioning the increasingly industrialized approach to farming that most farmers had adopted including heavy use of pesticides and the use of very large machinery.

Under Dick’s “come along, don’t go along” approach, he put together some of the best of the alternative ideas he could find into a system that worked well for him.  Dick had a lot of skill at finding and adopting better farming methods and came up with practices that worked well which were not in line with many of the practices recommended by universities.

He decided that he needed to demonstrate that his methods were as good or better than the ones the universities promoted by setting up scientifically designed research plots comparing his practices to theirs.  His research plots became a central part of large field days that he and Sharon hosted and he also taught other famers, included those in the Rodale network, how to do their own research.

Dick was a featured speaker at many farm meetings and usually participated in these meeting with Sharon at his side to let everyone know that she was an important part the work he did.   He also encouraged other farmers to come forward as speakers and as educators as well as encouraging them to engage in research.

I think Dick and Sharon’s approach of “coming along not going along” sets a good example for all of us.  In fact I think his approach is basically what a good citizenship should do.  We should not automatically accept what we are told by authorities and we should be actively engaged in creating a better world.

Who do you know who has influenced you by setting a good example?

Fun in the Kitchen

Today’s post comes from Barbara in Robbinsdale

The next couple of days will be very busy for people who like to cook, and who like to appreciate – by eating what’s cooked. If you’re not hosting the feast on Turkey Day, you may be contributing to the meal. In our case, we will be cooking on Wednesday, then transporting to Winona our favorite side dishes and a dessert, for a mid-afternoon meal with Friends on Thanksgiving.

For my part, I will refer to my two favorite cookbook authors, Laurie Colwin and Alice May Brock (of Alice’s Restaurant fame – the real Alice). My favorite things from Alice’s Restaurant Cookbook are the Stuffed Mushrooms on p. 104, and her irreverent attitude, which is (paraphrasing here): don’t get hung up on the details – improvise, don’t take it all too seriously. And I quote: “Wine and liquor are great for cooking, and also for the cook… in fact, more important for the cook…”

Laurie Colwin, a delightful writer who left us too soon, has just two cookbooks Home Cooking: a Writer in the Kitchen and More Home Cooking… (in addition to several works of fiction). Not sure what I like better, the stories about how she taught herself to cook, or the casual, irreverent approach to cooking. With chapters like “How to Disguise Vegetables” and “Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant”, she had me at the Table of Contents. What to do when you have too many red bell peppers? (“A large number of red peppers is a beautiful sight.”) Simmer in plenty of olive oil, etc., till you have what “some people might call… Red Pepper Conserve, but it will always be red pepper sludge to me.”

So I’ll bring my red pepper sludge, stuff some mushrooms, do something fun with sweet potatoes, and bring a pumpkin dessert. But I won’t get too serious about it.

Will you be cooking or appreciating this Thanksgiving, and what’s your favorite food to cook or appreciate?

Scandinavian Treasure

Today’s post comes from Barbara in Robbinsdale.

When we moved my mom from one assisted living place to her current one exactly two years ago this week, Husband and I were the sorters, packers, and movers. I remember putting three special items from her kitchen in a small box and labeling it because this was important stuff: her recipe box and dad’s, and the Bergen Lutheran Church Cookbook. Somehow in the shuffle of the next few weeks, the box got lost. I’ve been pining for, particularly, the Cookbook ever since.

But today I FOUND THE BOX. It was tucked in a corner of the laundry area. Happily, everything is there intact – the Lefse recipe, my dad’s Kumla and other Norwegian recipes, the Peanut Brittle he would make at Christmas… Mom’s Perfection Salad and Chicken Fricassee. The cream sauce for the Fish Balls. And most important, the Bergan Church Cookbook, from 1963. Here’s a sample:


I see from the index there are 32 pages of Cookies; 28 pages of Cakes and Icings; 30 of Desserts, Pastry and Pies; 10 of Meat Dishes; 2 of vegetables, 18 of Breads, and 14 of “Salads”, exemplified here:

Salads, so to speak

They just don’t make cookbooks like this anymore. Where else can you find a recipe for Zweiback Pudding?

Sometimes there isn’t even a recipe, just the list of ingredients. See “Fruit Salad” on page 44:

1 no. 2 can chunk pineapple

1 c. white grapes (cut in two and remove seeds)

1 bag marshmallows

But it contains my grandma’s (Mrs. Arthur Britson’s) recipe for Sour Cream Cookies, and Aunt Clara’s (Mrs. J.E. Britson’s) Delicious Dessert. It’s full of names like Mrs. Ed Sandvold, Mrs. Nels Torgeson, lots of Anderson and Arneson, Knudtson, Larsen. All of these women are gone by now, but this book is one way their names will be remembered.

So, just in time for the Holidays, I have all my resources at my fingertips.

What’s your most cherished cookbook or recipe?

Pumpkin Wasteland

Today’s post comes from Verily Sherrilee.

I’m not crazy about pumpkin.

My earliest career was in the bakery industry. I took several classes and then got my first job as a cake decorated at Shorewood Village Bakery in Milwaukee. It was a large bakery, as bakeries go, but there were times when I had to pitch in and help with other jobs in addition to making icing roses and piping out “Happy Anniversary Gramma and Gramps”.

One of those jobs was pumpkin pies. Beginning about a week before Thanksgiving and going until the New Year, we cranked out hundreds of pumpkin pies each week. In order to save time, the pies were filled while they were IN the oven, a big reel oven with rotating shelves. Each shelf held 24 pie crusts, par-baked for about 15 minutes.PumpkinPie1 Then one by one, we would stop the shelves and pour the pumpkin mixture into each shell. This took about 15 minutes per shelf. The fun part is that if you keep your arms in a very hot oven for 15 minutes times 5 shelves, you burn your arms off. So when it was your turn, you had to wrap bakery towels around your arms, secure them with bakery twine and then another employee would pour cold water over the towels. After you were about half way done with a full rotation, you’d get another douse of cold water. We took turns, so you usually only had to do this once a day, but it was every day from mid-November to January, including Sundays. Actually on Sundays the only baking that happened was pies, so you sometimes had to pour twice.

I’m sure it doesn’t surprise anybody that I don’t eat pumpkin pie. In fact, because the smell catapults me right back to those bakery days, I don’t really like anything with pumpkin in it. (I do make an exception for Breadsmith’s Pumpkin Muffins w/ Walnuts, but that’s about it.)

So this time of year is particularly hard for me. Everything has pumpkin in it. EVERYTHING. I follow several food blogs and nobody has made a thing for a few weeks now that doesn’t feature pumpkin. My coffee place has pumpkin lattes and pumpkin scones. My bagel place has pumpkin bagels. I’m sure if I could remember my dreams, they would be pumpkin dreams. I figure I have a good four weeks before we’re safely out of pumpkin season until next year. I can’t wait.

Mind you, I don’t have a problem with the other members of the squash family – just pumpkin.

What food has been spoiled for you?