“Stories add leaves and flowers to the branches of your family tree.”
“Recipes in my book will be there like birds in a tree - if there is a comfortable branch.”
|The importance of summer and ice cream|
Do you ever have the sensation that something very important is happening? And you’d better listen hard to make sure you absorb all of its importance? As if it may be a fleeting thing, the uniqueness of it so intense it’s almost palpable. My grandmother put it best after Friday dinner, "This will never happen again in this exact same way." I feel as though I’m in the midst of a continuous flow of that sensation.
Today is my last day on this food trip to Kansas. It’s exciting. And exhausting. And overwhelming …the fear that you’ll miss something, a puzzle piece, perhaps the sacred one that holds the whole thing together.
|Grandma Dreier baked pies for 30 years. Her hands just know it.|
There are the exceptions - moments of melancholy amongst it. A few at that silent, archaic museum in Goessel, and a few when I remember my grandmothers are actually mortals, and not infinitely-existing beings who can always show me the proper way to flip a kuchen. What if I didn’t listen hard enough? In a silly moment, I asked Grandma Dreier what happens if one has to use the bathroom in the midst of flipping (which really does require a constant vigilance). “Well you should have gone before. This is crucial stuff.” Her sarcasm not lost on me.
|Grandma Joan Dreier|
|Grandma Belle Boyts|
The NPR shows aren't lying to us on the west coast - Kansas is in a serious drought and a serious heat wave. The thermometer is a topic of conversation as much as the rain gauge is in Portland. Some things are dying here - the corn. Some are on the brink of the death. The sun is an intense force, mostly forcing us indoors. Not quite forcing us to turn off our stoves.
Wednesday I spent most of my day out of the sun, huddled in the air-conditioned burrows of a vintage bookshop, Book Reviews, pouring over old cookbooks. One of my purchases, after much discernment, was A Matter of Taste. One of the first pages held a title, “Variations on a Peach”. The literary lightbulbs gleamed in my eye. How many times this week has my craving for sweet been abated by a peach?
The author quotes Brillat-Savarin: “…it is not until the moment of swallowing, when the mouthful passes under the nasal cavity, that the perfume is revealed to him which completes the sensation that a peach should cause. Finally, it is not until when he has swallowed, that, judging what he has just tried, he says to himself, ‘How delicious this is.’”.
How Delicious This Is.
Day 1: Grandma Boyts on Wiggle Glace, Overton Market, German buffet
Day 2: Grandma Dreier on pie, cake, and apfelkuchen, Dreier women's Estefest
Day 3: Sunday is Sabbath, sort of. Beck's Farm for peaches, Quintessential Sunday Supper.
Day 4: Jeanette Wiedel on Bierrocks, Mennonite Museum
Day 5: Bookstore huddle, another Mennonite Museum
Day 6: Jeanne Dreier on Zwieback, Grandma Dreier on more pie
Day 7: Here. Now. Breathe.
German buffet at The Breadbasket is a cultural event all its own. Eating a plateful of this food is a love/hate thing. John, Joanna's husband, loves vareniky. Hates bohne berogi, a pastry that is filled with sweetened beans and covered with a vanilla cream sauce. "It's like eating oatmeal and finding a maggot," he states dryly. I die laughing and, on the other hand, love it. Even after the maggot imagery.
Joanna is pregnant with baby girl. I reveled in the experience of being able to see her in this phase, feeling the light kick of baby girl, watching Jo giggle at her squirming. I asked Jo her birth plan. "Don't die! Me and baby - Don't Die!" Fair enough.
|Flipping an apfelkuchen is an art. It's all in the wrist.|
I told my Grandma Joan I was going for a run one evening. "Just don't die," she says firmly. Just don't die. To be fair, it has been over 100 degrees in the daytime here for over a month. The weather has shaped everything.
|Grandma Boyts preparing the wiggle glace dough|
How I adore the experience of taking that first bite of a special food. I can just feel the endorphins shoot up from the palate to the frontal lobe. On occasion a chirp of delight is the result. It comes in those rare moments when that dish has been give love, attention to detail, the right amount of salt and fat, and the company is good. Wiggle Glace on Friday - I sang. And sang. And sang.
|Alan and Mary of Overton Market|
|A drive in the middle of nowhere unfolds this shop full of color. The detour is worth it.|
"Johnny's Fruit Stand" is what the locals call Overton Market. It was bought and reborn last summer by Alan and Mary, two very warm souls that have done an excellent job. Apparently Johnny's Fruit Stand was not exactly known for its bright produce and clean floors. No more. It's known for its peaches. Alan used to be a trucker and still is in someways... driving the 200 miles in his truck to the Amish community in Missouri where he gets much of his produce and baked goods. Alan connected with the people in his trucking days and loves their product. No pesticides, no preservatives. No fuss. Business is picking up and they love talking to the young audience who is starting to garden, hoping they don't discouraged by this year's long and drowsy drought.
The community seems to be spilling over with peaches from this place. I also found the prolific peaches at Beck's Farm, right south of town, where the hosts were well-equipped with welcoming smiles. Sarah Beck tells me, "The deer here are like rodents - eating off our peach trees. We've even tried everything. They just keep coming back for more." The first year the orchard was open a visitor flicked a cigarette in amongst the fruit trees... they lost 200 trees. Insurance now doesn't allow visitors in the orchard.
|The beginnings of an Estefest at Diane's. The table extended as far as possible|
An Estrogen Festival is a tradition on my mother's side of the family, affectionately called Estefests, a name Joanna and I take much pride in conjuring up. It's really just the women getting together with food - a sacred gathering nonetheless. Jeanne made Christmas cookies this time to go along with the apfelkuchen. The conversation theme was meant to be - Keturah. My audio recording is a montage of stories from the older generation who knew her best. Aunt Diane (who, on a sidenote, gave me my first set of measuring cups at 19) remembers playing the piano for her as a little girl, old hymns to be exact, while Keturah sang along and ironed sheets.
Nouns are turned to verbs here.
Do you know the art of "neighboring"? Do you possess the habit of "coffeeing"?
|Jeanette Wiedel on bierrocks. Bierrocks are a meat-filled roll - a delicious one.|
|The Wiedel Onion Harvest|
Baking - the craft Jeanette Wiedel is best known for. My Monday morning with her was totally inspiring. She still loves it after 30 years of working the dough. Even as her hands hold scars from surgery due to so much pinching of the stuff, but it doesn't stop her. "This kind of baking is a dying art," she says, her voice sad for just a moment. But she goes back to the dough and things her voice springs again.
It is immediately clear upon walking into her art "studio" that her philosophy on food is a spiritual one. I paraphrase - "Something very special happens around a supper table, and when someone gets up from that table to move on to something else, that special thing is broken. Something is broken."
Daniel, her spouse, is the master gardener, and the backyard is a veritable playground for a chef. All the cabbage and onions for her bierrocks come from this playground. The harvest is abundant.
|Jeanne Dreier testing zwieback dough. Zwieback: a roll stacked upon another. The pulling apart is glorious|
|The perfect zwieback|
Jeanne Dreier, my first cousin once-removed in-law, Joanna's mother, is a master of the zwieback. She taught me texture, temperature, shaping, and waiting. How to know the dough is ready: "Press your finger in... Look, like a bellybutton." There is an element of instinct to all this. I asked all these experts, "How do you know...".
"You just feel it. You just know," they all said confidently. Somehow this answer draws me in more. I want to know. I want to feel.
Texture. Smell. Sight. Taste.
And you might just sing.
|Reviewing the nuances of noodles with Grandma Boyts|
|Grandma Dreier's laugh - contagious.|
As I said, it's my last day. I sit now on Diane's couch, sipping coffee in the quiet. Thinking of how to stuff all those books and jams in that suitcase. How does time elude us like it does? How does it make off with our sense of slowness, even as we try so desperately to grasp it only to find it’s like some ray of sunshine, sweet and full of season - un-graspable.
|Vareniky, kraut, potatoes|
|Sunday "farm" supper|
|Bierrock, Jeanette's pickles|
|Green bean soup, Zwieback|
|Peach Pie #2|
If you'd like to see more photos of the trip - visit the new Facebook site. Give it a "LIKE" and you'll get future updates as well.
In pondering what recipe to share first... It seems Day 1 is a good place to start. Wiggle Glace is up next!