I come from a legacy of cooks and generous hearted folk. My great, great grandmother Julia, my grandmother Therese, and my mother Julie. When I meditate on my maternal grandparents Therese and George Clark, I feel opulence, laughter, joy, and generosity. They love(d) parties, food, and family. I can conjure an inner fullness, gushing warmth of spirit, when I hold their images. My grandfather is the baritone belly-laughing story teller, every sentence he utters seems to have a colorful punchline, his chuckle always on standby. My grandmother was the gourmand and princess of pleasure---she loved babies, music, fine objects, celebration, and good eats.
I remember visiting my grandparents touching down in Baltimore after a flight from Minnesota, we were in transition, making a permanent move back to the East Coast and had stopped over for some grandparent refuge. We feasted on blue crabs and onion rings together and my teenage grief-stricken self, wrested from my friends of 6 years, ate ravenously. I remember my grandfather telling me, “You're a good eater,” which I received as genuine praise. That little memory never ceases to make me feel acceptance, shelter, and real love. I think in their platonic forms, this is what grandparents do---spoil with nourishment and soothe with a soft hearted, gentle touch.
My grandmother loved collecting recipes for finger foods and decadent desserts, this penchant forever archived in my facebook feed and in the many magazine clippings stuffed amongst the pages of her Joy of Cooking. She made me a fettuccine Alfredo when I was ten. I still remember those luxuriant cream coated noodles, showcasing her fearless embrace of quiet ecstasies served in bowls.
She also relished gathering stories and family history. One such story about her grandmother, my great, great grandmother, Julia Agnes Ross, is another that reminds me I didn’t fall far from the tree. Julia Agnes Ross was married to a fella named Willis (my great, great grandfather) who owned a shipyard in Baltimore. Julia my grandmother writes in the genealogy records,
...was of Irish descent and a great cook...She cooked lunch for her family and invited anyone who happened to be in the shipyard on business to join them. These meals were not your ordinary lunches. She would have a “dinner meal” ready when Davidson’s chemical whistle blew at 12 noon. I never saw her use a recipe and everything she cooked was fresh. She canned fresh vegetables in the summer.
This excerpt describing my great, great grandmother sounds awfully similar to Monday lunches at Alice and Amy’s and the way of life here on honey hill. Pre-pandemic times, Mondays were driven by “more the merrier” and “food is love” mantras offering the type of sanctuary grandparents provide to anyone who happens to stop by. As a close ally and attendant to the mission here, I feel my maternal line moving through me, giving new versions of materiality to my grandmothers’ spirits, aiding and abetting a weekly ritual of food communion.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention another Julia, Julie actually, my mother. She’s an accomplished creative home cook, never ceasing to nail the seasoning and figure out a way to parlay the leftovers into a fresh form. She’s cooked delicious spreads for countless guests and held down the kitchen for many wild barbecues with a cornucopia of family, neighbors, childhood friends, and any stranger my dad strikes a conversation with. She’s got a library of crowd pleasing delights up her sleeve. And now she’s a grandmother, sharing the pleasure of food with her grandchildren. Here’s a photo of her squirting whipped cream into my nephew’s mouth to prove it.
My grandfather just turned 89 exactly two weeks ago on the 25th. I may continue to ask him to describe his grandmother’s peach cake till his last breath, because I’ll never grow tired of his enthusiasm. He’s always carrying his gratitude for this cake, the aroma of it cooling on the window sill, in his back pocket. It’s a little gift he can offer to brighten up the room.
My uncle Dave, who spends much of his time with my grandfather, kindly sent me a special package with a homemade gift I’d given my grandmother when I was a kid, evidenced by the liberal use of puffy paints. It was an apron I’d made her with a large golden sun framed by the words, “Always cooking on the bright side.” I had been thinking about her and of course, my grandfather as his birthday approached. I had also been in a sort of winter funk. Receiving this apron kinda turned things around for me, not right away but like the slow wafting of a peach cake memory, it got under my skin until I suddenly found myself swelling with respect for the greater working I am a part of in the kitchen. I get to help other people find sanctuary and glee, grandmother style, food as the pressure point. It’s a real honor.
The final word is on another Julia who I didn’t know personally but who’s style embodies the aforementioned role model goddesses of the kitchen, Julia Childs. Actually it may be this particular video that consolidates her wisdom atop a track of catchy beats and tantalizing foods. Pleasure making really is “what good cooking is all about.”
"Cooking, cooking, keep on cooking, this is the way to live!"
Freezer berries, they're nearly as stellar as fresh ones. This week we're embracing the freezer berry in a French-style dessert, the clafoutis. Ours is a grain-free version with a ribbon of elderberry swirl and low-bush blueberries running throughout a crepe-like batter, all baked in a tidy half pint jar.
Nutritionally speaking, freezing the spoils of summer locks in the majority of phytonutrients, studies showing not too much is lost when we preserve our food this way. I used to brush off berries like they were mere luxuries of life on earth, a joy but not a crucial concern. Now I cherish them as the "power up mushrooms" from Super Mario Bros. that they are; essential boosts that supercharge with my innate abilities to put out fires of oxidative stress and inflammation. See below for more on blueberries.
We’ve only got two more weeks left in this cycle before we go on a three week break! The larger size apple acorn chutney and foraged fruit bbq sauce are now reduced in price to $10, a bit of a spring sale to clear the way for newness.
Blueberries carry the "superfood" distinction well, capturing the belly interest of peoples for thousands of years and most recently drumming up scientific attention for their many nutritional accolades.
Their rich flavonoid and polyphenol content can be instrumental in cancer prevention.1 Blueberries are also noted to promote healthy vision, restore blood sugar balance by sensitizing the body to insulin, and protect against cardiovascular disease.1 Anthocyanins, the flavonoid content specifically identified as a powerful antioxidant, anti-cancer, and anti-inflammatory, is the prized component of blueberry extracts, the nutraceutical version of real live blueberries.2 This flavonoid is also in elderberries!
Advancements in genetic research is demonstrating that food has the power to turn on and off our genes.3 Nutri Epigenetics examines how certain nutrients are instrumental in transient genetic regulation by participating in methylation and acetylation of DNA.3 A recent study on blueberries found they possess the ability to downregulate the methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase gene (MTHFR) and the DNA methyltransferase 1 gene (DNMT1), in instances of hypermethylation associated with cancer.4
Both parallel to and preceding this research fervor around blueberries and the chemical constituents that make them so stellar, are cultures that have known their importance and went through great lengths to gather, preserve and store these treasures.5 Native to and widespread throughout most of the northern portion of the North American continent, over 35 species of blueberries and their close cousin huckleberries are a staple and ceremonial food amongst the myriad indigenous groups residing in those regions for thousands of years.5 Herbalist Matthew Wood in his book, The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to New World Medicinal Plants, mentions the work of an Anishinabe herbalist, Keeewaydinoquay, who in her book on blueberry pronounces the fruit as centrally prized amongst her people.6 According to Wood, she shares that, “if a fire or an enemy threatened a village, dried blueberry was the first food to be taken.”6(349) This anecdote reveals the preciousness of these berries and longstanding recognition of their potency, prior to their christening as a superfood.
Embrace the small but mighty blueb (and elderberry)---information your body needs to keep steady and resist the stressors of living.
1. Ma L, Sun Z, Zeng Y, Luo M, Yang J. Molecular Mechanism and Health Role of Functional Ingredients in Blueberry for Chronic Disease in Human Beings. Int J Mol Sci. 2018;19(9). doi:10.3390/ijms19092785
2. Yarahmadi M, Askari G, Kargarfard M, et al. The effect of anthocyanin supplementation on body composition, exercise performance and muscle damage indices in athletes. Int J Prev Med. 2014;5(12):1594-1600.
3. Jackson and Gopinadhan C-J. Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals. In: Paliyath G, Bakovic M, Shetty K, Nair MG, eds. Functional Foods, Nutraceuticals, and Degenerative Disease Prevention. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated; 2011:125-198.
4. Kim M, Na H, Kasai H, Kawai K, Li Y-S, Yang M. Comparison of Blueberry (Vaccinium spp.) and Vitamin C via Antioxidative and Epigenetic Effects in Human. J Cancer Prev. 2017;22(3):174-181.
5. Hummer KE. Manna in winter: Indigenous Americans, huckleberries, and blueberries. HortScience. 2013;48(4):413-417.
6. Wood M. The Earthwise Herbal, Volume II: A Complete Guide to New World Medicinal Plants. North Atlantic Books; 2009.
Carly lives and eats from a hilltop in Cummington, Massachsuetts and part time in Schenectady, NY.