Sunday, April 2, 2017

Bringing the spring

The first time I made farmer's cheese was several years ago while we were on a farm-stay in western Vermont. The farm is gorgeous, with 100-acres of rolling hills and a wide assortment of livestock freely roaming through it all. Using fresh milk from their small herd of Jersey cows, the farmer invited me into her kitchen to teach me how to make farmer's cheese. It's so easy. And so, so good. A little heat, a little vinegar, and -- voilĂ  -- curds and whey. 

So this week, as our early New England spring does its typical whiplash between sunshine and snow, the girls and I made farmer's cheese to curl inside the spring blintzes we read about in one of our favorite spring books, How Mama Brought the Spring, by Fran Manushkin. (The blintz recipe we used is included in the book, but here is a similar one.) 

Like baking bread for the first time, making cheese (or yogurt) is transformational --both for the food and for the cook. Watching simple kitchen ingredients metamorphose into an entirely different food is awe-filling, and reveals the true power of our kitchens and our homes. It's also delicious, and fun. 

Willing spring warmth like the characters in the book, the girls and I mixed and swirled and stuffed and rolled until we had a dozen bundles of sweet goodness to enjoy and share. (We also saved the whey from the farmer's cheese to make these unbelievably good blueberry muffins.)

In Michael Pollan's best-selling book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation (also now a Netflix series), he writes: 

"Today, we're apt to think of making cheese or brewing beer as 'extreme' forms of cookery, only because so few of us have ever attempted them, but of course at one time all these transformations took place in the household and everyone had at least a rudimentary knowledge of how to perform them. Nowadays, only a small handful of cooking's technologies seem within easy reach of our competence. This represents not only a loss of knowledge, but a loss of a kind of power, too. And it is entirely possible that, within another generation, cooking a meal from scratch will seem as exotic and ambitious--as 'extreme'--as most of us today regard brewing beer or baking a loaf of bread or putting up a crock of sauerkraut." (Introduction)

I, for one, am horrified that these essential human skills are disappearing, relinquished to factories and corporations. I am even more horrified that I was once complicit in this process, not realizing until just a handful of years ago how essential it is to regain (and in my case, learn from scratch) these vital skills that sustained generations of families. In the span of a century, we have gone from a culture in which every mom would know how to bake bread and make cheese and ferment yogurt to a culture in which this knowledge is not only lost, but is actually seen as extreme

Well, in my kitchen this week we engaged in all of these extreme kitchen behaviors, because I want my children to grow up knowing the true power of home. I want them to know that farms and families are more important than factories and fabrications. I want them to know the truly transformative power of nourishing food. 

And to know that simple, savory blintzes can bring the spring. 

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