Monday, May 08, 2006

Food Memory

Last night I caught the end of a documentary on PBS about California agriculture and the paths that it is currently taking, with a focus on organic food and sustainable agriculture. There was a lot of Alice Waters talking about her Berkeley school lunch program, but they also showed, David Matsumoto. He wrote Epitaph for a Peach, which inspired me to plant my two Suncrest peach trees and he was talking about ‘food memory’ and how many middle-aged and older people have a food memory of what it was like to eat a juicy, ripe, fragrant peach, and what it tasted like and what it smelled like. And these are the people striving to move away from industrial-ag and back to heirlooms and organics and local agriculture, because they remember what it used to be like before there were rock hard, half-green peaches in the supermarket, with no fragrance. But the sad thing, he said, was that there is an entire generation now that does not have these food memories. They have been raised on tasteless, unripe, mass-produced fruits and vegetables and processed foods. They simply don’t know what once was. So I got to thinking about food memory. I do remember peaches that were soft to the tough and the juice ran down your face, which is why I grow my own now. And I swear that peaches used to be fuzzier. I have a fairly recent food experience that I look back fondly on and fear will be near impossible in the coming years. In July of 2001, my husband (then fiancé) and I took a long weekend trip to Smith Island, Maryland. There are three towns on Smith Island, and we stayed in Tylerton, which I believe may be the smallest. Smith Island is only accessible by boat and the three towns are separated by water. Tylerton is home to generations of Chesapeake Watermen - men, and some women, that catch blue-crabs, oysters, and specialize in shedding soft-shell crabs. I think almost all of the soft-shelled crabs consumed in the US come from Smith Island, MD. That is all they do and there is a ‘shedding shack’ every 15 feet along the waterfront. They catch blue-crabs just about to shed, put them in large bins and continuously run salt water over them until their shell comes off and the new, soft one underneath is exposed. And then they freeze them and box them and ship them to the mainland to seafood distributors. Anyway, there are no restaurants on Tylerton (our bed and breakfast served all meals). So for lunch one day, we walked to Drum Point Market, which was basically a general store, but did have some food. I couldn’t decide what to get, so I asked the guy behind the counter to give me what he thought was the best thing that day. He said ‘Soft Shell sandwich’. I had never before eaten a soft-shelled crab (even though I could eat 10 pounds of hard-shelled ones) because I thought they were a little disturbing looking. I asked the lady that was back there cooking them what came on them. She just stared at me. Finally she said “salt, pepper, and homemade mayo’. OK. 10 minutes later I got a plate with a fried soft-shelled crab in between two slices of homemade white bread. The legs were hanging out of the side and my future husband recoiled and shook his head. “Better eat it, or it’s gonna up and walk off”. I took one bite and tasted the best thing I have ever eaten in my entire life. This soft-shelled crab was fresh, never been frozen and it tasted sweet and salty and clean and perfectly fried, crisp on the outside and succulent on the inside. I’ll remember that sandwich for the rest of my life. My only regret is that I didn’t try the 16-layer cake in the display case on the counter. Anyway, the blue crab catch plummets lower every year and the health of the Chesapeake Bay gets worse every year and Smith Island is getting smaller every year as sea levels rise and probably won’t be there in a few years. But I try and try to recreate that sandwich. So far, I’ve come close but without the fresh crab, I don’t think it’s possible. Anyway, what is your best food memory?


Anonymous sandy said...

Watermelon! My brother, and younger sister and I used to go down to the patch, and pick one and eat it right there. We were were sticky and dirty, but it sure tasted good! That was the 50's in northeastern Oklahoma, a good time to be a kid.

6:42 PM  
Blogger meresy_g said...

Mmmmm....Watermelon. I bet they were good right off the vine. Not like these half ripe things we get in the markets today.

12:15 PM  
Blogger EFB said...

i also remember eating peaches with juices running down my face and ripe tomatoes waiting to burst and fresh picked silver queen corn from roadside stands. luckily you can still find that stuff. may be not as accessible to everyone, but i definitely think there are those younger people who will seek it out.

12:38 PM  
Blogger meresy_g said...

I hope so. It would be a shame to have a whole generation of young people that accepted mediocre produce.

9:48 AM  

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