Thoughts from my Grandmother: Eating Local in the good old days, Part 1 - vegetables

Introduction

In recent years, many people have started to talk about the 'local food movement', or 'eating locally'. It has gained much attention, not only from the health perspective, in that locally grown food is more fresh and therefore tastes better as it makes its way to you faster, but as well as from an environmental perspective: food grown locally does not need so many 'food miles' to travel to you, thus saving gas and transport costs.

In the times of our grandparents and great-grandparents, seasonal eating was the norm rather than the exception. I'd like to share a few thoughts on this topic, from my grandmother, who will be 95 in 2012.

Family photos

My grandmother and the rest of the gang camping out in the summer time!
My grandmother and the rest of the gang camping out in the summer time!
My great-grandmother working in the garden
My great-grandmother working in the garden

A chat with my grandmother

It all started when my aunt brought home some garlic from Costco, similar to the fresh garlic that you'd buy from the supermarket. My grandmother is fascinated with the Costco model, and the many things that you can buy there in the big sizes. 'We didn't have such stores like this when I was younger! Of course we had department stores where you could buy a number of things all in one place and that was pretty neat, we'd go there every Saturday, before that you had to go to separate stores: to the butcher's for meat, the green grocer's for your vegetables and fruits, the chemist for your pharmacy things, etc.' But back to the garlic...it was tagged as 'made in China'.

'Made in China, how can this be? There's nothing wrong with China, of course, but here in most of America, you can grow garlic in your own backyard or in pots, how is it that it makes sense for garlic to come from so far away? Back in the day we grew our own garlic, as well as onions, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, cucumbers, zucchini, eggplant, etc. You name it, we grew it! Of course, we lived in the country, in West Virginia, everyone had a garden in those days, even with our extreme mountain temperatures, we still could eke out a living over our long winters on the potatoes, onions, etc. that we had grown and stored. Things were a little easier after we moved to Pennsylvania though, the growing season is a little longer and warmer for things like tomatoes and peppers.'

'When I was really young, we didn't even know there was a depression going on, how about that? Because of our garden, we always had something to eat, and we ate like everyone around us. It was good, wholesome food, vegetables every day, none of these "strawberries trucked in from California" like you have nowadays. They just don't taste right, those strawberries, they pick them so early to ship them, and they varieties just are not as sweet. I guess that's because they need to grow hearty ones that can handle all that bouncing along the roads. We would grow strawberries and then eat them like crazy right off the plants when it was picking time! We'd eat so many strawberries, I'm surprised we didn't turn red! Then, Mom and our aunts and cousins would come around, and everyone would help out, we'd make jam and preserves, to save up those strawberries so we could have them again in December, from the pantry, on toast. That tasted so good, so sweet!'

'We canned and put up lots of things, you had to, everybody had to. Of course you could buy canned goods, like peas. But I think many people who grew up during the depression had a mentality of 'make do' and self-sufficiency. We didn't have any government programs like nowadays. OK, Roosevelt started the New Deal, and that was certainly something. They came to West Virginia and build many roads in those years over the mountains, people from all over the country. Until then we were not so connected with the rest of the world, we live together in small communities, in houses owned by the coal mines. There were Italians, Poles, Lithuanians, as well as a mix of other immigrants. Kids were always running all over the place having fun and playing games. I think that is different nowadays as well, kids went outdoors and played together, creating their own games, rather than being glued to a television or computer. We didn't have overweight kids in those days, due to diet and activity, I imagine.'

'Of course they had to help out the family too, by doing household chores such as working in the garden. Even the littlest ones were involved, to learn. Us kids would plant seeds, water them and pull out the weeds. It was what you'd call 'organic' nowadays. Back in those days we didn't have all these sprays and weedkillers. We did have some plant fertilizers though, boy those could really knock your socks off, it's probably better those aren't used today! Although all this talk about genetically modified fruits and vegetables, I'm not so sure about that. We did have some of our own 'genetically modified' things though, but by nature, with the bees cross-pollinating crops and you'd end up with an odd colored zucchini or something like that.'

Are these stories interesting, would you like to hear more? What topics would you find interesting? Please leave a comment. :-)

Also check out my grandmother's thoughts on bread pudding.

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