Recently I heard a chef refer to food as the “great unifier”.
The program was being filmed in Italy and, since carbonara is my grandson’s favorite, I started thinking about how truly international the flavors of our meals have become. Our palates have become much more refined and we are able to recognize many spices, vegetables and tastes that were not part of our regular meals fifty years ago. The word “gourmet” was not one we knew well.
When I was growing up we had wonderful wholesome meals that generally came from an area that was about a fifty mile radius from my home.
We raised our own chickens, a few hogs and a small herd of cattle – including a dairy cow who was the heroine of our farm – butter, milk and (sometimes) ice cream were her gifts to the table. If my Dad’s hunting trip in the Fall was successful, moose, elk and deer supplemented the fare. My uncle raised geese, ducks and turkeys and one of these was the focal point on the table at big family gatherings. We could tell what season it was by the fresh or frozen vegetables that complimented the meal. Lettuce, tomatoes, radishes, peas, green onions, little new potatoes (yum) and carrots appeared from the garden during the summer while the remainder were stored in the root cellar with turnips, parsnips, cabbages, potatoes, onions and other root crops later in the season.
My Mom loved to pick berries (and still does) so wild blueberries, strawberries and even gooseberries were also in good supply. The highlight of all the berries was the Saskatoon which still is a family favorite. If we had been lucky to visit my aunt’s orchard in the Okanagan, after we returned home we would can peaches, cherries, pears, plums or apples, depending on what was ripe when we were there. Lemons, limes, grapes, pomegranates, bananas and watermelons were not readily available. Walnuts and pecans were saved in the freezer for special Christmas baking, but the absolute treats of that holiday were the sweet little oranges that came all the way from Japan. I have to admit that I was an adult before I ever tasted mango and papaya. My grandson loves them now.
Now you can buy any of those things at nearly any time of the year. Globalization and better transportation methods have given us the benefits of finding new and fresh fruits at the grocery store whenever we wish. A watermelon salad in November is quite amazing to me and fresh pineapple is delicious as well.
My nearby neighbors are from the Philippines and I love the aroma wafting through the neighborhood when Rachel is preparing one of her traditional dishes with garlic, soy sauce, cilantro and chicken adobo.
At a recent church supper a couple with German heritage brought cabbage rolls, spätzle and schnitzel and there was definitely a long line-up to sample these wonderful dishes. As I have already mentioned, the favorite in our house now is anything Italian. We had macaroni in my younger years and it was always my brother’s choice, but nothing like pizza or lasagna or mozzarella, gnocchi or prosciutto. Nutritionists tell us regularly how beneficial for our hearts it is to cook with olive oil. How marvelous to have these choices today, worldwide flavors which are becoming commonplace.
We have much to be thankful for when we sit down to have a dinner with international friends and flavors – food truly is a great unifier. Be grateful that we live in a country of plenty … and peace.