Sunday, April 18, 2010

Why I Like Pie

A few months ago, Whitney Brown, a talented cake baker and Folklorist who is writing her thesis on the local food movement of Carrboro, NC wrote to ask me if I could characterize my love of pie for her in 5 minutes or less. A surprisingly challenging, but exciting question to answer. It helped me clarify my thoughts and motivations, and here is my enthusiastic, albeit rambling, response...

Oh wow...this is such a big question, but one that is really exciting for me to think about. I'm just going to spill out some thoughts in a really unstructured manner...

So first, in my sustainable agriculture/local food systems/school food project work in VT, I noticed that interest in REAL food often skipped a generation--the 50s generation of food science and availability of "fast foods"-- but seems to be back among young people in search of some sort of...AUTHENTICITY (I said it). But who are also interested in health, local communities, radical leftist ideas, people power. One of my personal ideals is to restore value in HANDS-- I want to value things that are made by hands, by real people, and I also want to be able to do things with my own hands--do things for myself. I want to build as many "hand-based" skills as possible. I think this arises out of independence (rugged American individualism?!), perhaps a distrust in the modern world (at least in technology!), value of traditional arts and work, and certainly feminism.

When I think about why I love to bake, pie especially, I think about how it is a tradition, an art, and a love. The most amazing thing about traditional foods is that it is an artful expression and often a loving expression that you actually INGEST and make a part of you. Literally! I think that is so wild. So when you make a pie, you are calling upon all that past hand knowledge from so many women (mostly) of past generations. Then you invite other people to share that tradition and knowledge and love with you as you sit around the table, and then you EAT IT! It kind of blows my mind.

I also think about how the domestic arts were often the only outlet for women to creatively express themselves in past generations. Food traditions have had the best survival, perhaps, because food hits you where it counts--in the gut. Everyone has to eat, and I think it's where a lot of political change can happen.

For me there is something specific about pie in that it uses fruit, which calls awareness to seasonality and locality--place and nature. You bake with what is available at the time, and in the winter that's storage apples (maybe) and nuts and squash, and in the summer it's berries and peaches. Pies are tied to place and time.

My mom was always the pie baker in my family, and I didn't get into it until I started discovering all these mulberry trees and black-raspberry bushes all over Ann Arbor (where I was living at the time). It became a sort of ritual, often shared with friends, to go pick the berries--I did it nearly every day of the summer. We called it guerilla urban berry picking, and sometimes went at night, bringing along chairs to reach the high branches, feeling all the more guerilla. I became really invested in berry picking, and loved how I could get into a sort of meditative state while also being outside and doing something productive. (Thoreau has some great writing about going huckleberry picking--in his journals, Walden, and Civil Disobedience.) Since I was getting the berries for free, I began making a lot of pies, and would leave them on neighbors/friends doorsteps (or give them to boys I had crushes on).

So that's it. My love for pie. It is out of a desire for self-sufficiency, valuing of tradition, feminism, connection to the land and the seasons, and an artful expression of love that we injest-- make part of ourselves. Plus it's delicious. fun. WILD!

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Jamie's Easter Quiche

Leek and Gruyere!

Other reported menu items at this Boston, MA Easter brunch were boiled artichokes with bearnaise, crepes with grapefruit marmalade and brandy, and broiled grapefruit.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Pies for Social Change: Georgia Gilmore and the Club From Nowhere

Here at Nothing-In-The-House we get very excited about ideas and examples of food (particularly pies, of course) and community and food as an agent for social change, especially through a re-purposing of domesticity. Georgia Gilmore was a Civil Rights hero who put these ideas into practice, starting "The Club From Nowhere," a group of women who baked pies and cakes to raise money for the 1955-1956 Montgomery Bus Boycott. Mrs. Gilmore also opened her Montgomery, Alabama home kitchen as a meeting place for activists like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., providing them not only with a safe space to convene, but nourishing them with delicious home-cooked meals.

Check out this story about her and the Club from Nowhere, done by the amazing Kitchen Sisters in their Hidden Kitchens series. GO GEORGIA!