In celebration of the completion of the first retrofit green roof on The Ohio State University campus, we wanted to share this time-lapse video of the project. For more information, check out the project's website.
Recipe from Who Wants Seconds: Sociable Suppers for Vegans, Omnivores and Everyone in Between, Prospect Park Books. For more information about the book and related events, visit the publisher's website.
There's a French term of endearment, "mon petite chou," which translates to "my little cabbage" and implies "my little darling." It's a funny expression. I don't think of the darlings in my life as cruciferous vegetables, but then again, we're not talking about just any vegetable. We're talking about cabbage, the star of the cabbage patch, the amazing heavyweight head.
It cannot be denied—cabbage is a compact powerhouse, the sturdiest of the brassica family. An average head of cabbage weighs between two and three pounds (that's easily fifteen servings) and keeps a ridiculously long time in the crisper. It can get bitter as it ages, and it takes on a radish-like spiciness, but even then, it remains delicious.
Cabbage is typically available year-round at the farmers' markets in one variety or another. I'm a big fan of Napa cabbage for salads, spring rolls, and noodle dishes. It's the best kind for making kimchi, and it's a crispy addition to an Asian chicken salad or Thai steak salad.
Its versatility is unmatched. Red cabbage makes a perfect pickle. Whether it's in a quick pickled cabbage (with a little salt, vinegar, and red onion) or in a fully fermented sauerkraut, red cabbage is a stupendous representation of a near-perfect food. For starters, it's red, and that helps fill the daily rainbow we're all supposed to be eating. All that redness means more vitamins and phytochemicals (we all need more phytochemicals). I recommend getting in there with your hands and massaging the shredded cabbage for a softer texture.
Pickled cabbage is nice to serve on the side at every meal for another amazing reason: Cabbage is a natural remedy for tummy troubles. They've actually been making cabbage pills since the 1920s to remedy ulcers with great success.
I find excitement about food on a number of fronts. The smell of a soffritto gently crackling on my stovetop, the excitement of trying a local specialty, returning to my grandmother's house for her chicken potpie or an engaging academic discussion about authenticity in food all bring a smile to my face.
Imagine, then, my excitement as doors started opening to embed this passion for the multi-disciplinarity of food into my scholarly work as a professor at Ohio Wesleyan University (OWU) in the department of Health and Human Kinetics. In 2011 I taught a course examining the social, cultural and environmental factors related to obesity, and the class traveled to Italy to compare these factors with those in the United States. During that time we visited the University of Gastronomic Sciences (Universita degli Studi di Scienze Gastronomiche, UNISG) in Pollenzo, Italy. UNISG was begun by Slow Food and its founder, Carlo Petrini, and is aimed at the interdisciplinary academic development of the gastronome: "skilled in production, distribution, promotion and communication of high-quality foods" (UNISG, 2012). This was where I was introduced to the Granaries of Memory (Granai della Memoria) project.
The mission of the Granaries of Memory project is to collect food-related memories and traditional knowledge from around the world using video interviewing. "It is necessary to collect the memories ... before they are lost. Once, there was the oral memory that guaranteed the transmission of this treasure," Petrini said regarding the importance of the project. "Today, we need authentic 'granaries' to fight such a famine of ideas, to contrast the dominant and massified culture that has silenced the precious knowledge of our fathers."
My exposure to this work while in Italy led to another course I have offered on two occasions at OWU. The course focuses on contributing to the Granaries of Memory project by collecting stories and traditions from Ohioans for inclusion in the Granaries database. Over two semesters, my students have interviewed 16 individuals from Delaware County, Ohio, examining their family histories, food traditions, memories about food and how these were woven into and across their lives.
The stories they shared could fill volumes. One theme that united them, however, was their engagement with food. It was clear across all of their stories that these individuals have a passion for food, and that their lives are enriched by this involvement and engagement.
For one individual, engagement with food was exemplified through sharing. Even looking back on her younger years, she reflected on an instance when sharing French sorrel helped to build a connection with the military officers ranking above her husband. For another couple, the key to engagement with food was wholesomeness. They maintain this wholesomeness through long-standing gardening work and provision of garden food for family and neighbors alike.
For each interviewee this engagement has led to traditions, both old and new. From Slovenian lamb dishes to Swiss noodle recipes that were passed down from previous generations, our interviewees have held on to their heritage while incorporating and adapting to new traditions as well.
From our research, tradition took on an entirely new meaning based on the findings of the students (see sidebar). One food tradition that was shared illustrated the complexity of the concept of tradition perfectly. The various ingredients of a daughter's rose geranium cake recipe brought together important familial food traditions. The daughter combined her own recipe for white cake with raspberry filling; placed rose geranium leaves (one of her mother's favorite plants) in the center and added her grandmother's famous white frosting to round out the connection.
While a project like this has its pedagogical and philosophical goals, one of the most enriching aspects is working with students in this manner. Students were forced to break out of their preconceived notions about food, and consider the variety of meanings that individuals hold with respect to food that move far beyond just sustenance, health and enjoyment. One student stated that the process "has helped me to gain a better connection with food overall. I also will think more about how food and culture interrelate."
I'm especially excited about this project because it's not over. In fact, we will continue to collect memories and traditions, and share them with our partners at UNISG. During our recent visit to UNISG, a special digital archive was created for this work, titled "Granaries from Ohio Wesleyan University." And while, at the core, I am still an academic in the field of health promotion, I have certainly found a complementary passion in the realm of food studies after developing this class and working on this project.
Through the lens of food I have forged a number of valuable close professional and personal relationships, and I am thrilled about the relationship with UNISG and Slow Food. It has also given me the opportunity to work side-by-side with our exceptional students on important research. It's difficult not to sound trite, but this project has truly been one of the most meaningful in my career. Here's hoping for many more years of delicious discoveries!
To learn more about The Granaries of Memory Project visit granaidellamemoria.it/ilprogetto.aspx. And to learn more about The University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy visit unisg.it/en/.
The Meaning of Tradition
The term tradition (or traditional) is often used to take us back to a simpler, perhaps more pure time, when foods and lifestyles were perceived to be more wholesome and perhaps less complicated. We found, however, that while tradition indeed incorporates elements of the past, that traditions aren't limited to the preservation of intact practices. In fact, they manifest themselves as specific foods, acts and/or ideologies that connect the past with the present, and aim toward the future.
The students identified three key facets of tradition: heritage, identity and transmission. These facets were consistent with the academic literature on tradition, and were illustrated throughout the interviews.
Heritage was described as links to the past that were mostly intact—such as a recipe for lemon pie that was handed down for generations, and described by one of our interviewees.
Identity was the connection to the present, as the acceptance and description of a tradition (such as eating wholesome foods as a family) creates an identity that differentiates the tradition holder from his or her social surroundings.
Finally, transmission is the bridge to the future. Without transmission, traditions are lost. Preventing this is at the heart of this project, as well as a key feature of tradition that demonstrates its movement beyond preservation of the past.
Tradition, by nature, is something that we expect to last and continue. Our interviewees all demonstrated this through their hopes that their children and families would carry forward their recipes, ideologies and other food-related practices.
Soffritto Makes a Tasty Beginning
Recipe courtesy of Christopher Fink
The Italian soffritto is a close relative of the French mire poix—a mix of onions, carrots and celery slowly cooked in butter in a 2:1:1 ratio. Although mire poix is the base for many successful French recipes, the Italian version seems to have more variant ingredients, including some that I particularly like. I also enjoy the soffritto because of the instant sensory gratification: Very little stirs the appetite like this simple recipe starter. As an added bonus, any dinner guests will be greeted with its scent, which kicks off the culinary compliments straight away!
A soffritto recipe can be tricky to find in a cookbook, because each Italian cook seems to have her or his own version, and regional differences abound. Even the fat that is used can vary—I've seen butter used in the northern reaches of Italy, and olive oil in Tuscany, Umbria and points south. Aromatics can vary as well, so use your imagination (and your garden).
The soffritto serves as a wonderful base for pasta sauces, vegetable sautés and soups, and can also be an excellent topping for roasted meats.
My basic recipe (for a small batch) looks like this:
2–3 tablespoons olive oil
½ medium sweet onion*
2–3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped*
1 stalk celery or 1 medium fennel bulb*
1 teaspoon dried green anise (my secret ingredient—not Italian, but really fantastic)
* The classic ratio here is 2 parts onion to every 1 part garlic and celery (or other vegetable), but precision is not critical to a good soffritto!
Pour the olive oil into a sauté pan and heat on low-medium heat until the oil starts to bubble slightly. Be careful not to heat the oil too quickly, as olive oil has a relatively low smoke point. Add the onion and sauté until slightly softened (2–3 minutes), then add garlic and celery to soften the remainder of the way.
At this point, you should cook on low heat (patience!) for upwards of 30 minutes, at which point the vegetables and aromatics will combine into a synergistic base for your sauce or soup recipe. If I am planning to add this to meat, or to sauté other vegetables with it (such as zucchini, tomatoes, etc.), I will often go with a shorter cooking time, so that there is still a distinct texture and profile to the ingredients.
Many like to add other fresh herbs to the recipe as well; I particularly enjoy using thyme. In that case, I would likely substitute for the anise, but you can follow your taste preferences.
Al Dolder grew up in Columbus, far from rural life. Nevertheless, he dreamed of becoming a hog farmer. He is a man who finds poetry in pigs.
On our way to Al's Stonefield Naturals, photographer Catherine Murray and I drive south, then east of Columbus, meander along country roads and eventually pull up to a long driveway flanked by old stone pillars. At the end of the drive stands a faux Tudor home, modest but well landscaped.
The day is beautiful with birdsong, sunshine and wildflowers. We pass two black pigs in a field before we arrive at our destination, where Al, wearing overalls and a welcoming smile, climbs down from his red truck and greets us as we unload cameras and muster notebooks.
After high school graduation in 1974, Al moved to the farm that his father had purchased to grow nursery stock, working with him in the landscaping business and raising commodity hogs on the side. In 1982, he married wife Bonni and sold his animals.
Landscaping was steady, but Al still dreamed of hogs. After 9/11, when landscaping business began to slide, Al and Bonni decided to focus on a business centered on need—food—rather than want. In 2003, he purchased an "old-line genetics" (see sidebar) Hampshire sow named Miss Annie from Joe Malone of Lancaster, Ohio.
Al had always been intrigued by Hampshires, which the National Swine Registry calls "possibly the oldest, early-American breed of hogs in existence today." They are a black-skinned hog with erect ears, belted in white around the middle and forelegs.
"I wanted sows that could raise piglets outdoors," says Al. "Modern hogs can't—their legs are too short. You need a sow with mobility."
Meat packers want conformity. "On the kill floor, every hog needs to be the same, because it's mechanized," Al says. "My hogs are not all the same." Butcher Dale Phillips from Zanesville processes Al's hogs.
We walk out to the field to meet some hogs, who turn out to be the two black pigs we passed earlier in the car. Their white belts are hidden by the mud they've wallowed in—in that, at least, they match the stereotype—and they follow Al and a bucket of feed to a more picturesque portion of the field, so that Catherine can get a shot of pigs in clover.
But the hogs, which stand waist-high and weigh 450 pounds at this point, are curious, and Catherine and I beat a retreat over the knee-high electric fence, as Al swings a plastic bucket to discourage them from sniffing us with their muddy snouts.
"Sis," he says reprovingly to one, seeming a little embarrassed at this display of hog mischief.
Al has one boar and five sows, which he breeds in turn to produce one litter of eight to 12 piglets per month. When we step into the barn, a sow heaves herself to her feet and her piglets scatter. They are cunning at 1 month old, weighing just 15 pounds.
Al had to alter his vision of little pigs running free after he saw the coyote tracks outside the barn. He now keeps them safe inside until they weigh 75 pounds, big enough to make a coyote think twice.
Sows can weigh up to 700 pounds, and Al describes with reverence how they ease down on their elbows, listen to make sure there are no pigs underneath, then slowly lie down, careful not to crush their relatively tiny offspring.
"That's good maternal behavior, and I can select for that," Al says. Sows that are raised in confinement, of course, can hardly stand up in their close quarters, and are separated from their piglets by barriers. Maternal behavior is, in effect, being bred out because it isn't needed.
The sow silhouettes herself against the open door of the barn. "With the morning light shining," Al says, "you can see the pink of their skin." I can't see it, but perhaps the light isn't quite right. Or perhaps Al looks at his hogs through different eyes.
"Breaking Even Is Not an Option"
Despite the poetry, raising hogs is an expensive proposition. Corn costs rise. Hogs have to be trained to the electric fence. Marketing is difficult.
Al's meat has received stellar reviews from OSU's Steven J. Moeller, professor and swine extension specialist, who evaluated a carcass at the University's Meat Science Laboratory; from Adam Welly of Wayward Seed, for charcuterie; and from Jim Budros, for porchetta.
Still, Al and Bonni were ready to kiss the hogs goodbye, so to speak, when Adam suggested another route. Today Al sells at the Worthington Farmers Market and his Stonefield Naturals products include organically grown vegetables as well as pork: whole, half or by cut.
"Twenty years ago, I would never have believed the food scene today," Al says. "Thank goodness for farmers markets and the opportunity to sell people one pork chop at a time. Then they realize what pork should taste like."
He would like to expand, but not to the point where he again becomes a commodity breeder, his economic destiny determined by the whims of the packer.
"For me, satisfaction is a fine sow raising a large litter of pigs, and knowing that I have done my genetic homework."
Al cannot resist a final metaphor. "If I don't stray off the path that these Hampshire hogs have cut through the brambles of modern pork quality, they will be here for the next generation after I am gone."
The Hampshire Hog: Modern and Old-Line Genetics
The Hampshire hog developed from the Old English Breed imported to Kentucky from Britain around 1825. Good mothers and foragers, they were easy to raise outdoors.
"I always loved the history and lore of the old-time Hampshire hogs and the men who bred them," says hog farmer Al Dolder. "They were rugged and tough hogs and equally tenacious breeders."
However, in the 1990s, when food trends stigmatized fat, farmers began breeding Hampshires with the Belgian Pietrien, a heavily muscled, lean hog. In Al's opinion, "it reduced flavor and fat and made the meat grey."
That's why he raises animals bred from old-line genetics rather than modern stock.
"Genetics are everything," Al insists. "The best way to keep the genetics good is to look at the carcasses and select daughters from the sows who have the best meat qualities in their pigs."
According to Al, Smithfield Ham "destroyed the hog market in 1988" by refusing to buy commodity pork from farmers and becoming "vertical integrators," raising and butchering the hogs themselves. "A lot of family hog farms went out of business."
When a huge company like Smithfield controls the quality of pork, Al says, "after a while the consumer doesn't know what pork should taste like."
With his old-line Hampshire hogs, Al is working to change that.
Author's note: On May 29, 2013, Smithfield Ham agreed to be bought out by China's largest meat producer, Shuanghui International Holdings, for $4.72 billion.