I grew up eating local foods, meaning, foods produced no more than 40 yards from where they were eaten. Eggs came from the chicken house.
Milk was not just whole milk, it was also unpasteurized—the end product of hand-milking one to three cows early morning and late night. If the “milk cows” all were lactating, we were on a high dairy diet, plus, we got to take turns cranking the “cream separator” and a truck would pick up the surplus.
Cream floated to the top in household milk and was either stirred in or separated to save for butter. When milk got a bit old it was turned into clabber milk and eventually into cottage cheese.
Occasionally a pig was raised or a lean young cow set aside from the herd. One .22 bullet to the brain began a local feeding frenzy. Friends came over to help with butchering day.
Some years a very old—and to me mysterious—man would come out at daybreak in a panel truck to kill the cow or pig, skin it and haul off the hide as his payment. (My brother remembers him as Butcher Ens or Mr. Jantz.)
Pigs produced fat good for rendering. In some mysterious process, the fat became soap—supposedly with powerful effects as a laundry detergent. Ribs were boiled in fat in giant outdoor kettles and the leftover fat became soap on a later day.
The ultimate breakfast delicacy were “cracklings.” Essentially some part of fat and pork belly, they were fried and served over homegrown potatoes fried in lard with a topping of corn syrup. (This heart healthy moment was brought to you by locally produced foods.)
Was there a more gourmand meal than dinner—meaning the noon meal—in late June in Kansas?
Baby chicks had matured enough to have white feathers. Cut off their heads in the early morning, gut them and cool them to below body temperature and fry. (Unused parts of chickens, cows and pigs make excellent food for cats, dogs and coyotes along the hedgerow.)
Make a salad of fresh lettuce with boiled egg and clabber milk and onions. The first baby potatoes boiled in their skin.
Rye bread was my mother’s specialty when she ran out of zwieback. She mass-produced it with a taste I still remember but have never found an equivalent.
We sat down at a table, Dad said a prayer giving thanks for the food, knowing that only the iced tea, sugar, salt and pepper and flour had come from Vogt Brothers grocery store—and these had not cost cash since eggs traded at the back door might even leave surplus cash waiting at the check out counter.
“Store bought” products were a treat. “Store bought” was milk without cream curds and white bread that was thinly sliced without hard crusts. “Store bought” were the special treats of bananas and oranges and imported pineapples from Vogt’s Produce.
Nostalgia trumps reason. John Kenneth Galbraith—the Harvard economist—remembers missing the childhood taste of homemade Ontario maple syrup. Something was wrong with store bought, he writes. So, as an experiment, he took pasteurized maple syrup and added just a few dead leaves, a pinch of dirt and a sprinkling of mouse droppings and boiled it.
“Tasted just like I remembered,” he wrote. (Plus it was now organic.)
Local grown is good—if you don’t mind working from first light to sundown producing and preparing your food six days a week for 52 weeks a year. But should you want to read a book or write a newspaper column, you best feed yourself from a mega-grocery store and content yourself with memories.