Sunday, September 12, 2010
Something about the change in light around September makes me extra melancholy. I look at cookbooks and nearly cry for the beauty of a well-roasted tomato. I ponder that beauty and remember food's holiness, the act of eating as having some spiritual potential, the ability to stir us towards good, towards the other. This is the burden of the mundane. This is the stuff that will make or break you. Like parenting, and getting up in the morning--beauty on a knife edge.
I've been told I take things too seriously. I have too high of hopes for everyday monotony. Idealists, romantics: we fly high and fall hard. But I'm learning.
Last week I made Peruvian Sauce, something I've been wanting to make since I first had it two and a half years ago, when I learned about food and letting it be serious; when I learned about food and letting it be less serious. The sauce was part of my breakfast, tucked inside a warm crepe with sausage, part of a stay on one of the Gulf Islands off the southern coast of Canada. It has become the recipe equivalent of a polished rock--a romanticized keepsake I look at from time to time and remember what it was like to be there then, at an island home filled to the gills with art, books, people, and food. I was one among many attending class there for two weeks, a hands on exploration of the holiness of food, and that Peruvian Sauce crepe was one of my first lessons.
The couple who taught the course is the epitome of coolness. They keep a garden, have a house where people come and stay. They cook, teach, write, and preserve. They sometimes grind their own grain. And the moment you think they may be vain, they are, instead, humble. They exude a rare grace. And they teach this food course at their home! How could that not be cool?
The Peruvian Sauce was just one example of many attributes coming together. I assume they made the sauce at the right time, about now actually, when the tomatoes are still coming in and the peppers are finishing off just as the apples are gearing up.
Being at their home helped ground a little of my whimsical idealism. I expect people like this to make food for a hundred and barely break a sweat. Because they are aware, right? Because they are spiritual and have a working philosophy of life that infuses meaning into silly things like peeling potatoes. But glory! Watching them at times was like watching myself. They sometimes were stressed. They sometimes bickered. They were often focused, hurried, and harried, but somehow they seemed joyful in the process.
There is hope after all. I can imagine them canning this sauce--picking the tomatoes too soon and not having enough lids on hand. I see them years ago with their twins, rushing about after them, begging Grandma to come over and help while they finished up the sauce, even though Grandma already worked a full day. This, after slipping the tomatoes one day, peeling apples another, and canning too late the third day, cursing their overambitious and under-calculating decision to double the batch.
I still tend to expect the process to be serene. I expect canning to be something other than what it is: a rather frantic scramble to preserve the abundance before it goes bad, a rush to get things ready before winter sets in, or the guests arrive.
They had their ways of spreading frantic cheer. Everyone who helped make anything (be it bread or bean trellis), got a glass of wine or beer. It calmed, soothed, and made celebratory what could become stressful or monotonous. It elevated the work and the food to something holy, something, in fact, ideal.
Peruvian Sauce (adapted from the unpublished Galliano Cookbook, possibly hijacked from elsewhere, but no one can say for sure. Let me know if you know its true source!)
Used as topping for waffles, crepes, my favorite is to fry up some sausage and add the sauce. I am imagining it topping a bowl of lentils too...
4 quarts peeled, cored, chopped red ripe tomatoes
1 quart chopped onions
1 quart chopped, cored, pared apples
1 1/2 cups chopped sweet green peppers
1 hot red peppers (I used long cayenne peppers)
1 small head garlic
3 cups brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons ground allspice
2 tablespoons mustard seed
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 cups cider vinegar
Combine tomatoes, onions, apples, peppers, garlic and sugar. Cook slowly until thick, about 1 hour. As mixture thickens, stir frequently, to prevent sticking. Add salt, spices, and vinegar. Cook until thick as wanted, 45-60 minutes. Pour, boiling hot, into hot (sterilized) jars, leaving 1/8 inch head space. Adjust caps and process 10-15 minutes (once the water comes to a boil). Enjoy!