Mop and vinegar spray in hand, cleaning up and restoring household order after two Thanksgiving feasts (one with my family, and another with my dh's extended family), a multitude of seasonal reflections tumble out:
Compost bounty. How many times this weekend the compost bowl hand to be taken out. All the chopping and paring. I have recently begun keeping my worm bin indoors, in the laundry room (with great results!) But the magnitude of this weekend's culinary efforts were far too much for my worms and had to go to the big outdoor pile. How can we reduce food waste (use more parts of the plant)? How can we pull even more material out of the landfill system and back into our growing soil?
Laundry. The weekend's table linens now colorfully flutter on the drying rack outdoors. Clothes dryers = power consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, all in the name of "I want it now." In mostly-dry Southern California, a clothes dryer becomes "want" rather than "need."
Sustainable recipes. We're accustomed to certain traditional foods but these aren't necessarily the foods we'll continue to see into the future. True, a woman I met recently was raising two turkeys (one named "Thanksgiving" and the other named "Christmas" -- I'll bet she's feeding just one by now!). Cranberries in So Calif??? Tangy-sweet pomegranates are a more locally-appropriate choice.
A recipe I found online for "stewed pompion" said it dated from the 1600's, at which time the English people apparently called all pumpkins and squash “pompions.” I made it this year with butternut squash but it could easily be made with whatever you have around, even a mature Tromboncino squash (a.k.a. Zucchini rampicante). It's an example of a "resilient recipe" -- a new category in my cookbook. I define these as recipes which call for few ingredients, most of which ripen at the same season of year, and most of which can be locally-sourced.
Vigorous vegetables. Tromboncino squash: where do you store the blasted things? They're long and gangly, and require lots of horizontal space. I don't have good answers. But since this (supposedly annual) plant can overwinter here and produces prolifically for many months, we need to learn to work with it. These are problems we need to solve. Chayote: another easy-to-grow, scary-prolific producer, so we have to learn many ways to serve them. I found one recipe in Foods of the Americas, a book from the Smithsonian with recipes inspired by the food of the Native Americans. These aren't the foods of the supermarket system, thus we'll need to search outside the conventional system to find the recipes of our local future.
Cooking methods. Many of the ways we have become used to cooking our food are the techniques of peak-energy-consumption. Roasting: Filling a box with heat for long hours only seems practical if it does dual duty as part of your home heating system too -- for instance in a woodstove. Contemporary ovens, with venting of heat to the outdoors, are probably quite inefficient in this regard. How will we roast turkeys in a leaner-energy future? Long-simmer soups and stocks: These too worked well in the dual purpose fireplaces or heating stoves of old. As we move into a leaner energy future, with few woodstoves (and not much urban firewood to fuel them) how will our cooking methods change and evolve?
Food storage. My 2011 harvest holiday is put to rest, but processing the harvest continues. My sister generously shared many pounds of fruit from her orchard -- limes, pomegranates, persimmons, and avocados. (THANKS SIS!) Time now to squeeze and process the limes -- they will become my entire year's supply of flavorings. Pomegranates taste far better, experience has taught us, when you leave them on the tree until they split. Time now to peel and pick all those little seeds. My sister makes them into a Middle Eastern syrup (because the ethnic cultures know how to do this so well).
Through other ethnic cookbooks such as My Calabria and A Year in the Village of Eternity, I am learning lower-energy food preservation, such as sundried tomato paste. My serrano chili plant is ripening its many fruits to gorgeous red, so it is time to try my hand at threading a chili garland to store them en plein air. Meanwhile it's strawberry guava time too, but we won't be processing those. They're so tasty we're lucky if a single one of them makes it into the kitchen from the garden! I think I'd better go check the laundry now -- the guava is calling.
Joanne Poyourow is active in Transition Los Angeles. Her most recent book is "Economic Resilience: What we can do in our local communities." You can now follow her on Twitter @TLAJoanne