Blogs

LET’S ASK MARION: DID WOMENS’ LIBERATION STRAIN OUR FOOD CHAIN?

(With a click of her mouse, EatingLiberally’s kat corners Dr. Marion Nestle, NYU professor of nutrition and author of Food Politics and What to Eat:)

Kat: Peg Bracken, author of The I Hate to Cook Book, passed away last month, prompting a reexamination of the legendary 1960 bestseller that launched a rebellion in kitchens all over the country. Bracken’s book was directed at the legions of wives and mothers who felt oppressed by the obligatory nature of their daily cooking chores, and yearned to throw in the dish towel.

Bracken’s recipes relied on short cuts such as cake mixes and canned soups and vegetables, freeing millions of harried housewives from all that tedious peeling, sifting, and chopping. Julia Child’s equally legendary Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published the following year, launching a culinary counter-revolution, but Bracken’s populist portrayal of cooking as drudgery outsold Child’s glorification of gastronomy three-to-one.

Our current crop of celebrity chefs runs the gamut from made-from-scratch maven Martha Stewart to canned cuties like Rachel Ray and half-baked Sandra Lee, but the percentage of families who sit down to an even “semi-homemade” meal is at an all-time low. Overworked, stressed-out moms are taking a lot of heat from some quarters for getting out of the kitchen, but who’s really to blame for our convenience food-dominated diet? Was the I Hate to Cook Book a progressive, pre-Friedan feminist manifesto, or a culinary cop-out?

Dr. Nestle
: Or neither, but yes, there I was right in the middle of it at home with two small children in the suburbs and, alas, bored out of my mind (fortunately The Feminine Mystique came to the rescue, but that's another story). OK. I admit it. I did "Hate to Cook" and Julia Child, sometimes in the same meal. My social group of that era was devoted to serious, competitive home cooking, and we vied with each other to see who was best at mastering "Mastering." I can't say I won those competitions, but I tried my best and learned a lot about cooking in the process.

Years later, when I met Julia Child for the first time--at a dinner at her Cambridge house arranged by mutual friends--I presented my copy for signing. It looked used as it was, with pages yellowed, splattered and glued together with Hollandaise failures. So I was grateful for cake mixes; with just a few additions of eggs, vanilla, or other real things to disguise the metallic chemical taste, I could produce serviceable cupcakes or birthday cakes with minimal fuss.

"Hate to Cook" promised us that we could make food our family liked with what we could find in grocery stores. I realize all of this is ancient history, but grocery stores of that era did not have the fresh, organic ingredients you can get practically anywhere now. "Mastering" depended on having decent ingredients around and it forced home cooks to demand them. My cook friends started growing their own herbs and vegetables and driving miles to find little Italian stores where you could find--if you looked hard--the makings of excellent sauces and really good coffee. Once we all got used to cooking a la Julia, the "Hate to" canned fruit and onion dip mixes just didn't work anymore. But we still all looked for and used short cuts whenever we thought nobody would notice.

I mention all this because "let's blame mom for this too" is simplistic as well as annoying. If we want people cooking, and teaching kids about where food comes from and how to cook it, the doing of all that needs to be easy and fun and the results need to taste great at the end. People have to start somewhere. It's just fine with me if they start with Rachel Ray. If she gets people--men, women, and children--back into the kitchen once in awhile, she is performing a great public service. Tastes evolve. Good cooks experiment. When fun and delicious seem more rewarding than eating it fast, people will be cooking again. And that's happening too along with all the other contradictory trends going on in the food scene right now.

Eating Liberally Food For Thought

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SPILLING THE BEANS ON THOSE AMBER WAVES OF GRAIN

By Guest Blogger Eve Fox

Curt Ellis and Ian Cheney, the stars of the just-released documentary King Corn, first developed an interest in food and agriculture as classmates in college. After graduation, they moved to Greene, Iowa, to find out where their food comes from. With the help of government subsidies, friendly neighbors, genetically modified seeds, nitrogen fertilizers, and potent herbicides, they planted, grew, and harvested a bumper crop of corn from a single acre of farmland. Curt's cousin, documentary filmmaker Aaron Woolf, came along to direct this hair-raising, heart-sinking foray into our corn-fueled food chain.

Berkeley food blogger Eve Fox interviewed Ellis and Cheney last week, and gave them some great questions to sink their teeth into, so we're pleased to be posting her Q & A here. King Corn is currently playing-or about to open--in cities all over the country. Check KingCorn.net for theaters. Please go see it!

EF: What surprised you most in making the film?

Curt: The most surprising part to me was the reality of farming. I had this pretty romantic notion of what life on a farm was like. Granted we were only growing one acre of corn, not hundreds or thousands of acres, but we really only farmed for a few hours and during those few hours we never really had to touch the dirt at all. It was amazing to me how divorced from the land our experience of farming was.

Ian: I agree with that. I was also surprised that the majority of the country's calories are stored in a few dozen buildings in the Midwest.

EF: I was really shocked by the use of anhydrous ammonia as a fertilizer.

Curt: We were totally shocked. We actually went to an anhydrous ammonia factory (though it's not in the film). It's made by burning an incredible amount of natural gas. When Ian applied it to our acre before we planted our corn, one of the farmers, Rich, picked up a handful of the dirt and showed us a dead earth worm - and said, "You see here how applying the ammonia kills everything in a four inch swath." It was pretty unbelievable to us that the first act of farming was to kill all the living things in the soil. Seemed kind of counterintuitive.

Ian: That's not what Wendell Berry would do.

EF: Has this exploration changed your interpretation of the term "corn-fed"?

Curt: Very much so. It has this sort of wholesome connotation but it turns out that things that are corn-fed are really very far from wholesome.

Reading Liberally Page Turner: With a Name Like "Albus"...

by Justin Krebs

dumbledore.jpgThe revelation last week that Albus Dumbledore, the powerful and wise wizard of the Harry Potter series, was gay caught the attention of the entertainment news.  It earned the wrath of the the religious right and Bill O'Reilly (who called it part of author J.K. Rowling's "gay agenda."  And most importantly, it received applause from the audience of children and families to whom Rowling was speaking.

This is the reaction that matters -- because Harry Potter readers are soon going to be running the world and their beliefs will triumph while O'Reilly joins anti-wizard Jerry Falwell in the hereafter.  Messages of hate from the religious wrong are having less and less impact in this next generation -- while messages of love, like that Rowling offer, are gaining traction.

As we've written about before, there are groups that are using the lessons of Harry Potter to promote an agenda of social justice and awareness, chief among them the HP Alliance.  Its founder, Andrew Slack, was recently featued in an LA Times article on the "Seven Clues That Dumbledore Was Gay." 

Among the tongue-in-cheek tells -- his sense of style, his "flaming" phoenix pet and that his name's anagram is "Male bods rule, bud" -- are reasons more core to the HP Alliance's mission:  Dumbledore's openness and sensitivity.  As Slack argues:

Rowling said that she viewed the whole series as a prolonged treatise on tolerance....Like the LGBT community that has time and again used its own oppression to fight for the equality of others, Dumbledore was a champion for the rights of werewolves, giants, house elves, muggle-borns, centaurs, merpeople -- even alternative marriage.

The Alliance's aim to promote issues from genocide in Darfur to workers' rights in America isn't a stretch -- these lessons are in the novels, even if readers don't realize how political the message is.  Should we be surprised that a story-teller does a better job communicating values than many of our politicians?

So the religious right is right to be worried.  Their stranglehold on our culture has been broken.  Jerry Falwell would never have been able to stand up to Albus Dumbledore in a fight.

Screening Liberally Big Picture: When All The Standard Horror Flicks Are Rented Out...

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By Josh Bolotsky

There's only a few hours left until the end of the Halloween season. (Isn't it kind of amazing how Halloween has entered that hallowed realm of holidays which aren't a mere day, but commercialized enough to warrant their own 'holiday season'?) And, if you and/or your children don't have costumes prepped, then chances are that you are finding yourself on Halloween night with nothing Halloween-related to do. For shame.

There really aren't much more options left, typically. The ninth-hour costumes don't much extend past the "hey, I'm going out as an overstressed information worker, i.e. me" variety. Bars on Halloween without a costume feel foreign at best, and at worst, um, interesting. And any trip to the video store will find the horror section just about ransacked. Every obvious choice - Michael, Freddy, Jason - is long past rented out. (You want desperate? Some poor fool has spent actual money to rent Friday The 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan.) In fact, it seems like the last refuge of the poorly planned Halloween, sharing the couch with your beau or friends for some scare flick, is simply not to be.

This is where Screening Liberally comes in and saves your ass.
There is one last-minute Halloween suggestion that is not just creepy as hell, but also hilarious, a good date film, an improbable crowd-pleaser, one of the most politically savvy films of the last 15 years, truly thought-provoking and obscure enough that the chances someone rented it out are low indeed. What is this overlooked miracle film? None other than 1996's The Last Supper, a twisted melange of black comedy, horror and political satire that is truly sui generis in its originality, and not something you are likely to see replicated anytime soon.

Drinking Liberally Shot of Truth: One Stitch at a Time

by Justin Krebs

Pick up your knitting needles and let's get political.

If that command sounds to you as though it suffers from multiple-personality disorder, than you might not want to check out Crafting Liberally, the newest project of Living Liberally, which debuts Sunday afternoon in New York City.

If, on the other hand, you want to get crafty with your comrades, stitch together some solid progressive narratives, and prove that liberals aren't afraid to work with their hands, then welcome to the club.

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We could get all high-minded and make some claim that Crafting Liberally is an homage to Betsy Ross, but we're actually just taking a community-building phenomenon that's already happening around the country and crafting a political identity around it.  To cite just one well-known example, the Stich-n-Bitch network, which hosts groups around the world, is just one reminder that people want to be social.  People are already gathering as they work on ther quilts and their scrapbooks...because working together is better than working alone.

While we'll spare you the obvious clever lines about quilts and scrapbooks as metaphors for America, there is something truly progressive about these groups.  It's not just that company is nice (though it is) - you learn from your peers, share tips and resources and help reaffirm for each other that this activity is an important part of your life.

And if we believe that a progressive agenda will move forward when our politics are fully integrated into our lives, then we need to bring liberal conversations not just to blogs and bars...but to sewing circles as well.

This is the first gathering, organized by New York activist (and crafter!) Claire Silberman...but who knows how else it will grow?  We'd love to hear your ideas on what other crafts we want to be sure to include, what other activities we should infiltrate with liberal charm, and what you plan on making at the first CL meeting.

Now get out there and start promoting democracy...one stitch at a time.

Laugh To Keep From Crying: Lee Camp on Children's Healthcare



History has a way of repeating itself, and that serves comedians well. After Bush vetoed the expansion of children's healthcare, Lee Camp recorded this video. We thought it would quickly go out of fashion, but here Bush is, getting ready to veto SCHIP once again...thus allow Lee -- and us -- to recycle this great short shot of political whiskey.

SPILLING THE BEANS ON THOSE AMBER WAVES OF GRAIN

GUEST BLOGGER EVE FOX:

Curt Ellis and Ian Cheney, the stars of the just-released documentary King Corn,
first developed an interest in food and agriculture as classmates in college. After graduation, they moved to Greene, Iowa, to find out where their food comes from. With the help of government subsidies, friendly neighbors, genetically modified seeds, nitrogen fertilizers, and potent herbicides, they planted, grew, and harvested a bumper crop of corn from a single acre of farmland. Curt's cousin, documentary filmmaker Aaron Woolf, came along to direct this hair-raising, heart-sinking foray into our corn-fueled food chain.

Berkeley food blogger Eve Fox interviewed Ellis and Cheney last week, and gave them some great questions to sink their teeth into, so we’re pleased to be posting her Q & A here. King Corn is currently playing—or about to open--in cities all over the country. Check KingCorn.net for theaters. Please go see it!

EF: What surprised you most in making the film?

Curt: The most surprising part to me was the reality of farming. I had this pretty romantic notion of what life on a farm was like. Granted we were only growing one acre of corn, not hundreds or thousands of acres, but we really only farmed for a few hours and during those few hours we never really had to touch the dirt at all. It was amazing to me how divorced from the land our experience of farming was.

Ian: I agree with that. I was also surprised that the majority of the country's calories are stored in a few dozen buildings in the Midwest.

EF: I was really shocked by the use of anhydrous ammonia as a fertilizer.

Curt: We were totally shocked. We actually went to an anhydrous ammonia factory (though it's not in the film). It's made by burning an incredible amount of natural gas. When Ian applied it to our acre before we planted our corn, one of the farmers, Rich, picked up a handful of the dirt and showed us a dead earth worm - and said, "You see here how applying the ammonia kills everything in a four inch swath." It was pretty unbelievable to us that the first act of farming was to kill all the living things in the soil. Seemed kind of counterintuitive.

Ian: That's not what Wendell Berry would do.

EF: Has this exploration changed your interpretation of the term “corn-fed”?

Curt: Very much so. It has this sort of wholesome connotation but it turns out that things that are corn-fed are really very far from wholesome.

EF: I loved all the stop-motion animations - how did you guys come up with the idea to do those?

Curt: Long, long Iowa winters with nothing to do at all except hang out in the basement and move little corn kernels around. I think that was Ian's idea and it ended up being really appropriate to the film because it has that sort of hand-made quality to it in the sense of we really were just trying to figure things out. Throwing glossy, digital effects in would have probably detracted from the experience. It was my childhood Fisher Price barnyard set and Ian's very affordable labor that made it all possible.

Ian: That Fisher Price barn totally reflects the mindset we had when we moved to Iowa in 2004. It was the perfect symbol of what we imagined agriculture to be -- the little red barn and the little animals and the two farmers. And, needless to say, that wasn't the reality at all.

EF: You credit Michael Pollan with being the inspiration for the movie. How did you first get introduced to his work?

Ian: We would read his essays in the New York Times Magazine in college. There was that wonderful article about his experience of buying a steer and following it through the food chain. I think that was undoubtedly an inspiration to us. He became an early advisor to the film. Curt and I were just about to embark on a cross-country research road trip and he advised us to take a good hard look at all the corn we saw along the way. I actually traded him my Masters thesis in exchange for him being our advisor.

Curt: I think we got the good end of that trade.

EF: The tasting scenes were some of my favorites in the film. What did the corn syrup that you two made taste like?

Curt: It tasted sweet and nasty. I don't know that we made it exactly right though we did our best. It's a pretty complicated process but we only had a Cuisinart and a saucepan. We actually tried making it again at the NPR studios last week and it turned out even worse that time.

Ian: I think the kicker was the final filtering process. As it was explained to us we needed to pour it through a pile of diatomaceous earth to filter it but I don't think it filtered through so much as dissolved so we were sort of drinking corn syrup and partially dissolved hardened sea creatures.

EF: Did you feel uneasy about drinking something that you'd made with sulfuric acid?

Curt: The NPR reporter (Robert Smith) certainly did!

EF: Were you surprised by the way your interview with Earl Butz (U.S. Secretary of Agriculture under Presidents Nixon and Ford) went?

Curt: On some level, yeah. We had learned enough by that point to really disagree with his policies and question them. All around us we could see the kind of landscape that his policies had created - giant industrialized farms and de-populated areas. So I think that we did walk into that room kind of wanting to challenge him and be mad at him but as soon as we met the guy we saw that of course he's just a normal person.

He's old and he had ideas that were very reasonable for his generation. When he graduated from college there was a great depression and when we graduated from college there was an obesity epidemic. So it makes sense both that he would want to make food more affordable and also that Ian and I would want to do something very different.

EF: Has this journey changed the way you eat?

Curt: Now that we know the back story to industrial food we're no longer comfortable with it but it is a real challenge to find good food. It's particularly hard right now because we're back on the road to promote the film so the gains we'd made in changing the way we eat have been largely eroded. It's frustrating that it's such a challenge to find something to eat that is not corn-based.



Ian: I'm a card-carrying member of the society that believes in convenient, affordable food. And I really want locally grown, healthful food to be available at my corner store. There are times when I love to play the part of the scavenger and spend a few days trying to find a turkey for Thanksgiving that was raised outside on a good diet but I'm coming to terms with the fact that, like many Americans, I don't want to spend all my time being a hunter-gatherer.



Curt: Ian did find and eat a pecan pie in a dumpster in college.

Ian: It was very convenient. I was already in the dumpster. Affordable, too.

EF:
What was your goal in making this film?

Ian: I think my goal (beyond doing something with my then 22-year-old life besides sitting at a desk,) my hope was to tell a story about where our food comes from. I don't think we knew all the problems associated with the stories behind our food - all the communities that are affected, all the ways that agriculture takes a toll on the land and our health so we didn't start out with an agenda in that sense. And by the end of our experience we certainly didn't feel like we had a solution to all of

the problems we'd been encountering but more felt that the job of the film was to tell a story and hopefully spark some discussions and debates. I think we're really seeing that happen now as we take the film on the road and talk to people about these issues. Because, at the end of the day, there are a lot of ways of creating a better food system. There is no single solution. And that's actually very exciting and invigorating. The hope is that as people learn more about where their food comes from they'll make more informed decisions.



Curt: I think Ian has it right. It's incredible the number of people who've come up to us after seeing the film and have told us that they've changed the way they eat since watching it. And that was our hope - to transform the system into something that both tastes good and is good for you and the people who produce it.



EF: What’s next for you guys?



Curt: So far it's just been making sure that this film does some real good in the world. Right now that work is mostly in theaters so we've been on the road and will be traveling for the next month or two. Increasingly there are small grassroots screenings that are starting to get off the ground so we're starting to put our energy into the right way to do that. I think we're going to be fairly busy until April when the film will be broadcast on PBS.

Ian: I think that's about the size of it. We spent so long making the film that when we reached the finish line (or what we thought was the finish line) we all gave each other high fives and celebrated a job well-done. But then we woke up the next day and realized that there was a lot of work to be done to make sure the story got heard and made an impact. Hopefully, it won't take us quite as long to get the film out into the world as it did to make the film.

BUGGING OUT AND STEPPING UP

We’re enjoying an extended growing season here in the Northeast—well, some of us are, anyway. Our farmers are happy to be harvesting tomatoes and peppers this late in the year, but there’s something a bit freakish about the zinnias and nasturtiums blooming away blithely in my own front yard.

This October was the warmest in the Northeast on record, and while that scares some of us, others prefer to focus on the upside of rising temperatures. As White House press secretary Dana “Pollyanna” Perino noted in a press conference last week:

There are public health benefits to climate change, as well…many people die from cold-related deaths every winter. And there are studies that say that climate change in certain areas of the world would help those individuals.

Yeah, and it’s helping the caterpillars who’ve been chowing down on my greens, and the mosquitos, and the grubs that are hatching in my soil, promising a second generation of god-knows-what kind of pesky beetle or borer. Our whole eco system is out of whack.

If you have any connection to the natural world at all, you can see the havoc that climate change is already wreaking. But hand wringing and finger pointing will not move the beltway bureaucrats who’ve dug in their heels to deny the mounting evidence--melting ice caps, shrinking lakes, parched soil, burning brush.

So it’s the perfect time for Step it Up, the sequel—Saturday, November 3rd (tomorrow!) Communities all over the country will be rallying to demand action on climate change. Please, please stand up and be counted. As Majora Carter, Executive Director of Sustainable South Bronx, told Daily Kos diarist Watthead, just showing up is “more than half the battle - there is no battle unless we show our numbers and push.”

Carter, also an advisor to eco-activist Van Jones’ terrific Green For All project, is speaking this weekend at Power Shift 2007, “the first national youth summit to solve the climate crisis.”

Power Shift’s goal is to bring together 5,500 young people dedicated to fighting global warming together to descend on DC for a rally in conjunction with Step it Up, followed by a “weekend of training, action, and movement-building in College Park, Maryland.”

Carter told my fellow Kossack Watthead:

This nation's hyper consumption comes at the cost of many people's dignity, health and quality of life. As a creative culture, we can find ways to satisfy our needs and avoid those transgressions. Will it mean some sacrifice during the transition? Yes. But think of what the WW II generation endured here in America. Now think of what they endured in Europe at that time. Fighting Nazis wasn't easy; fighting your planet is simply not possible.

When I think of the youth coming to Power Shift, I hope that they will be the next "greatest generation" and pick up where their parents have failed.

I’m hopeful, too. That’s why I’ll be at the Step It Up rally at Washington Square tomorrow at noon instead of puttering in my garden and grumbling about the grubs. How can you say no to Bill McKibben?

SMOKED MEATS--AS HAZARDOUS AS SMOKING?

Looks like Big Food’s best friends over at the oh-so-bogus Center for Consumer Freedom finally got something right—a new study shows that junk food really is the new tobacco! 

Astroturf apologists for nutritionally bankrupt convenience foods have been warning for years that the so-called “food cops” are trying to take away our right to eat ourselves to death. Which we are evidently doing in droves, this report suggests.

The study, a joint effort from the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund, provides compelling evidence that the typical meat-centric American diet combined with our couch potato lifestyle puts us at risk for a half dozen different kinds of cancers. The very word “cancer” casts a pall, but as much as we fear it, we prefer to think of it as something that’s largely beyond our control.

But there’s a lot we can do to prevent cancer, according to this study, which advises us to back away from the bacon, put a red light on red meat, and get off our ever widening behinds to go out and work up a sweat for at least half an hour a day. In other words, to radically alter the way so many of us live.

As Dr. David Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at the Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, told ABC News:

"The news and conclusions are important because they help confront the view that cancer risk is something we don't control…In my experience, patients tend to recognize that they can control their heart disease risk, but they think of cancer as a bogeyman that pounces from the shadows and that isn't so.

Along with avoiding tobacco, weight control and certain dietary adjustments offer powerful means of reducing risk for many, perhaps most cancers."

Smoking has been pretty thoroughly stigmatized at this point, and those who continue to smoke whether by choice or because they can’t summon the will to quit do so knowing full well they run the risk of cancer as well as other forms of lung disease.

But can you imagine burgers, French fries, hot dogs, and milkshakes—the very cornerstones of our culinary culture—ever being demonized to the degree that cigarettes have been in recent decades?

On last night’s ABC World News, reporter John McKenzie summed up the study as promising “a dramatic reduction in cancer risk from simple choices we make everyday.”

But how simple, really? McKenzie’s report was followed by this exchange between ABC’s medical editor, Dr. Tim Johnson and anchor Charles Gibson:

Dr. Tim Johnson: …to do all of those things is really quite complicated and difficult, whereas quitting smoking is a single act and with modern age, like patches and medications, it’s very doable.

Charles Gibson: You make an interesting point…John outlined a lot of things they say you have to do in order to reduce your risk, a lot of things you have to do in the dietary area—practical to do them all?

Dr. Tim Johnson: I think it’s very difficult for a single person to do them all, but the most important one, the data would indicate, is losing weight, so that should be the goal, probably more than trying to worry about specific foods. Losing weight is very, very important.

And that’s because, as Karen Collins, a cancer institute nutrition advisor, told USA Today:

“…body fat is not an inert glob that we are carrying around on the waistline and thighs. It's a metabolically active tissue that produces substances in the body that promote the development of cancer."

Promoters of beef and pork products are, predictably, having a fit over these latest findings and the study’s heretical recommendations that Americans drastically cut back on red meat and avoid ham, bacon and hot dogs altogether.

But do they really have anything to fear from this report? We’ve been hearing about the benefits of a plant-based diet for decades now; Diet for a Small Planet, anyone? And yet meat consumption continues to rise all over the world.

Will the threat of cancer persuade more Americans to eat “low on the food chain?” There’s a lot of money riding on convincing us that it’s OK to eat whatever we want, whenever we want, in whatever quantities we crave, consequences be damned.

The “freedom of choice” faction tries to discredit the health experts while the health experts strive to demonize all these awful foods we can’t get enough of. This report suggests that millions of Americans could avoid dying needlessly of cancer. Too bad we resent it so much when experts tell us how to live.

HALLOWEEN, HOMEGROWN & LOCAL

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Pumpkin

Halloween’s no time for virtuous victuals. Let’s face it, kids and grown-ups alike want treats, not tricks. As Michael Pollan told the New York Times:

“I well remember my disgust whenever someone offered me a homemade brownie or, worst of all, an apple. Halloween is the high holy day of high fructose corn syrup…”

Our Halloween menu doesn’t go quite that far, but we are using more butter, sugar and eggs on this one day than we’d normally use in three months. We’re even dusting off the deep fryer, so Matt can make his famous Cap’n Crunch chicken nuggets (free range, of course.)

We’re not abandoning our plant based diet altogether, though, because there were just too many Halloween-hued veggies at the Greenmarket today that we couldn’t pass up: the orange and purple cauliflowers, purple carrots, orange kabocha squash, and sweet potatoes. Beta carotene--so festive!

One thing we didn’t see at the Greenmarket was a pumpkin that could hold a candle to our own homegrown Rouge Vif d’Etampes, a twenty-four pound wonder that we carefully schlepped back from our upstate garden on the train, coddling it like the rare heirloom that it is. Legend has it that the original illustrations of Cinderella’s pumpkin-turned-coach depicted a Rouge Vif d’Etampes, and it was once the most popular pumpkin in Paris.

We kind of hated to remove it from our front yard, where our friends and neighbors had been admiring it. Our friend Sue e-mailed the other day:

Just wanted to tell you that your pumpkin is looking amazing. It's the strangest most vivid hue I've witnessed on a pumpkin.

But most farmers don’t bother to grow some of the more striking heirloom varieties because they’re not very productive. A typical Rouge Vif d’Etampes vine only yields an average of two pumpkins. In our case, we just got one. But what a one! We’ll keep it on our hearth and admire it till Thanksgiving, when it will do double duty as a soup tureen, and we’ll be twice as thankful—for the lovely soup we’ll make from its flesh, and the gorgeous red-orange shell that we’ll serve it up in.

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