Gary Paul Nabhan Keynote

Winter 2008-2009
In his keynote speech, Gary Paul Nabhan said that many of the so-called “local” foods he sees in the Southwest are addicted to fossil fuels and fossil water. He sees communities like those of MOFGA as building blocks that balance local with fair trade between watersheds. English photo.
Keynote Speech, Common Ground Country Fair, Sept. 21, 2008

Gary Paul Nabhan, Ph.D., is an Arab-American writer, lecturer, food and farming advocate, rural lifeways folklorist, and conservationist whose work has long been rooted in the U.S./Mexico borderlands region he affectionately calls “the stinkin’ hot desert.” He recently accepted a tenured professorship as a Research Social Scientist based at the Southwest Center of the University of Arizona – his alma mater.

He teaches in Geography, as well as interacts with faculty and graduate students engaged in creative writing and reconciliation ecology research. He continues advising or consulting with many non-profits, including the Renewing America’s Food Traditions collaborative.

For his literary non-fiction, grassroots conservation and community-based ethnobiology projects, Nabhan has been honored with the John Burroughs Medal for Nature Writing, a MacArthur “genius” award, a Lannan Literary Award, a Pew Fellowship in Conservation and Environment, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society for Conservation Biology, and a Quivira Coalition award for excellence in science that contributes to “the radical center.”

Nabhan’s books have been translated in five languages, and he has lectured at universities in Mexico, Lebanon, Peru, Oman, Guatemala, and Italy, including Slow Food’s University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo.

When not gardening, caring for heritage breeds of sheep and turkeys, or hiking with his digs, he is active in the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans, the Orion Society and the local foods movement.

I am grateful to be here with you. I have dreamed about coming to this gathering for years, and to see the energy here, to feel it, to smell it … it’s just a wonderful thing. I’m very, very honored to be here. I love the trains of activities that MOFGA has taken on. It’s something that I can say as someone who lives all the way across the continent in the stinking hot desert of Arizona: that what you do here inspires people in many other states and in many other foodsheds and bioregions, so I just want to say that what you do here has a ripple effect across the continent. And it’s very, very satisfying to finally meet some people here, like Will Bonsall, for example, who’s been a hero of mine for years. So thank you very much.

I want to start off by reading something that’s sort of in between a poem and a prayer and a manifesto. It’s called A Terroir-ist’s Manifesto, and because I’m of Arab descent, I have to say that word again: Terroir, not terror. You know, terroir is the taste of a place. So if you have any friends working for Homeland Security, make sure they know I said Terroir-ist’s Manifesto. And I’ll just read this to you, and hopefully it will set the tone in the direction for what I’m going to be talking about today. I’m also going to involve you in some exercises with your neighbors. So I’m not going to be doing all the talking or working during this next hour; I’m going to try to trigger your imaginations about some foods that you remember from your childhood that may or may not be around anymore.

So here’s A Terroir-ist’s Manifesto for Eating in Place:

Know where your food has come from
through knowing those who produced it for you,
from farmer and forager, rancher or fisher
to earthworms building a deeper, richer soil,
to the heirloom vegetable, the nitrogen-fixing legume,
the pollinator, the heritage breed of livestock,
the sourdough culture rising in your flour.

Know where your food has come from
by the very way that it tastes:
its freshness telling you
how many miles it may have traveled,
the hint of mint in the cheese
suggesting what the goat has eaten,
the terroir of the wine
reminding you of the lime
in the soil that you stand upon,
so that you can stand up for the land
that has offered it to you.

Know where your food has come from
by ascertaining the health and the wealth
of those who picked and processed it,
by the fertility of the soil that is left
in the patches where it once grew,
by the traces of pesticides (or hopefully, lack of them)
found in the birds and the bees there.
Know whether the bays and shoals
where your shrimp and fish once swam
were left richer or poorer than before
you and your kin ate from them.

Know where your food has come from
by the richness of stories told around the table
recalling all that was harvested nearby
during the years that came before you,
when your predecessors and your ancestors,
roamed the same woods and neighborhoods
where you and yours once roamed.
Know them by the songs sung to praise them,
by the handmade tools kept to harvest them,
by the rites and feasts held to celebrate them,
by the laughter let loose to show them our affection.

Know where your foods have come from
by the patience displayed while putting them up,
while peeling, skinning, coring or gutting them,
while pit-roasting, poaching or fermenting them,
while canning, salting or smoking them,
while arranging them on the plate for our eyes to behold.
Know where your food has come from
by the s-s-s-s-slow s-s-s-s-s-savoring of each and every morsel,
by letting their fragrances lodge in our memories
reminding us of just exactly where we were the very day
that we became blessed by each of their distinctive flavors for the first time.

When you know where your food comes from
you can give something back to those lands and to those waters,
that rural culture, that migrant harvester,
curer, smoker, poacher, roaster or vintner.
You can give something back to that soil,
something fecund and fleeting like compost
or something lasting and legal like protection.
We, as humans, have not been given
roots as obvious as those of trees.
The surest way we have to lodge ourselves
within this blessed earth is by knowing
where our food has come from.

Thank you.

I want to talk to you about two poles of things: first what I call deepening our sense of local, and I think that is going to be not just an economic opportunity or a wonderful thing to do because it’s right, but because just within the last week, Western civilization’s economy as we know it has completely collapsed. We may be needing to see the structural shifts that many of us are interested in accelerating, and deepening what we mean by “local” I think is part of that.

And on another level, I want to talk to you about this new book, Where Our Food Comes From, that is looking geographically and historically where the diversity of foods that we now rely on in this state and every other state, every other country, comes from, and link those two things.

A lot of what we call “local” where I live in the Southwest has some peculiar baggage with it. We now see that part of the food system that doesn’t work in this country, that is addicted to fossil fuels, it’s also addicted in our region to fossil groundwater – and that the combination of these two things, including, I hate to say it, a lot of the organic food that is grown in California, has this fossil fuel and fossil groundwater embedded in it, and the nexus of those two things is going to really cause even a greater vulnerability than we’ve just seen in the mortgage markets and all of that, because within the last 100 years, industrial agriculture, which I say has been on the bridge to nowhere, industrial agriculture has used more of that fossil fuel and fossil groundwater than at any point in human history, and there will never be as much of either during the rest of human history.

So we’re not just reaching into the post peak fossil fuel era, but into the post peak fossil water era. Some people say we’ve been mining soils the same way and that we should think about what that means; and I would say that we’re entering into the era when industrial monoculture has reached its maximum dominance, and we’ll see that collapsing as well. I’m not talking about collapse as some gleeful thing; I’m talking about something that is going to have tremendous effects on people, just as the economic news that was heard the last few days is going to have a tremendous economic effect on us.

There’s a kind of resilience that we need to overcome these problems [that] is within this community: The kinds of experiments, if you want to call them that, that you have been doing for 20 or 30 years are clearly the building blocks for something that balances local with what I would call fair trade between watersheds; a balance between those things where we probably won’t get all our food from local sources, but that will become increasingly dominant. We may structure some of our sourcing along easy trade routes – coastal or river or highway trade routes, so that we get things from a variety of different elevations and climate zones, but we’ll also pay much more attention to that 10 or five or 50%… I don’t know what it’s going to be…that we get from other foodsheds, and we’ll have fair trade between foodsheds, not just between us and Costa Rican coffee growers. And I think the kind of attention that we pay to foods that we get from other regions will be the kind of attention that many of us remember when we were kids, when oranges or pomegranates would show up in the winter from another state, from Florida or Texas or California, would be something precious, and that’s what I hope we can achieve both with the local and the fair trade exchange between other foodsheds; that what we get from other regions we don’t just treat as another commodity, but that care for the people who grew it and the lands where it’s grown is equal to that that we have for what we source from our neighbors.

What I think is obvious – perhaps it isn’t to everyone – is that we substituted that fossil groundwater and fossil fuel for what I think is the biological wisdom in the diversity of foods that every foodshed once had. And for the cultural wisdom, for the local knowledge, that also was in every foodshed, that we see in the Maine Folklife Center, that they’re talking about in the exhibits that they have over there. There’s a rich tradition of local knowledge in Maine, in New England, that we have to reconnect again.

That’s why this project isn’t called “Renewing America’s Heirloom Crops,” it’s called “Renewing America’s Food Traditions,” and that cultural knowledge of our people and the biological knowledge inherent in place-based, or locally-adapted crops and livestock are what we have to weave back together, and rebuild the infrastructure that includes blacksmiths, people who know how to breed draft horses, people who know how to use solar and wind and biodiesel to the advantage of their local communities. That local and technological knowledge of what works here and the crops and livestock adapted to here, that don’t have to be so pampered that they spend their lives entirely within enclosed containers, greenhouses that are all fossil fuel subsidized. I think we will be shifting back to those things that are already adapted to the kind of climates and soils that we have here.

Over the last five years I’ve had a dream of mine come true, and that’s to see a way that conservation organizations, culinary organizations and sustainable agriculture organizations can find common ground, just like the people in the many booths and the many exhibits here are finding common ground to say, “What about the biological diversity?” The food biodiversity of the North American continent can be rediscovered, rescued and brought back onto our tables, rather than seeing them just as museum pieces or curiosities that we teach about as if it’s something from the past. And together with Slow Food U.S.A., Chef’s Collaborative, Seed Savers Exchange, Native Seeds/SEARCH, which I helped found 25 years ago this summer, and Cultural Conservancy, we brought together sort of a working alliance of groups that then works with many of the great regional groups that have always cared about the health and well-being of local and regional food systems, like MOFGA, like the Southern Foodways Alliance, like Eco-Farm in California, like the New Mexico Organic Farmers Association and the Acequia Association there – we’re trying to see what of those pieces that once idolized each foodshed of North America are still around, and how we can bring those pieces together again.

So this includes not just the heirloom seeds that I’ve worked on for years, and people like Will Bonsall and Neil Lash and David Buchanan and Russ Libby, Rob Johnston and Elisheva Kaufman and CR Lawn and other folks here have always been taking care of and sharing with our neighbors, but the livestock breeds that people like Don Bixby and Phil Ackerman-Leist in northern Virginia and others are taking care of, and the kinds of traditional artisinal fishing methods and foraging methods that Nova Kim and Les Hook in Vermont are still promoting.

And so we’re looking at foods, maritime and terrestrial, animal and vegetable, immigrant and native, that 50 years ago or 150 years ago or 500 years ago or 1500 years ago began to adapt to climates here, to the soils here and to the cultures. And to see which of those are unique to the foodshed in North America and which are now at risk.

And it amazes me that in 120 years of existence of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, no president ever said to them, “Do a comprehensive inventory of the foods unique to North America. What’s our resource base?” We have people making lists of just about everything – where George Washington slept, who Elvis Presley slept with – but we don’t know the foods unique to North America. It’s sort of mind-boggling.

And then we have the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that was 35 years ago mandated to come up with a list of wild plants and animals at risk in North America, but we don’t know what foods, wild or cultivated, are at risk in North America.

So, we went where angels fear to tread. We started to do regional workshops to piece this together, and the lists that some of you got of “Foods at Risk in New England and the Maritime Provinces of Canada” is one of those attempts to move towards a full list of those for these foodsheds here in this particular region, what we call The Maple Foodshed, which is the interior, the Montane, and the Clambake Foodshed of the coast. You may come up with better names for those foodsheds than we have, and we’d love to hear that. People in Vermont and New Hampshire say, yeah, there’s something cohesive here that comes under this iconic or keystone species of maples, because we know maple trees are now in decline, but multiple products really form the base of our culinary traditions, and they’re not the only ones, but there’s a cohesive set associated with the territory that maples come from.

So what kinds of foods am I talking about? One of the things that we have to retain is the incredible poetry of the names of these things. The Queen of Market raspberry; the Charette/Donut apple; the Somerset of Maine apple; Stump-the-World peach. Stump-the-World – Isn’t that a great name? Roy’s Calais Flint corn; Duane Baptiste’s Potato bean; King of Early bean; the Boothby Blonde cucumber; the Stampede Jerusalem artichoke; Green Mountain potato; and the Waldoboro Greenneck turnip or rutabaga, depending on who you’re talking to, I guess.

So these are some of the heritage foods of this region that are unique. You can see the wonderful apple collection that John Bunker and others worked with that are in the North Orchard that are starting to come up, of forgotten fruits of Maine that were once nonexistent in the marketplace. They’re falling off the table, and now because of John and others training many people to keep a lookout for these things, they’re not only coming back to the small orchards like this, but some of them are coming back to the table, at restaurants and celebrations like this.

Over the next couple of months, I’m doing workshops to help find those forgotten fruits in abandoned orchards and hedgerows in central Massachusetts. We’re having a workshop in a few weeks at Old Sturbridge Village and [at] Heifer International Training Center near Worcester, and try to get a larger number of people out looking for the forgotten fruits still out in our landscapes. This is a key thing – Many of those hundred-year-old trees are from the pre-Industrial era of apples, when Stark Brothers or a couple of other companies didn’t have the entire apple economy. So many pre-Industrial apples are still in the landscapes, but they’re octogenarians, they’re as old as John McCain! They’re really about ready to go down, and we have to take scionwood and do something about them before they completely disappear.

The interesting thing about this is it can’t be done from Washington or New York or USDA headquarters in Beltsville, Maryland. It’s really a grassroots search for the living riches of each region that has to be done by horticultural enthusiasts talking to historians, folklorists and old-timers to find some of these things, so that when I was at Green Mountain College a couple of years ago, [my host] said, “You know, one of our neighbors has a farm over in Seabrook. I’ve always wondered whether the beauty of Seabrook potato is from that Seabrook.” They actually went back through the history of Hebron – it was written decades before – and found out that that was indeed the place where this particular potato originated.

So this is a way to connect our foods back to the land; to re-find these varieties that are part of our history, part of our culture and part of our cuisine for years. Because we were talking about, in our Slow Foods panel that David Buchanan and others just did in the Common Kitchen Tent, the remarkable thing about this is that we need all kinds of people to do this work.

Some people ask me, “Didn’t all those apples fall out of cultivation just because they were lousy apples or rotten apples; they weren’t good to eat?” And it’s almost the opposite. We’ve forgotten the appropriate way to use them. Most Americans are only interested in making pies or eating apples fresh. They’ve forgotten about the hard cider apples; they’ve forgotten about long-keeping apples that you can put in a cold cellar that will stay till March; they’ve forgotten about apples used for sauces, and a million other things.

So we need the people who want to do that kitchen experimentation about the best way to use these things to join forces like David has with the community kitchen folks down in his area, to see the best way to use Boston Marrow squash, or Aunt Molly’s tomatillo or the Gilfeather turnip; that each of these had a particular use at a particular time of the year, and that’s how our diets were formerly rich temporally, changing from season to season, as well as rich in diversity.

But a lot of those things are close to brinking out, to falling off our tables, and I just want to give you the numbers that we’ve come up with that are preliminary, and I think once we download the brains of people like Will Bonsall and John Bunker, this list may grow to be double what it is. But right now we have about 330 specific varieties of foods – not just species – for fish and wildlife, populations that either have distinctive traditions about the way they were harvested or caught, or particular populations that have unique characteristics, like the fish in Lake Champlain that are related to ocean fish that have been landlocked in Lake Champlain for some time. For vegetables and fruits, we’re talking about heirloom seeds and heritage breeds, like the original Rhode Island Red [chicken], not the industrial clone of that. So we have about 330 foods at risk of falling off our tables. They’re offered by less than five nurseries, catalogs, farmers’ markets, fairs or restaurants that we know of – and we’d like your comments on which ones may be more common than that.

Eli Rogosa presented Gary Paul Nabhan with ‘Hourani’ wheat after his speech. This delicious, drought-tolerant heritage wheat was found in Masada by Yigal Yadin, translator of the Dead Sea Scrolls. English photo.
But for endangered, we’re calling the fruits and seeds that are known from only three or less catalogs or nurseries in the entire region. Forty-six we’re calling threatened. And here’s the preliminary score: There are 18 kinds of cultivated berries that are threatened or endangered; 28 kinds of fish – fish stocks from St. Lawrence River eels to things like cusk, a cod family relative that used to be in all the fish markets of New England and now are down to those populations being eliminated from watershed to watershed, in lower numbers than they used to be; 71 different kinds of apples out of the 400 that used to be in Maine and 800 that used to be in New England are now threatened or endangered in this region; another 56 kinds of fruits. Thanks to Eli Rogosa and friends, we know that there are about 29 varieties of grains, including wheats, barleys, oats, corn, etc., that are now threatened or endangered. Four breeds of livestock, minimum; four kinds of nuts; 16 poultry varieties, including turkeys, geese, ducks and chickens – that’s a lot of poultry to run afoul! At least 13 shellfish populations – and that will probably quadruple; 28 different kinds of beans, and I celebrate the kind of bean diversity that you all have in New England still; that I could buy the Yellow Eye beans and the Marfax beans yesterday delighted me to no end. I have an ag degree in beanology, so I’m predisposed to being a bean counter, and there’s 28 kinds of beans that I can count here in the region that are threatened or endangered, and another 58 kinds of vegetables.

The remarkable thing is that nationwide we’ve lost about 60% of that diversity that we once had here, and for certain crops, it’s even more astonishing what we’ve lost. For apples, my friends Dan Bussey and Kim Laley are now working on a seven-volume series of books of the apples of North America, with a description of each, the taxonomy of each, a color painting of 3,500 varieties out of all of them. They’ve documented more than 14,000 kinds of apples that have been grown in North America at least through the 19th century. We had a benchmark, Reagan’s publication on apples by the USDA in 1904, I believe. Fourteen thousand distinct kinds of apples. That’s aside from the synonymies, if you want to call them that – like Charette and Donut being the same apple, or Alexander and Constantine being basically the same apple.

Of those 14,000, we have less than 1,200 that are even sold by one nursery in this country. And again, I celebrate the work that John Bunker has done with the Fedco list, and many other great apple experts, like Ben Watson in New Hampshire, that is doing heirloom apple orchards. Nineteen apples dominate 98% of the commerce in apples in chain grocery stores. So, look at that: 14,000 or 19. What do you want for your future? I want to diversify past that 19, so maybe 1,200 apples have a place in American commerce again, and hopefully, through the efforts of John and others, we’ll find many of the lost apples out in abandoned orchards and bring them back in so that we recover much of that 400 apple number that Maine once had.

And it’s possible to do that. Half the apples that we’ve identified in the Southwest in abandoned orchards are ones not offered currently by nurseries in the region, so essentially with cuttings that we’ve taken from them we’re literally doubling the number of apples available to Southwest growers.

Now, one of the interesting things about this is that this is not about genes. This is not about historic preservation alone. This is about bringing these back into the fabric of our cultures again, into our memories and into our stories. They’re worth much more than their genes alone, and I’d like to do kind of a little warm-up exercise right now with all of you. I suggest that two or three of you gather around together, and I’m going to give you five minutes for this, and I’ll do some occasional blathering so that other folks coming by or sitting down know what we’re doing.

I’d like you to just close your eyes for a second and try to imagine a food that you had as a child, the taste and the texture and the flavor of that food, that isn’t part of your adult life today. Something that you remember as a child, maybe going to an aunt or uncle’s house, showing up on a fishing trip, climbing under the fence of one of your neighbor’s gardens and stealing something…however you tasted that. Someone plopping a fresh fruit into your mouth. And I want you to just get into not just the visual memories of that, but anything you can remember about the taste or fragrance or texture or experience of this.

My friend David Mas Masumoto, when he does this exercise, says this to people: “Try to remember a food that gave you your first food orgasm.” That is just one of those peak moments of your life when you tasted something that was just astonishingly delicious and realized that food could be real and sensual and erotic. So take a couple of moments for that exercise and then start talking to your neighbors about that, and I’m going to invite some of you up to tell those peak food memories. So if your neighbor has a really good story about one of these foods, I’d like you to volunteer them to come up on stage and tell us that story.

Three audience members shared their stories [additional food memories appear as a sidebar below]:

• I have a memory of eating something that I don’t eat much of today. When I was very young, we had a Jersey cow, and somebody would milk the cow in the morning and put the milk in the refrigerator, and I would sneak in to the refrigerator and I would drink the cream off the top…and I’d make sure nobody was watching. And that was a very good experience. Also my mom made fresh cream puffs with fresh eggs and fresh cream and fresh strawberries, and that’s a really good memory.
• A woman from Michigan remembered “thimbleberries”: They’re a bearberry, and they’re almost velvety, and they’re very tart. Your mouth will always pucker after eating a thimbleberry. They’re delightful, and I would eat them all summer long. Then I moved to Maine, and I thought that since it was a similar place…that there would be thimbleberries, but there aren’t. I haven’t been able to find them anywhere. So for 10 years I went without thimbleberries, and this past summer I let my family visit Michigan with me, and we found them in the same place, and they were beautiful and bountiful, and I was so amazed to see my kids make the same face that I made as a child. So that’s the thimbleberry story.

• My memory was when I spent two years living with my grandparents after my father died, and they had a dairy farm in upstate New York, and my job on Saturdays or Sundays was to catch the chicken that was going to be our chicken dinner. And I would catch it and my grandfather would chop off its head, and then we would pluck the feathers and eat Sunday dinner. Last year I was in Florida visiting a friend, and my husband is from New Mexico, and he’s always searching out hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurants, and we found one that was pretty sketchy looking to me. But we had chicken there, and all of a sudden it was like, “Oh my God, this is what chicken tasted like! This was chicken!” And I realized that every chicken I’d had since I’d left my grandparents’ farm tasted like water, tasted like nothing.

Nabhan continued:

These are the stories which we say should be culturally memory banked, just like the seeds that we talked about in this book that need to be seed-banked. We need to let the seeds loose from the seed banks and get them back on our tables, those stories let loose back into our communities to keep our communities alive and thriving.

I’m going to close with a few stanzas of a poem that I’ve been working on, that I read a few weeks ago at Slow Food Nation, the only food event in the United States that even approaches this one in size. And this is called The Food Crisis Is Our Energy Crisis.

The Earth has grown tired of making fossilized food
Tired of having to pump fossil fuel as well as
Ancient groundwater up from her very innards
To spill out onto our fields and orchards
Where frantic crops are forced to suck it all up.
What oozed from the aquifer and oil well
Now bleeds with additives, fertilizers, pesticides
So that we might eat.

Instead, your bodies are desperately seeking
Any food brought to us live
Plucked straight from the vine
As the golden crookneck squash blossom has been
The one that had been sunning among
The twining tendrils just moments before
Or like those plucked from the teeming tide pool
As the athletic octopus has been, limbs all akimbo
Shifting its shape and its colors
Even as it dives into ever warmer water.

There are many of us who want to be sure
That food makes it out of this century alive
Alive like the vinegar mother looming in the shadows
An amorphous banshee waiting to transform
One more glass of spoiled wine or mug of dubious cider
Into something sour, but sharper and finer.

Our bodies want our distracted minds to remember this:
It is those slow foods,
The ones that have moved the least
From field to feast
That move us most deeply
For they have remained dynamic and delectable
So as to dance in our dreams forever.

Our dirt-tired Earth Mother is asking us to step outside
For she is angry that some of us can barely see or smell
Just what it is that is growing in our own back yards.

She is asking us to stop – stop –
Before we drill and pump another drop
Of that greasy petrel that has settled
Way down deep in her bowels
Since way, WAY back in the Pennsylvanian,
When tons of marsh plants fell, then died and fermented
For she is tired of burping and farting up gas for us
As if countable kilocalories
Are all that we know how to eat.

Every morning of the rest of your life
You can choose to break fast
With the dead, or slowly browse among the living.
Every sundown from now on
You can choose to commune with the fresh and local
Or do rarified dining with the distant and the fossilized.
Watch out, you had better get ready:
Some sassy, salt-of-the-earth waitress is lurching
Toward your table, and she wants to know whether
You finally decided what you really want to eat.

Thank you.

For more information about Gary Paul Nabhan and his books, please visit

More Food Memories

As my father worked for the Boy Scout of America, I summered at scout camps, many of which were old farms. I ate my way through the summers starting with rhubarb, then wild strawberries, black and red raspberries, sour cherries, peaches, pears and mulberries. The season ended with Concord grapes. I would climb the arbor and fill my little purse with grapes, then eat them as I roamed. All winter long I would stick my nose into that purse and inhale that strong grape scent; a scent that I didn’t smell again until I moved toa farm in my late teens.

But for me, most of my “orgasmic” food memories have come after I started growing my own food. That first year I discovered the full, sweetly glorious flavor of fresh brussels sprouts, and who knew that asparagus is sweet if steamed minutes after picking. And shell peas and sweet corn… there is no going back to the supermarket … just to the freezer, the root cellar, the pantry, and always the backyard garden.

– Roberta Bailey, Vassalboro, Maine

My mom used to buy persimmons in late October and leave them on the windowsill to ripen until Christmas. Oh, what a luscious Christmas treat! The sweetness slides down your throat so smoothly. Oh, the agony of anticipation watching them ripen! The year I was 11, I couldn’t wait. I snitched one early. Ugh! Retribution was immediate. Puckering bitterness pervaded my mouth. Only recently, while perusing the FEDCO catalog, did I realize that such an “exotic” fruit as persimmons could grow in Maine.  A sweet treat awaits my family.

– Merry Hall

As a child, my favorite part of a seafood dinner was the “steamers,” long necked clams that were always served steamed accompanied with broth that resulted from the cooking, and with butter. I loved the taste and the ritual involved in eating them. You open the shell, remove the body, remove the covering of the “neck” and, holding the “neck,” you rinse the body of the clam in the broth, dip it in the melted butter, and pop the body into your mouth. I eat the “neck” too, but most people don’t.

I live in Pennsylvania. If you ask for steamers in a restaurant here, you get clams of the genus Venus, best served raw on the half shell. The preferred clam for steaming is of the genus Mya. When I’m in Maine I get the true steamers.

Why have the true “steamers” disappeared from commercial fish stores here? I think overharvesting for fried clams decimated the population.

At this year’s Fair I enjoyed two huge orders of the true “steamers,” perfectly cooked. Thank you.

– Anonymous

Unlike most Americans, I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s eating whole-grain breads, real peanut butter and lots of food from the farm. My mother would buy a side of beef and store it in a meat locker. Before people bought freezers, you could rent space, a meat locker, at a butcher’s. One of my favorite memories from my childhood is going to the farmers’ market in Akron, Ohio. There was a central building with long concrete ramps with open shed roofs overhead. The farmers would back their trucks right up to the concrete ramps and sell out of them. No setting up tables, no flimsy umbrellas in case of rain or too much sun. Every autumn my mother would buy a bushel of real ‘Winesap’ apples–which, according to growers I’ve spoken to in Ohio, have been superseded by a ‘Winesap’ variety that is not as good–and store them in the attic of our tract house for winter eating. Another autumn ritual was picking up black walnuts in eastern Ohio while visiting my grandparents. My mother would crack them on our concrete patio (with the squirrels keeping close watch) and end up with enough to make black walnut crescents, one of the many cookies she made for Christmas. In an era when most children my age were eating Wonder Bread and Velveeta cheese and Jif, I was very lucky to have a mother who knew good food and served it to her family.

– Susan Elizabeth Siens, Unity, Maine

One of my fondest food memories was Mom’s chokecherry jelly. The translucent red sweetness on a homemade biscuit was heaven.

– Bonnie Lee Williams

I have a great memory of my grandmother, “Mimi,” making all us grandchildren any kind of jelly we wanted by using fresh apple cider and adding very little sugar and a package of our favorite flavor of the 5-cent pack of Kool-Aid (without sugar added), boiling it for 1 full minute and, by some miracle, it tasted just like raspberry jelly, or whatever kind you would choose! Now I make it using 4 cups apple cider (it has LOTS more natural fruit pectin than store-bought apple juice) and add 1 box Ball Low or No Sugar Pectin Powder, mix by slowly boiling ,then add 1 cup of sugar, boil for 1 full minute, put in hot 8-ounce jars, process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes, and it’s done. Sooooo delicious! Very strong apple flavor and tart. Thanks for letting me share this recipe.

– Sandi Umble

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